This proposal represents a major shift in telecommunications policy and law by requiring local governments to lease out the public’s property, cap how much cities can lease this space out for, eliminate the ability for cities to negotiate public benefits, the public’s input and full discretionary review in all communities of the state except for areas in coastal zones and historic districts, for the installation of “small cell” wireless equipment.
The bill will have its first hearing in the Assembly on Wednesday, June 28 in the Local Government Committee. It will also be heard in the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee. That date has not been set but it is eligible to be heard in that committee as early as June 28,
As amended, the bill is no longer limited to just “small cells.” SB 649 now applies broadly to all telecommunications providers and the equipment they use from “micro-wireless” to “small cell” to “macro-towers.” It’s clear from the direction of this bill, that the intent is not about 5G wireless deployment, but rather local deregulation of the entire telecommunications industry. This latest version places a new ban on city/county regulation of placement or operation of “communication facilities” within and outside the public right-of-way far beyond “small cells.” This new language would extend local pre-emption of regulation to any “provider authorized by state law to operate in the rights-of-way,” which can include communications facilities installed for services such as gas, electric, and water, leaving cities and counties with limited oversight only over “small cells.”
Despite the wireless industry’s claim that the equipment would be “small” in an attempt to justify this special permitting and price arrangement solely for the industry, the bill would allow for antennas as large as six cubic feet, equipment boxes totaling 35 cubic feet (larger than previous bill version of 21 cubic feet), with no size or quantity limitations for the following equipment: electric meters, pedestals, concealment elements, demarcation boxes, grounding equipment, power transfer switches, and cutoff switches. SB 649 includes language that would, among other things:
- Tie the hands of local government by prohibiting discretionary review of “small cell” wireless antennas and related equipment, regardless of whether they will be collocated on existing structures or located on new "poles, structures, or non-pole structures," including those within the public right-of-way;
- Shut out the public from the permitting process and pre-empt adopted local land use plans by mandating that “small cells” be allowed in all zones as a use by-right;
- Provide a de facto exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the installation of such facilities and precludes consideration by the public of the aesthetic, nuisance impacts, and other environmental impacts of these facilities; and
- Cap lease agreements for use of public property at $250 (it was $850 under the prior version of the bill) annually per attachment rates for each “small cell.” In contrast, some cities have been able to negotiate leases for “small cells” upwards of $3,000, while others have negotiated “free” access to public property in exchange for a host of tangible public benefits, such as free Wi-Fi in public places, or network build-out to underserved parts of their cities.
Cities are encouraged to oppose SB 649. The League has prepared a sample letter that cities can tailor to their own communities. This sample, along with the bill text and the League’s letters can be found at www.cacities.org/billsearch
by plugging SB 649 into the search function.