Cities push to keep control over cell phone infrastructure | SierraSun.com

Cities push to keep control over cell phone infrastructure

Matthew Pera
mpera@theunion.com

Grass Valley and Nevada City are vocal opponents of what could soon become a new California law allowing cellular companies to install wireless infrastructure without approval from local governments.

Despite numerous city and county government leaders throughout the state opposing Senate Bill 649, the wireless telecommunications facilities bill, it has passed the state legislature and now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s approval.

According to Grass Valley Council Member Jan Arbuckle, over 300 of California’s 482 cities have written letters to state leaders opposing the bill.

Arbuckle was recently elected second vice president of the League of California Cities and attended a press conference last week hosted by the league discussing SB-649.

“It is such a bad bill for communities,” she said.

Arbuckle said the proposed law could pose challenges to maintaining Grass Valley’s historic aesthetic.

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“You can have this big, ugly, refrigerator-size box put down right in the middle of Mill Street on a pole,” she said. “That’s just not okay.”

Nevada City Council Member Reinette Senum called the proposed law — known informally as the “small cells bill” — a “hostile takeover by the telecom industry of local authority.”

Senum said Nevada City was among the first cities to send representatives to Sacramento to declare opposition to the bill.

As a direct result of the city’s activism, Senum said, the bill was amended to exempt historic districts from giving up the right to regulate wireless infrastructure.

If the new law passes, local governments will be unable to regulate the installation of cellular facilities on locally owned utility poles, streetlights and other suitable host infrastructure located within the public right-of-way and will also be unable to profit off of the infrastructure.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Grass Valley City Council members voted to send a letter to Brown requesting he veto SB-649.

“By eliminating our local discretion and mandating a ministerial process, SB 649 effectively eliminates the ability for our residents and businesses from having fair input over the character of their own communities,” the letter states.

“Most troubling is the shift of authority from the community and our elected officials to for-profit corporations for wireless equipment installations that can have significant health, safety, and aesthetic impacts when those companies have little, if any, interest to respect these concerns that potentially conflict with their profit margins.”

Grass Valley City Manager Tim Kiser said city staff and council members have been following the bill’s status for months and previously submitted a letter of opposition to state lawmakers.

SB-649 was presented to Brown Sept. 21. He is expected to sign or veto the bill within 30 days of presentation.