abc_gavin_bars.jpgCity Appetite for Federal Case Unlikely

Among the gifts left to San Francisco by former Mayor Gavin Newsom is a bill called “Cell Phone Right to Know.” Locals could be forgiven for forgetting this once-contentious legislation, what with Newsom vehicles like expensive sailboat races and Twitter tax breaks filling the ether since. But the city hasn’t forgot, and nor has cell phone manufacturers’ lobbying arm. Soon, the Board of Supervisors must decide if compelling cell phone retailers to tell customers how much radiation their devices emit is worth defending in federal court — and it’s not looking likely.

In its lawsuit filed in US District Court, wireless lobbying group CTIA argues that the bill, which requires cell retailers to publish the “specific absorption rate” of each phone along with its price and other specifics, is a First Amendment violation and filed suit last year. The bill was supposed to go into effect September 1, 2010, but has been pushed back repeatedly, and is now “on hold for the time being,” says Mark Westlund, spokesman for the Department of the Environment, which is in charge of activating this particular bill into law.

The CTIA is seeking repeal of the bill as well as attorneys’ fees from San Francisco taxpayers. The City Attorney will discuss the city’s legal options with the Board of Supervisors in closed session today, the second closed session attorney-client conference.

The bill requires cell phone retailers to provide a (PDF) “cell phone fact sheet” created by the Department of the Environment along with the phones’ radiation levels. The fact sheet includes information from your iPhone’s doubtlessly well-read manual like “always use an earpiece” and “keep your phone at least 5/8s of an inch” away from your body, as in not in your pocket or mashed up against your ear. Good to know, but the CTIA wants that out, too.

Officials from the City Attorney’s office could not comment on the pending litigation, but plenty rumor is swirling around City Hall — such as one that, with a budget deficit among the much bigger fish the city has to fry, and with Newsom onto bigger and better things, there’s no will to fight a national lobbying firm over cell phones. The city, says sources, is going to cave on this one.

A call to Newsom’s Sacramento spokesman, Francisco Castillo, was not returned (though to be fair we did not use Gavin’s preferred mode of communication, the one only one via which he appears to be accepting inquiries this week).

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, a Newsom political ally, was the lone dissenting vote when the cell phone legislation passed last summer. Elsbernd deflected comment due to the pending case — “As much as I would like to comment” — but left us with this: “If I was the lone dissenting vote, why would I think it’s appropriate to fight the CTIA in court? I didn’t support [the Cell Phone Right to Know] then, and I don’t support it now.”

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  • ZacharyM

    Shame on the CTIA and the SF Board of Supervisors for caving on this important issue. The entire world is watching this unfold in SF and it is disgusting watching the CTIA threaten and sue over a precautionary public health safety warning. We are hosting a symposium at the University of San Francisco on May 1st and State Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee will be speaking. We need leaders in SF that stand up for what is right and don’t back down when threatened with a ridiculous lawsuit. 10 supervisors passed this ordinance and now the new Board of Supervisors is running scared when they should be stepping up and putting the hundreds of lawyers in the city attorney’s office to work defending the new ordinance that will save lives. Shame on the CTIA. Eventually the truth will prevail.