California Legislators Take Away Cities’ Ability to Determine Tower Placement

Small cells like these could pop up closer to your home. Courtesy/Rohanmkth/Wikimedia

To the chagrin of city managers and mayors throughout California, SB649 passed–allowing telecommunication companies, such as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, to install mini cellular antennas in public rights of way and even in your front yard.

According to the League of California Cities (LOCC), which lobbied against the bill, cell antennas will no longer be subject to city or county permits and will be installed in publicly-owned spaces, mostly on utility and light poles and rights of way of streets and parks. The term of the leases can last up to 40 years.

There will also be a cap of only $250 that a city can charge to lease the city’s “vertical infrastructure.”

Assembly Member Bill Quirk, a Democrat from Hayward, wrote an opinion in favor of SB649. He said that passing the bill was critical if California wants to stay at the leading edge of technological innovation. The equipment is necessary to power next-generation 5G networks.

“SB 649 will help families and businesses gain access to a technology that will reshape modern life. The 5G technology will support smart cities, improve public safety, and provide environmental and economic gains,” said Quirk.

The Assembly approved the bill September 13 in a 46-16 vote, with a larger than normal number of members not voting at 17.

Visalia Assistant Manager Leslie Caviglia and Vice Mayor Bob Link were in Sacramento lobbying against the bill when it passed.

“Cities will have no say on where they put the transmitters. It could be placed right in front of your house,” said Link.

It was with a tone of disbelief that Caviglia and Link related that Assemblyman Devon Mathis voted in favor of the bill. They said Mathis had personally told them at a regional meeting for the LOCC August 10 in Fresno that he would not vote for SB649.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” said Link. “A lot of representatives feel that big companies are more important than their constituents. I am very disappointed.”

Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler said, “As to Devon, I just believe it’s the lack of core convictions and lack of understanding.  Under those circumstances, he’s subject to manipulation by the special interests. After promising local officials that he’d vote against it Devon Mathis voted for it and it passed. “

Caviglia said that 260 cities had rallied against SB649. “Everyone from conservative to liberal to the Teamsters to the AARP came out against this bill,” she said.

Gubler added, “The LOCC opposed this fiasco bill, as did all our Tulare County cities. The bottom line is that we do not have effective local representation in Sacramento.”

Governor Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill. Cavaglia was hopeful Brown would veto the bill because he was a former mayor of Oakland.

“He understands how important local control is,” she said.

When asked if he had had the opportunity to ask Mathis why he voted yes on SB649 Link said, “I think he is in hiding.”

The Voice reached out to Assemblyman Mathis’ Chief of Staff Sam Cannon but got no response.

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