An incredible ruse is going down at City Hall. Somehow, AT&T – with help from their well-connected lobbyists – is on the verge of getting an exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) to install 726 giant metal utility boxes on San Francisco’s sidewalks, adding to the thousand or so smaller AT&T boxes which already grace our sidewalks. They’ve been working on getting this exemption since 2008.

Why would any elected official (yes, we’re talking to you, David Chiu) vote to give a giant corporation an exemption from studying the adverse environmental impacts of its actions? Good question. And it’s one that we’ve been asking over and over again in our neighborhood.

There is little doubt that pedestrians will be harmed by this giveaway to AT&T. These utility boxes are huge -- measuring 4’ x 4’ x 2.5’, which doesn’t even include the large metal bollards which would surround them.

Yesterday, in a significant show of solidarity, the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association joined a host of other community organizations including Sierra Club, Walk SF, League of Pissed Off Voters, Senior Action Network, San Francisco Tomorrow, and San Francisco Beautiful at a rally to express our support for an environmental impact report (“EIR”).

Here’s why an EIR makes sense: CEQA states that “the possible effects of a project are individually limited but cumulatively considerable … that the incremental effects of an individual project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects.”

This is an important point that bears emphasizing. In a city that already has over 1,000 utility boxes that litter our sidewalks, doesn’t it make sense to study what adverse impacts, if any, adding another 726 boxes would pose?

Simply put, we need an EIR to ensure that efforts are made to mitigate or eliminate the environmental impacts that we know will arise if these boxes are put on our sidewalks. Are there alternatives to taking up our public sidewalk space with these boxes? Can they be put underground or on private property? We won’t know without an EIR—and without an EIR, AT&T will happily usurp our public space, as they laugh all the way to the bank.

We don’t need more privatization of our sidewalks. And our elected officials owe it to our community to see to it that the environmental impacts are examined.

Let’s not forget: sidewalks belong to pedestrians, not corporations.

David Troup is a member of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association