Mega-cellphone towers may be coming our way?


San Mateo’s Public Works Commission will be considering draft legislation to regulate the installation of macro tower cell antenna installations next month. Currently, the city has one small installation that is operational at Palm and Ninth avenues.

Cities now have more ability to regulate where and how these macro tower cells will be located with the veto by Gov. Jerry Brown of Senate Bill 649. This legislation by the telecommunications industry applied broadly to all providers and the equipment they use from “micro-wireless” to “small cell” to macro-towers. This bill, if it became law, would have led to local deregulation of the entire telecommunications industry, according to the League of California Cities, which lobbied against SB 649. It placed a new ban on city/county regulation of placement or operation of these cell towers and left city oversight on only small cell antennas.

The bill would allow for antennas as large as 6 cubic feet, equipment boxes totaling 35 cubic feet (larger than previous bill version of 21 cubic feet), with no size or quantity limitations for the following equipment: electric meters, pedestals, concealment elements, demarcation boxes, grounding equipment, power transfer switches and cutoff switches.

Three cheers for Gov. Brown. The telecommunications lobby is powerful in Sacramento and that is why SB 649 was passed by the Senate and the Assembly. The League of California Cities lobbied hard against this bill and we owe them and Gov. Brown our thanks.

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I would also like to thank Susan Rowinski, a new member of the San Mateo Public Works Commission, for bringing this issue to my attention. She voted against the draft proposal presented to the commission in October before SB 649 was vetoed and when staff assumed it would become law.

Commissioner Ellen Ulrich also voted no. Rowinski voted against it because the draft did not allow for sufficient community input. That is her major concern. The original draft allowed 10 days for citizen appeal at the cost of $500 before it was appealed to the City Council. That’s a heavy financial burden for a citizen appeal.

Let’s assume we need enhanced wireless access and a high-tech city does for the benefit of residents and business. But the question before the commissioners will be where the enhanced wireless facilities should be located. Rowinski feels they should not be located in residential backyards and there should be enough space on the public right of way to accommodate what is needed. She also wants the city to determine the need and not leave that up to the industry. The new cellphone equipment would be placed on utility poles and city-owned poles. There is a licensing fee of $1,500 renewable every five years.

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City staff is currently seeking input from the telecommunication carriers, and hearing their concerns before bringing a new draft ordinance to the commission. Staff is also working with other Peninsula cities to establish common ordinance language and requirements so that the carriers cannot “pit” one agency against another. They are also considering Commissioner Rowinksi’s question related to poles in backyard easements.

I am confident that city staff and Public Works Commission will do their best to protect the aesthetics of the city while meeting the demand for enhanced wireless access. This is a time for citizens to become informed, not hysterical, and make their informed views to the commission and council.

This reminds me of years ago when a cable company started putting those ugly green boxes on city streets, in front of people’s homes and landscaped areas. It seems the city had no control over where these installations went.

I was on the City Council at the time and received a call from a resident on Eaton Road who was upset that the landscaped island on their street now hosted a big green box which was taller than the plants which surrounded it. And it was right before Christmas. I called Lee Davis, who was the community affairs director for the cable company. She came out to look at it and promised she would do what she could. The next day, a huge red velvet ribbon surrounded the ugly green box, and before long the plantings eventually covered it. That story ended well. Let’s home our new adventure does too.

This article originally ran on smdailyjournal.com.

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