Another Proposed (& Poorly Written) California Law on Telecom/Wireless/Cellular

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Omar Masry, AICP, Senior Analyst at City and County of San Francisco | Office of the City Administrator

So it appears a State law (AB 2788) is being proposed (by gutting and amending a totally different bill, on safer natural gas storage, at the last minute) to basically allow cell antennas anywhere, in California, without any discretion over issues like noise (cooling fans), size (aesthetics or potential for refrigerator-sized cabinets to block views from your window), historic preservation, particulates (e.g. diesel backup generators next to child care centers or bedroom windows near the roof of a building-mounted facility next door).

This bill would appear to apply to cell sites on both buildings, and also apply to the public right-of-way (wood or steel poles and ground-mounted boxes on streets/sidewalks). This means brand new poles (15 to 100+ feet tall) and noisy equipment cabinets (some the size of viking fridges) in front of your single family home. Unless of course, you happen to live in a gated community.

The Deceptive Nature of the Bill: While the bill attempts to create certain size limits and touts “Small Cells;” this bill is not straightforward (some feel the bill is deceptive). 

  1. The bill’s size limits exclude diesel generators, equipment cabinets (with loud cooling fans) the size of viking fridges, or lead-acid battery packs. It ALSO leaves out the pole or steel tower (whether 20 feet or 100 feet tall) holding up the antennas, from the size limits.

Under the rules written by AT&T/Verizon, er…I mean Assemblymember Gatto, this 120-foot tall Mobilitie/Sprint monopole would count as a Small Cell and be allowed in front of a single-family home without any review.

  1. The bill authors (folks are saying it is AT&T and Verizon’s lobbyists along with WIA) know full well that once an unscreened “Small Cell” goes up; then the day after installation, a carrier can “6409 it”, i.e., use a poorly written 2014 Federal order by the FCC to turn it into a monopole or “Macro Cell;” and:

Increase the height by 10 feet

  • Add vertical extensions arms by 6 feet
  • Add large, bulky, and noisy (fans) equipment cabinets (even if right outside your bedroom window)
  • Add large swoops of cabling hanging from poorly designed antenna arrays.
  • Add diesel generators and fuel tanks for backup power.
  • Add blinking or steady indicator lights and large decals/logos outside bedroom windows or in historic districts.

These expansion limits are even greater for a tower outside the public right-of-way, if located on private property.

In other words, you can take a noiseless “Small Cell” and turn it (using “6409”) into a noisy and ugly monopole (perhaps with aircraft warning lights), even if situated on the sidewalk in front of historic single family homes. Also, the bill language does not include the new support structure (e.g. 100 foot tall pole in sensitive habitat such as dedicated open space) in the calculation of what constitutes an exempt “Small Cell.”

The bill would also remove any ability for the City to ensure the equipment areas don’t result in the displacement of tenants (I’ve seen small businesses on month-to-month leases be threatened with eviction until I stepped in) to make room.This bill is poor policy being rammed in at the last minute of the legislative session.

Disclaimer: This post represents my personal thoughts, and does not represent any agency. In addition, multi-grain bread is not really healthier than white bread. Opt for whole grain instead.

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