HomeCommunity NewsCouncil Improves Policy for Small Wireless Facilities

Council Improves Policy for Small Wireless Facilities

Resident Miriam Nakamura-Quan (left) shares thoughts on the small wireless facility resolution with the City Council as City Attorney Steven L. Flowers (center left) and Deputy City Clerk Nia Hernandez (foreground left) look on with a full house of residents in attendance at City Hall on April 10. Photo by Skye Hannah

At the April 10 meeting at City Hall, the San Marino City Council adopted with additions a resolution that amended application requirements and development standards for wireless telecommunications in the public right of way (ROW) and small wireless facilities. A strong showing of residents were present at the meeting. The City Council added points to the resolution that wireless companies may not install small wireless facilities within 200 feet of any private or public school, residents within 500 feet of the proposed installation must be notified and mock ups, or life-size replicas of the small wireless facility, must be installed at the proposed site before the facility is installed.

Several residents spoke in support of the changes and commended the council and city for their protective measures and advocacy efforts. Resident Miriam Nakamura-Quan said she was pleased to hear the city addressed many of the residents’ concerns in the amendment changes. She pointed out numer- providers have shown previous issues with creating misleading photo simulations of cabinet mockups and leaving leftover equipment after new installations.

“A lot of times they just abandon the footings,” said Nakamura-Quan.

The resolution comes in time for an April 15 deadline that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set as part of their September 2018 ruling meant to streamline deployment of “small wireless facilities” in the public right of way required for 5G technology and other wireless services.

According to a city report, the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order (Report and Order) “significantly restricts” the ability for local governments to regulate the small wireless facilities in the public right of way and the attachment the facilities to public infrastructure such as wood utility poles and streetlight poles in San Marino.

The Report and Order also outlines small wireless facilities as having antennas no more than three cubic feet in volume and accessory equipment no more than 28 cubic feet in volume (approximately the size of a refrigerator). Requirements for local regulation of the facilities involving aesthetics, undergrounding and spacing must be “reasonable, objective and published in advance” and went into effect April 15.

According to City Attorney Steven L. Flowers, the Report and Order puts new limits on the types of fees that local agencies can impose on installed wireless facilities, from one-time fee permitting to recurring fees on wireless facilities attached to structures such as street lights and utility poles in the right of way. He viewed this as the “real reach” of the FCC.

“We now have a federal agency order us basically to accept wireless antenna on city-owned property, so we are no longer in a position where we can negotiate license fees or rent for those kinds of facilities,” said Flowers.

Flowers presented the lengthy resolution that he prepared with direction from Aldo Cervantes, director of the Planning and Building Department. The resolution builds on the existing city policy with a focus on putting adequate design location standards in place.

Flowers expressed confidence that the city’s policy will enable staff to come back and close any loophole that wasn’t previously identified. With the design standards, there is now a preference for small wireless facilities to be installed in commercial right of way sites above all orders. From there is a descending order of priorities which goes from signalizing intersections, non-signalizing intersections and down to residential areas.

“Basically the further you’re getting away from larger intersections and arterials, the less preferred it would be,” said Flowers.

The policy added a category of prohibited areas which includes within 200 feet of a public or private school, in any median including but not limited to Huntington Drive, Old Mill Road and Sierra Madre Boulevard and any historic landmark or resource listed in the city’s inventory of historic resources. An addition change was added that includes the city park in with the median, to protect Lacy Park from wireless installations. The limitations will make it so when a wireless provider submits an application to install a facility, they will have to provide evidence that they’ve planned for the most preferred location.

“This way we are steering them as much as we can toward the locations that they city would most prefer,” said Flowers.

There will also be prohibitions and limitations on what equipment the small wireless facilities can be installed upon. The preference will be underground and only then on poles or support structures, integrated into the base of poles, or then a cabinet on the ground.

“The idea is to minimize the amount of cabinets we’re putting in on the street by putting as much as we can underground or putting as much as we can up on a pole and as a last resort, on the ground,” Flowers shared.

With suggestion from the City Council, Flowers added that the policy also states that all non-antenna accessory equipment will be required to be the smallest that is technically feasible “to achieve satisfactory network service.”

Flowers also outlined a “very strict” shock clock, a term borrowed from basketball into the wireless industry, which serves as a timeline by which cities must act to approve applications. The FCC also imposed new preemptive limits on the city’s ability to regulate the small wireless facility aesthetics, including color, undergrounding requirements and distancing requirements. In terms of concerns brought by the city in the application for the facilities, the FCC has said they must be reasonable, technically feasible, no more burdensome than other infrastructure deployment requirements and also published in advance. According to Flowers, the wording makes for no room for discretion in how the standard may be applied in the future.

“In lots of land use categories, we apply very subjective standards such as neighborhood compatibility,” said Flowers. “That’s the sort of thing the FCC was targeting here.”

Flowers expressed confidence that the city’s policy will enable staff to come back and close any loophole that wasn’t previously identified. With the design standards, there is now a preference for small wireless facilities to be installed in commercial right of way sites above all orders. From there is a descending order of priorities which goes from signalizing intersections, non-signalizing intersections and down to residential areas.

“Basically the further you’re getting away from larger intersections and arterials, the less preferred it would be,” expressed Flowers.

The policy added a category of prohibited areas which includes within 200 feet of a public or private school, in any median including but not limited to Huntington Drive, Old Mill Road and Sierra Madre Boulevard and any historic landmark or resource listed in the city’s inventory of historic resources. An addition change was added that includes the city park in with the median, to protect Lacy Park from wireless installations. The limitations will make it so when a wireless provider submits an application to install a facility, they will have to provide evidence that they’ve planned for the most preferred location.

“This way we are steering them as much as we can toward the locations that they city would most prefer,” said Flowers.

There will also be prohibitions and limitations on what equipment the small wireless facilities can be installed upon. The preference will be underground and only then on poles or support structures, integrated into the base of poles, or then a cabinet on the ground.

“The idea is to minimize the amount of cabinets we’re putting in on the street by putting as much as we can underground or putting as much as we can up on a pole and as a last resort, on the ground,” Flowers said.

With suggestions from the City Council, Flowers added that the policy also states that all non-antenna accessory equipment will be required to be the smallest that is technically feasible “to achieve satisfactory network service.”

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