July 16, 2015 — A bill introduced in the California Assembly to speed up the zoning process for wireless broadband deployment has run into strong opposition from municipalities.
“Assembly Bill 57 (AB 57) denies community members meaningful opportunity to participate in the wireless siting process and prevent unsightly cell sites,” said Jonathan Kramer, managing partner at Los Angeles-based Telecom Law Firm.
AB 57 would be a “deem-approved” remedy for wireless cell site installation requests if the applications are not approved or disapproved within 150 days for new cell sites, or 90 days for modifications to existing cell sites, which goes beyond the FCC’s Shot Clock rules.
“The bill would deny the public a chance to be heard, especially for complicated cell site projects, creating a situation which would probably cause more conflict and delays than it claims to prevent,” said Robert May III, partner, Telecom Law Firm.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors objected strenuously to the legislation, saying that it forces a statewide policy on each locality.
The bill as drafted does not allow for additional time for local governments to conduct California Environmental Quality Act review, historic preservation reviews, cultural preservation reviews or other legitimate local questions of public concern, according to Kramer. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed.
“AB 57 does not appear to recognize the complex nature of land use, environmental review (e.g., archaeological, geotechnical, sensitive habitat, historic preservation), and noise effect consideration that may be associated with local approval of an application to construction a WTS facility, especially when that facility is poorly sited or designed,” according to a board resolution.
On behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, the San Francisco Planning Department wrote of “profound concerns” about how the bill will affect municipalities’ ability to work with wireless carriers.
“Unfortunately, AB 57 would detract from our ability to work collaboratively with wireless carriers to ensure appropriate wireless siting, public notice, and complete environmental review; pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act,” the San Francisco Planning Department wrote.
Legislative Process Differs Markedly from Policymaking
The future of AB 57 may be a carefully crafted piece of policy, but its future will depend on politics. The power of the committee chairmen and the political parties, the priorities of the governor, even the mix of other bills on the floor, all affect whether legislation becomes law.
For example, the cell tower legislation that passed in Iowa late in June pitted the wireless broadband priorities of Republican Governor Terry Branstad with the opposition from Democrats, who have the support of the Iowa League of Cities.
To gain the support of the League of Cities, Iowa legislators tied the passage of legislation containing the cities’ priorities, including flood mitigation and convention hotel development, to the passage of cell tower siting legislation. Another concession to municipalities was the inclusion of a five-year sunset on the new cell tower rules. And that is how the sausage is made.