A Brief History of Sutro Tower

AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANY (ABC), parent company of station KGO, San Francisco, purchases the Sutro mansion and surrounding grounds from the Adolph Sutro estate, for the purposes of locating their broadcast studio and 500 ft tower on the property.

(photo © 1951, H. Blair)

KGO joins with other local broadcasters to expand the conditional use permit granted in 1948. This expansion called for the demolition of the Sutro mansion and the erection of a 977 ft broadcast tower to serve a group of local broadcasters. The Chronicle company, which owned land on San Bruno Mountain, as well as a broadcast site there, sues to have San Bruno designated as the main broadcast site for the group. FAA objects to such a tall tower so near the airport, and the project is given a green light for the ABC location.

Plans for the tower have ben substantially changed and the Planning Commission expresses reservations about the design. However, commission members say they have no way to rescind their approval so the project is given a green light.

December, 1970 - the Board of Examiners (not the Department of Building Inspection ) approves the design of the tower with three exceptions - three variances are placed on the tower, and these exceptions to the building code require that the tower be inspected annually by February 1 and every five years, with written reports to be sent to the Department of Building Inspection.

The variances relate to the type of guy wires used in the tower, and the type of coating used to retard corrosion.

The tower is completed and begins transmitting.

Sutro Tower plans a large expansion to the base of the building, and the addition of several antennas. Preliminary approval is given by the Zoning Administrator, who states that it is within their original permit to expand broadcasting.

Neighbors protest the expansion, and at a packed hearing the Planning Commission disapproves the expansion permit and places a policy of discretionary review on any expansion of Sutro Tower. This means that any further requests for expansion are subject to public review and review by the Planning Commission.

Current History of Sutro Tower DTV Expansion Plans

A private meeting is held in the Mayor's office regarding the expansion of Sutro Tower. A timeline is handed out by the project sponsor to various City departments.

No public notice is given of this meeting or the timeline.

1996 (May)
Robert Passmore, Zoning Administrator - Planning Department issues a determination letter to GCA Strategies, Sutro Tower's lobbyist, stating that the DTV expansion is within the original conditional use permit, and does not require an "amendment to the CU". This determination was not given at a public hearing, rather, a few members who were on the Planning Department's list of Interested Parties regarding Sutro Tower were sent copies.

1997 (March)
A letter is sent to "Interested Parties" who had expressed interest in Sutro Tower that an Environmental Impact Report was required for the expansion of Sutro Tower into DTV. Again, this was not a public hearing, but a mailing sent to those who had expressed interest in Sutro Tower.

(April) April 4 is the closing date for interested parties to submit information for the Environmental Impact Report. The preliminary Draft EIR includes information regarding both the Antennae and a Reinforcement of the tower.

(June) GCA strategies petitions the Planning Department to segment out the Reinforcement of the tower, calling it a seismic retrofit. The request is granted. A public hearing (with limited attendance) is held. A protest is made by neighbors that the project should be left in as part of the EIR review for the DTV antennae. Planning and the Planning Commission approve the segmentation. A permit is filed.

(July) A public hearing is held on the Draft EIR. Members of the TPIA board are present at the hearing and request an extension of the time for public comment (written). After strenuous objections by Sutro Tower, a one-month extension is granted. Public comment is extended from August 11 to September 10, 1977.

(August) Members of the TPIA board contact the Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association board. A public meeting is scheduled for both organizations on September 3.

(September) A public meeting is held on September 3 with 200 in attendance from TPIA and MTHOA. Approximately 300 comment forms, 40 letters and numerous petitions are sent to the Planning Department by the September 11 TPIA and MTHOA files a brief with Planning regarding the antennae on Sutro Tower.

(September) On September 14, Christine Linnenbach sends a letter to Robert Passmore, Zoning Administrator, asking him to reconsider his original decision regarding Sutro Tower. She contends that the DTV expansion is so great that a new Conditional Use Permit should be issued. Debra Stein of GCA strategies responds to this request on behalf of Sutro Tower stating that Ms. Linnenbach and the neighborhood have lost their right to appeal the original decision by not questioning the determination in 1996. Mr. Passmore agrees with the representatives of Sutro Tower and on October 28, sends Christine a letter stating that he will not reconsider his decision.

