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Editorial: Wireless facility bill will circumvent local control

 

Thank you, Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), for being the lone No vote on Senate Bill 649, which, in essence, usurps local government control of public right-of-ways and restricts their ability to collect rent for putting cell towers on public property.

Glazer, our local state senator, told us that he voted No on the "Wireless Telecommunications Facilities" bill because, "Local communities, with the input of the public, are better positioned to approve or disapprove wireless permitting issues. This bill did not demonstrate a compelling need to circumvent local control."

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which represents the U.S. wireless industry and has powerful lobbyists, is listed as the bill's source. It was introduced by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) who, according to FollowtheMoney.org, received $6,600 from AT&T and $6,500 from Verizon Communications in campaign contributions when he ran for his Senate District 40 seat in 2014.

During the May 31 discussions on the Senate floor, Hueso said this bill will make "California more connected and faster in our telecommunications industry" and it will "help to usher in a new era of technology in California and ... bring to California what the people desperately want which is to be more connected and (have) faster service."

Maybe, but it also smacks of eminent domain abuse by, basically, taking the authority away of cities, counties and other local government bodies by making them unable to decide the best use for public land.

This bill mandates cities and counties lease public property for the not-so-small cell antennas -- as large as 6 cubic feet antennas and 21 cubic feet for "associated equipment" such as meters, boxes, switches and other attractive furnishings. (Imagine a space about the size of a refrigerator.) Even better, to be effective, the cells need to be very close to one another -- likely within 1,000 feet.

When asking for Yes votes, Senate supporters including Hueso and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) emphasized local governments won't be made to "subsidize the program" because all costs associated with placing the "poles" will be covered.

However, any revenues currently realized by rents paid for use of public land by wireless companies will be diminished, if not eliminated.

Currently local governments have the ability to charge rent or negotiate for other benefits in exchange for use of public property. Some local governments are charging wireless carriers up to $4,000 in annual rent to use the public's infrastructure, while others have negotiated "free" wi-fi in public places or coverage in outlying areas. This bill caps leasing fees to $250 for each tower -- total -- and negates any power to negotiate.

However, SB 649 does address local governments' ability to have input on design standards and require insurance and maintenance. Well, according to Sen. Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco), the issues were "largely addressed" in the most recent revision but still need "tweaking."

The bill, which could be argued an issue of eminent domain, also requires cities to adopt public resolution for each of their own street or traffic lights if they want to use them for something other than a cell pole -- like a police camera or solar panel.

More than 115 small- and medium-sized cities, a large number of chambers of commerce and the League of California Cities oppose the bill. Still, it passed the Senate 32-1 on May 31 with support on both sides of the aisle and is now in committee in the Assembly.

We urge local Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) to oppose this bill, and we encourage concerned residents to make their feelings known.

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