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Senate Governance and Finance Committee Votes to Limit Local Control and Revenue over Installation of “Small Cell” Equipment

SB 649 Now Heads to Appropriations Committee

April 28, 2017
Despite opposition from at least 90 cities across the state to SB 649 (Hueso), the Senate Governance and Finance Committee unanimously voted (7-0) to limit local control and revenue from the installation of “small cell” equipment on all public property within and out of the public right-of-way (PROW).
During Wednesday’s committee hearing, the wireless telecommunications industry claimed its proposal was aimed at streamlining the process to install small cell technology and to establish “fair” permitting rates. Instead the measure removes local land use authority and establishes arbitrarily low fee structures that do not even cover the cost of staff to review small cell applications.
While Committee Chair Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) worked vigorously to improve components of the bill, details of the proposed amendments are still pending and continue to be problematic. On their surface, the amendments propose to:
  • Carve out coastal zones and historic districts from the provisions of this bill; and
  • Remove reference to the word “ministerial,” instead requiring city or county approval for a “small cell” through a building permit or its functional equivalent when outside of the PROW and through an encroachment permit, its functional equivalent, and any ministerial permits when in the PROW. 
The wireless industry claims the intent is not to limit local discretion over installation of these cells within their jurisdictions, yet the provisions would limit a local agency’s ability to:
  • Impose requirements to provide additional services, such as a condition to make the data network available for police, fire, or library services or to reserve public pole space for other technologies such as solar panels or public safety tools such as gunshot triangulation technology;
  • Require submission of additional information beyond what’s required of similar construction projects regarding the “small cell,” limiting the city’s ability to know exactly what is being installed in their communities;
  • Require the wireless companies to perform regular maintenance, maintenance during certain hours, or repair/replacement of failed or dilapidated equipment; and
  • Exempt any area of their community from this proposal’s permitting process that is not located in a local historic district or in a coastal zone. 
SB 649 allows small cell antennas on public pole structures to be as large as six cubic feet, and its associated equipment (i.e. power supply, etc) as large as 21 cubic feet on the pole structure itself. The proposal excludes the following ancillary equipment from all of the size limitations mentioned above:
  • Electric meters and their pedestals;
  • Concealment elements;
  • Demarcation boxes;
  • Grounding equipment;
  • Power transfer switches; and
  • Vertical cable runs. 
Ultimately, SB 649 and its proposed amendments would unnecessarily shut out public input when a better approach would be one that encourages coordination and vision for “small cell” deployment in a way that works best for each city across California.
Next Steps
The bill will go next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The League encourages cities to contact their legislators below to urge them to oppose SB 649 and its proposed amendments. The League’s sample letter is available at www.cacities.org/billsearch by plugging SB 649 into the search function.
Senate Appropriations Committee Members:

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