New Law Forces AT&T To Work Harder To Get Community Input For Placement Of Giant Sidewalk Boxes

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation on Tuesday afternoon concerning placement of utility boxes on city sidewalks.

The ordinance authored by Supervisor Scott Wiener calls for more community outreach and the opportunity to paint murals and other artwork on the boxes, along with planting greenery near the utility boxes, which have been cropping up more often on city sidewalks in recent years.

Wiener’s legislation also asks for good-faith efforts of utility companies to put the boxes on private property when possible and to find other underground locations.

Recently there have been hundreds of AT&T U-Verse boxes placed on sidewalks, along with other utility boxes, which has brought scathing criticism and anger from many city residents in the past year, according to Wiener.

State law does not allow the city to ban the boxes on the sidewalk, but the city can create a community-based process surrounding the issue.

Before the bill passed, Wiener told the board that the legislation would allow for “real meaningful input” about where the boxes should go without pitting neighbors against each other.

“The current process isn’t working,” he said. “The process is nebulous and confusing.”

Under the legislation, utility companies will be required to propose several possible locations to place the boxes and hold a community meeting to gather input about those spots.

“This will stop the proverbial kicking of the can down the street, which happens now,” Wiener said.

A key component for Wiener is the neighborhood’s and the city’s Arts Commission’s chance to approve designs to decorate the boxes, such as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency traffic control boxes at Church Street and Duboce Avenue.

Additionally greenery efforts near the boxes will be required on behalf of the companies, he said.

To keep up appearances, the legislation also imposes strict graffiti removal standards on the boxes.

As part of the new bill, there will be an annual Department of Public Works hearing on where the boxes are placed and placement will need to be consistent with city policy concerning aesthetics, pedestrian safety and neighborhood plans.

Supervisor Eric Mar said for his residents in the Richmond District the community process will be helpful.

“Residents in the Richmond have expressed anger over the rapid growth of boxes throughout the city,” he said.

He said development plans for the Richmond area will include overseeing that approved boxes are not blight. Neighbors will get involved “in making them fit into the neighborhood as much as possible,” he said.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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