(September) On September 13, Christine Linnenbach sends a request to the Board of Appeals asking them to take jurisdiction regarding the permit approved to reinforce the tower. She states that this is not a reinforcement at all, but part of the antenna project and that it would not be needed except for the addition of the DTV antenna. Sutro Tower, anticipating a challenge to this permit, had already started work on the project. By the time the appeal was to be heard, the work was 90% complete on the reinforcement. Our appeal was withdrawn, as it would have been a waste of our time and money to pursue the request for jurisdiction.

(October) nancy Hogan sends a request to the Department of Building inspection regarding questions of seismic safety which were raised during the EIR comment period. She states that the City should consider the tower an "essential facility" and therefore subject the tower to a dynamic analysis to see if it can withstand a powerful earthquake using the latest building codes and new information developed from Kobe and Northridge.

(December) The Department of Building Inspection responds to the request for a dynamic analysis by informing TPIA that the City does consider the tower an "essential facility," No mention is made of any further testing on the tower, TPIA is invited to appeal the decision to the Building Inspection Commission.

An appeal is filed on behalf of TPIA and Midtown Terrace with regard to the decision not to require a dynamic analysis. A hearing date is scheduled for January 21, 1998.

Meanwhile...since July of 1997, Doris and Christine Linnenbach and Nancy Hogan estimate they have spent close to 600 hours tracing documents, phoning officials at the Planning Department, contacting San Francisco Supervisors (Bierman and Ammiano) and members of the Mayor's staff, as well as giving presentations to the West of Twin Peaks Council and the Galewood Circle Homeowners Association.

Quentin Kopp has sent a letter to the Planning Commission stating that the DTV antennae should go on Mt. San Bruno.

The West of Twin Peaks Council issued a Resolution regarding Sutro Tower, in which they oppose its expansion in San Francisco and recommend the DTV antennae be placed on Mt. San Bruno.

Supervisors Bierman and Ammiano are sympathetic to our cause, and have stated that they will oppose the DTV antennae should the decision come to the full Board.

The City Attorney's office filed a brief in November opposing the attempt by Sutro Tower via the National Association of Broadcasters petition to the FCC to override all local planning controls. Much of the information developed for the City Attorney's appeal before the FCC was the result of our EIR process. The seismic safety issue was featured, as well as the location of the tower in a highly populated residential neighborhood, near reservoirs and schools.

Supervisors Yee and Leno joined the ranks of those supporting a full dynamic analysis of Sutro Tower before the raising of the DTV mast.

The San Francisco Planning Commission, in actions taken February 26th, 1998, approved the Environmental Impact Report and gave Sutro Tower, Inc. permission to proceed with the construction of the DTV mast. More than 150 San Francisco residents appeared for the five-hour hearing on the 26th, and many neighborhood residents had the opportunity to speak out on the issues. Sutro Tower, Inc. agreed to notify administrators at neighboring schools of the schedule for hanging the mast (which will depend upon weather), and that information will be made available here. Sutro Tower, Inc. also agreed to expand its RFR monitoring program to include private residences (upon request) as well as public areas, subject to the terms it presented in its response to neighborhood comment. Sutro Tower's plans are currently being peer reviewed. More details will be forthcoming at this web site.

Supervisor Bierman presented a resolution requiring a full dynamic analysis of Sutro Tower before the mounting of the DTV mast.

The resolution to require a full dynamic analysis before the mounting of the DTV mast failed in a Board of Supervisors meeting in June, 1998.

On July 8, 1998, a lawsuit was filed in Superior Court by the Twin Peaks Improvement Association and the Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association, seeking to stop the mounting of the DTV mast until a full, peer-reviewed dynamic analysis can be performed.

On May 27, 1999, the Public Utilities & Deregulation Commmittee of the Board of Supervisors met to ask the Department of Building Inspection and the Department of City Planning about reports that more than 118 antennae or other additions had been made to the tower, including the installation of two underground fuel tanks, without obtaining building permits. At this meeting the departments were unable to provide sufficient information and the Supervisors requested this information for a meeting they then scheduled for July 20, 1999.

On July 20, 1999, the Public Utilities & Deregulation Committee of the Board of Supervisors met to receive a report from the Department of Building Inspection and the Department of City Planning regarding 118 or more antennae, reflectors and dishes which apparently have been added to the tower without the issuance of building permits. Information presented by Sutro Tower, Inc. was reviewed at that meeting but DBI was unable to present the require information regarding the status of building permits for those additions.

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