Santa Barbara Takes Comments on Small Wireless Facilities Ordinance

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On Tuesday, the city of Santa Barbara released their Draft Small Wireless Facilities Ordinance for public comment. The city invited written comments on the ordinance and will accept them through January 15, 2021. The purpose of the legislation is to regulate the installation, operation, and maintenance of small wireless telecommunication facilities (“SWF”) on property or structures owned or controlled by the city.  

One anonymous respondent said: “Won’t have to microwave your food anymore, just hold it next to the nearest tower. Going to need 100s of new cell towers for 5G. 4G towers were designed to support approximately 6,500 devices per square mile, whereas 5G can support upwards of 1 million devices in the same area.”

The city announced it recognizes the unrestricted installation of redundant wireless telecommunication facilities is contrary to the efforts to “to promote safety and aesthetic considerations and a basic residential character within the city.” 

The following is a brief description of some major provisions contained in the ordinance:

  • Preferred Location and Discouraged Location provisions that require SWFs to be installed in locations, ordered from most preferred to least preferred located. In addition, SWFs cannot be installed in a Discouraged Location unless no alternative site in a Preferred Location would be technically feasible. These provisions encourage the installation and operation of wireless telecommunication facilities where they are needed, while reducing, to the greatest extent feasible, adverse safety and aesthetic impacts on nearby properties and the community as a whole.
  • The proposed ordinance also contains a Support Structure Preference, which requires SWFs in the public rights-of-way to be installed on support structures, ordered from most preferred to least preferred. For example, existing street lights would fall under most preferred while decorative poles would be least preferred.
  • All SWFs installed on city property/structures require a permit issued by the Public Works Department. As part of the Permit application process, the Ordinance contains provisions for a Voluntary Pre-Submittal Conference with City staff to discuss concerns involving the proposed SWF, such as compliance with generally applicable rules for public health and safety and potential concealment issues. The Ordinance also encourages applicants to notice and schedule Community Meetings. This voluntary pre-submittal public meeting is intended to give applicants the opportunity to hear from members of the public regarding any proposed deployment of a SWF.
  • The proposed Ordinance also contains design standards that focus on concealment and finishes in order to blend in with the surrounding area and that the SWF must be compliant with City noise regulations.
  • The city also has the ability to repeal a preapproved design and substitute a new one in the future as the technology changes.
  • The proposed ordinance contains an Indemnification provision and Insurance requirement for all applicants that holds the City harmless and requires the maintenance of insurance on an occurrence basis, with limits set at no less than $1,000,000 per occurrence or $2,000,000 in the aggregate.
  • The proposed ordinance contains the ability for interested persons(s) to appeal the issuance of a permit for a SWF to City Council. The issues on appeal are strictly limited. For example, an individual can only appeal that the radio frequency emissions do not comply with the standards under FCC order or can only appeal if the aesthetics of the design do not meet the standards under the ordinance.

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