Legislation will address neighborhood concerns associated with placement of over 700 AT&T U-verse cabinets on San Francisco sidewalks by establishing a clear, community-based process, requiring efforts to place the boxes on private property, creating greening and artwork requirements for the boxes, creating strict graffiti removal standards, and requiring annual evaluation of feasibility of under grounding cabinets
San Francisco, CA - Today the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed Supervisor Scott Wiener's legislation to improve the process of placing utility boxes on city sidewalks. The new law will require improved, front-loaded outreach to neighborhoods, require utilities to allow artwork on their boxes and plant and maintain greening near the boxes, impose strict standards for graffiti removal, and require utilities to make meaningful efforts to place the boxes on private property rather than blocking sidewalks. While state law does not allow the city to ban the placement of these boxes on city sidewalks, it does grant local jurisdictions significant leeway in creating a community-based process as well as siting standards.
"San Francisco's process for placing these utility boxes on our neighborhood sidewalks is broken, leading to significant frustration in our neighborhoods," said Supervisor Wiener. "This new law will significantly improve how these boxes are placed on our sidewalks and what they look like once they are a part of our streetscapes," said Supervisor Wiener. "Through this unanimous show of support, the Board of Supervisors has demonstrated our city's desire for a stronger community voice and more attractive and walkable streets."
In January of this year, Supervisor Wiener convened a hearing at the Land Use and Economic Development Committee where, for over two hours, members of the public representing neighborhoods all over the city criticized the current process for utility box placement. At the hearing, Supervisor Wiener indicated he was working on legislation to address flaws in the process, and introduced this legislation shortly thereafter. This legislation is supported by San Francisco Beautiful and co-sponsored by Supervisors David Chiu, London Breed, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim.
"San Francisco Beautiful applauds the passage of this legislation to address many of the major concerns residents have about these big, ugly boxes," said Kearstin Krehbiel, Executive Director of San Francisco Beautiful, an organization dedicated to beautifying and greening the city. "We appreciate Supervisor Wiener's solutions to address graffiti, the need for greening and artwork, and the dysfunctional process of placing these boxes on our streets. This is a great step in the right direction for San Francisco."
The measure does several things. First, it front-loads community outreach to try to iron out disputes early and avoid pitting neighbors against neighbors. Utilities will be required to propose multiple viable locations for each box, all of which must demonstrate minimal neighborhood impacts as defined in the legislation, and will also be required to conduct a pre-application noticed community meeting to present all of the possible locations together in one setting with all neighbors involved. Having this type of meeting - bringing all neighbors together and airing out all possible locations in a single public setting - will help avoid the current situation, where neighbors object to a particular locations and the proverbial can gets kicked down the road to another set of neighbors who had no idea that their area was even being considered.
Second, utilities will have to make significant and good faith efforts to site their boxes on private property, by engaging in meaningful search efforts and offering to pay market-rate rents. Currently, utilities appear to be making only cursory efforts to find private property locations and to offer low prices. As a result, few, if any, private sites have been utilized.
Third, utilities will be required - if neighbors request and the Arts Commission approves - to allow artwork to be placed on their boxes. This type of artwork has proven very popular, for example, the art-covered MTA traffic control boxes at Church and Duboce Streets, yet AT&T has refused to allow artwork on its boxes. Utilities will further be required, if asked, to install and maintain greenery around the boxes, at no cost to neighbors.
Fourth, strict graffiti removal standards will be imposed on utilities.
Finally, the boxes will have to be sited with city policy in mind, including minimally impacting the aesthetic character of neighborhoods, accounting for pedestrian safety, and ensuring that placement is consistent with the Better Streets Plan. There will also be a list of disfavored locations for placement, including on streets where utilities have been undergrounded, where major capital improvements are planned, and near historic resources and parks and open spaces.