Differing opinions on ‘small cell’ bill

REGION — Oceanside has joined the League of California Cities in sending state representatives a letter of opposition to SB 649. The city feels the small cell bill takes away local control and public input on wireless facilities.

The bill has the support of Sen. Patricia Bates, representative of District 36 and Senate Republican leader. She says it helps address a statewide need.

“I support SB 649 because it will expedite the development of a stronger and more reliable wireless communications network critical to California’s economic growth,” Bates said. “With SB 649, California will establish policies that will allow citizens, businesses and government agencies to benefit from new innovations including 5G service that many consumers in San Diego and Orange counties desire.”

Bates added she recognizes the opposition of local government officials, but sees the bill as a positive step forward.

“I believe the bill strikes the right balance by reducing red tape that can delay development for months while ensuring compliance with all applicable health and safety requirements,” Bates said. “It also addresses environmental concerns. That is why the Senate approved SB 649 on a nearly unanimous and bipartisan vote, and why the bill earned the support of a diverse cross section of community and public safety groups.”

Currently laws require a wireless telecommunications collocation facility to have a city or county discretionary permit and comply with local criteria. A collocation facility, which includes antennas and equipment installed adjacent to it, is a permitted use and does not need a discretionary permit.

The proposed bill would allow a small cell, with 6 to 21 cubic feet of antennas, to also be a permitted use. It would also let cities and counties require an encroachment permit or building permit, and charge an annual administrative permit fee, annual attachment rate or one-time reimbursement fee.

Oceanside feels the bill would shut out public input on how small cell deployment would work best for a local jurisdiction. It would also leave the city no recourse to take down a small cell if residents filed a complaint against one.

The bill does not include a size limit on small cell electric meters, pedestals, concealment elements, demarcation boxes, grounding equipment, power transfer switches and cutoff switches.

Furthermore  cities would be unable to impose needed maintenance requirements for small cells. Cities would be limited to imposing building and encroachment permits.

The bill also caps the amount cities can negotiate leases of public property at $250.

In contrast to Bates’ view, cities that oppose the bill feel it makes it tough for unserved or underserved parts of the state to gain deployment. There is no requirement for small cells to deliver 4G standard level or 5G standard level, which is in development.

Opponents say the bill is not about 5G wireless deployment, but about local deregulation of the entire telecommunications industry.

In a letter sent to Bates and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, representative of District 80, and chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Oceanside City Council said SB 649 “is the wrong approach and benefits the corporate bottom lines rather than communities.”

The bill is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Aug. 23. If approved, it will go to the full Assembly and then return to the Senate for another vote if amendments are made.

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