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Amendments to municipal code required to comply with federal regulations

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday will do some housekeeping, cleaning up disparities between city and federal regulations related to wireless facilities.

Staff has requested feedback from the council on recommended changes to the municipal code that respond to a Federal Communications Commission rule passed in October of 2018. The stated goal of the FCC rule is to streamline state and local reviews of wireless communication facility applications and to facilitate the deployment of small wireless facilities. 

The council will review at tonight’s meeting the amendments city staff has recommended to improve compliance with the FCC rule and move regulations of the facilities and similar utilities to the section of the city code dealing with streets and highways. 

Recommendations include offering incentives for facility locations to be shared and updating rules for facilities that use the public right of way. 

Among the 16 recommendations: 

--Applications that meet city aesthetic guidelines chosen by the council would be issued administrative permits for installations in the public right-of-way on commercial and city-owned property. 

--Deployment in residential areas would be strictly controlled. 

--View impacts should be minimized. 

--Locating facilities on pre-existing structures should be encouraged.

The council was advised in April that the city would either adopt the FCC guideline or default to the government regulation pertaining to the facilities, which are expected to accommodate Fifth Generation wireless infrastructure –commonly called 5G. The city has little say in the matter.

Asked at the April meeting how much discretion the city has, City Attorney Philip Kohn said, “The short answer is very little.”

The FCC claims the order was necessary to “help ensure the United States wins the global race to 5G” by removing regulatory barriers that it claims would “unlawfully inhibit deployment of infrastructure necessary to support these new services.”

Local regulations related to radio frequency emission impacts on the environmental, human health and safety concerns could not be imposed to restrict cell towers, according to City Attorney Travis Van Ligten.

Local governments tried unsuccessfully to obtain a stay of the FCC order pending the outcome of litigation. 

Mayor Bob Whalen said in April that the city’s best hope is legislation. A previous legal challenge by the city some years ago on its control of telecommunications installations had ended up in court – and it didn’t go well for Laguna.

“These [installations] are going to happen,” said Matt Lawson, chair of the Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee. “We don’t have that much control.”

Tonight’s recommendations provide the council with strategies to implement an efficient process for small-scale cell sites, to minimize the number of utility poles and health risks and still comply with federal and state requirements.