Capitol Alert

Bill to expand wireless equipment in California public spaces heads to Brown

A California Senate bill to expedite the installation of wireless technology equipment on utility poles and street lights is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The California State Association of Counties says the measure will allow companies to install large and obstructive antennas and equipment on nearly any street light or traffic signal without the input of residents and business owners. The bill restricts cities and counties from rejecting permits and negotiating leases and limits how much telecommunication companies have to pay to install the wireless technology equipment on public property.

Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, is carrying Senate Bill 649 for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which argues that streamlining the approval process for installing the equipment will expand connectivity in the state and help California better meet the demand for the next generation of wireless communication, namely the 5G cellular network.

Cities and counties vehemently oppose the measure because it eliminates the ability of local government to use discretion and gather public input when issuing permits to telecommunication companies to place “small cell” equipment in a public right of way. The bill requires cities to approve permits if the equipment would be located in the public right-of-way or a commercial or industrial zone and complies with all federal, state and local safety regulations.

The bill limits the size of ground mounted equipment and additional poles to 35 cubic feet and caps equipment attached to utility poles at 21 cubic feet. Antennas cannot exceed 6 cubic feet in volume.

“SB 649 is a handout to the wireless industry,” said Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities. “The bill shifts power and resources from local governments and our residents to the telecommunications industry.”

The state Assembly passed the bill Wednesday on a 46-16 vote. The Senate approved the measure on a 22-10 vote Thursday to send it to Brown.

“The League of Cities is a formidable opponent and they worked really hard putting a lot of resources against the bill,” Hueso said. He said the measure is necessary to reduce the cost of cellphone service across the state and improve connectivity.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna