San Francisco Opposes Senate Bill 649 Over State Authority on Deployment

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion denying a shift in regulation – for the placement of wireless communications devices –  from local municipalities to the state. The resolution, announced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, marks the city’s formal opposition to Senate Bill SB649 introduced by state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego..  An excerpt from the bill states: “This bill would provide that a small cell is a permitted use, not subject to a city or county discretionary permit, if the small cell meets specified requirements. By imposing new duties on local agencies, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program. The bill would authorize a city or county to require an administrative permit for small cell, as specified. The bill would define the term “small cell” as a particular type of telecommunications facility for these purposes.”

If the bill passes in its current form, San Francisco will lose out on “tens of millions of dollars” in fees for permitting or leasing areas where the small-cell infrastructures are constructed, Farrell told the SFGATE.   

On April 4, the bill passed out of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee; it grants the state authority to issue permits for small cell devices, boosting cell phone signals in densely populated areas.

The bill is “essential to expanding California’s digital infrastructure and providing greater, faster access to next-generation wireless networks,” according to Sophia Cazanis, a California spokeswoman for CTIA. The state’s “economic future increasingly depends on” wireless networks and California consumers are “overwhelmingly” demanding them, she said.

If SB649 doesn’t get passed, a major challenge is the cumbersome process that will ensue for telecommunications companies to deploy the most cutting-edge technology for their customers. Having a “statewide framework” for approval will streamline this process, according to Cazanis.

However, along with San Francisco, 23 other California localities, including Dublin, Hayward, Lodi and Santa Clara, oppose the SB649 legislation. Local governments do not want to allow these decisions to be made at the state level because they fear that local issues are not being taken into consideration, reported SFGATE. Issues such as design, impact on historical sites and the structural integrity of antennas were cited. These concerns have turned the legislation around antenna installations into an ongoing struggle between the state and local governments.

“It’s a push-and-pull between the various levels of governments,” said Michael Ritter, a telecommunications attorney in Carlsbad (San Diego County) who spent nine years at the FCC. “The overall goal [of the bill] is to make things go faster. That’s what the industry wants. They don’t think the municipalities act quickly enough and are throwing up roadblocks to the deployment of the small-cell technology,” Ritter said.

Supervisor Farrell doesn’t have these same reservations regarding the efficiencies of processes in San Francisco, citing that “well over 90 percent” of the applications for small cell installations have been permitted. The Board of Supervisors wants to ensure that the residents have access to cutting-edge telecommunications; they’re just cautious about how to make that happen, he said.
There seem to be too many unanswered questions for the city of San Francisco to, in good conscience, support SB649. Farrell told SFGATE that San Francisco would “explore all options as a city” when it comes to fighting its implementation.
April 17, 2017


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