San Rafael, Calif., Moves to Limit Small Cells in Spite of FCC

The Federal Communications Commission’s recent limitations on local control and the fees they can charge telecoms is not stopping city officials from crafting regulations meant to slow the proliferation of 5G infrastructure.

by Adrian Rodriquez, The Marin Independent Journal / December 3, 2018
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(TNS) — San Rafael, Calif., is poised to become the latest Marin city to impose tighter restrictions on the installation of small cell antennas used for the next-generation wireless network known as 5G.

The city council on Monday will weigh in on a draft ordinance and resolution that would allow the city to limit installations in residential districts and create separation and height requirements, among other policies and limitations.

Paul Jensen, community development director, said the challenge in writing regulations is that the new rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission on Sept. 26 limit local authority.

The presentation, Jensen said, “is so that the city council understands their role in this and what they can and cannot regulate.”

At the meeting, Jonathan Kramer, of Telecom Law Firm, will make a presentation on the FCC’s ruling, which effectively gives telecom companies millions of dollars in financial breaks by limiting how local jurisdictions can charge in access fees for 5G antennas.

Under the FCC’s new policy, local jurisdictions will be allowed to charge no more than $270 per year per cell site in access fees.

The FCC rules also set strict timelines for granting approvals for antennas, requiring cities and counties to act on applications for deployments on existing structures within 60 days. Applications for entirely new installations must be acted on within 90 days.

Jensen said the city has had a longstanding telecommunications ordinance that was last updated in 2014. The proposed ordinance, however, would specifically address small cell antennas.

“We found that there were enough nuances in the FCC ruling to set these types of wireless facilities apart from the rest,” Jensen said, “which is why we are looking at a separate ordinance and a separate set of regulations that are specific to small cell facilities in the public right of way.”

The primary selling point of the 5G technology is speed; supporters say it will provide download speeds to mobile devices faster than what many Americans receive on their home Internet connections.

For several weeks now, Marin residents concerned about the potential proliferation of antennas in their neighborhoods have been showing up at public meetings imploring local officials to block the coming wave of installations. The main concern is about the potential health risks from increased proximity to radio frequency emissions.

Ross, Mill Valley, San Anselmo and Fairfax have all adopted urgency ordinances to tighten rules, while officials of each jurisdiction continue to explore ways to make them stronger.

Last month, Marin County joined several cities and counties across the U.S. in a legal challenge to the FCC’s policies. The Town of Fairfax has also joined the fray but with a different coalition of municipalities.

The issue has been so complicated that in Fairfax last week, after two hours of deliberation and public comment, the Planning Commission delayed its vote on a draft ordinance until next meeting.

Fairfax resident Jess Lerner, who helped organize a group called 5G Free Marin, said opponents to 5G have taken issue with the public process, permitting of antennas and potential negative impact on property values, among a laundry list of concerns.

“The Planning Commission is doing an amazing job with this,” Lerner said. “They took this very seriously and really heard what the public had to say.”

Lerner said she is hopeful that Fairfax will develop what could be “a strong ordinance … that will reflect the values of the town.”

The San Rafael City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. at City Hall at 1400 Fifth Ave.

©2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.