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Vista hosts workshop on antennae towers

VISTA — Officials in Vista are looking to create new rules that would determine how new antennas for wireless networks look, in order to better integrate them into the city.

Vista currently doesn’t have regulations that determine how “wireless facilities” look, and a consultant for the city said it could be the difference between “Charlie Brown Christmas Trees” — antennae trying to pass for trees — or facilities that are hidden inside buildings and streetlights.

“We’re making sure we’re on top of what the city wants to see,” said Tripp May, a lawyer with Telecom Law Firm in La Jolla.

May said cities cannot prohibit new wireless facilities, and that state and federal law allows wireless carriers to fill “significant gaps” in their network coverage through the “least intrusive means.”

As long as a proposed site complies with federal radio frequency standards for human health, local governments are allowed to determine what they want to see, and regulate locations and designs that align with the city’s values.

May gave an example: A carrier identifies a location that would benefit from a new 50-foot tower, but the city doesn’t want towers over 35 feet. The city can provide lower impact alternatives to the 50-foot tower, like two 35-foot towers at either end of the site, and choose the option that would help the carrier achieve the same coverage goal.

Community Development Director John Conley said the city is currently operating under rules that govern TV and satellite antennae, but they are seeing an uptick in requests for new facilities.

“We’ve known we’ve needed this for a long time, and now we’re finally getting there,” Conley said.

The city held a workshop on Feb. 8, and a few residents attended, who were concerned about towers Carlsbad permitted and height restrictions.

A representative from AT&T said as carriers move toward 5G, new networks would allow towers to be smaller — about 9-inches in length — but more frequent in location.

Those towers could be installed inside existing streetlights.