Bill forcing California cities to lease cell sites, scrap permits magically appears

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Camouflaged with associated equipment. Can’t get any smaller than that.

Using a legislative maneuver delicately referred to as gut and amend, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) transmogrified a bill about natural gas storage into a free pass for mobile phone companies to 1. install cell sites pretty much anywhere they want with little or no oversight by local governments and 2. force local governments to lease publicly owned facilities for the purpose (h/t to Omary Masry at the City and County of San Francisco for the pointer).

Assembly bill 2788 will now, according to the legislative analysis…

Permit the use of a small cell, as defined, without a city or county discretionary permit or aesthetic review in all zoning districts, subject only to a building permit or administrative permit, as applicable. The bill would require a city or county to issue those permits, as applicable, within 60 days, except as specified.

And…

The bill would also prohibit a city or county from precluding the leasing or licensing of a site owned by the city or county for the installation of a small cell, except as specified.

The as specified exceptions are pretty thin, and would mostly serve to delay the inevitable by a month or two. The as defined qualification for small cell status is remarkably big. The antenna would be limited to something like the size of a coffee table (six cubic feet), while the rest of gear could be coffin-sized (21 to 28 cubic feet, depending on location). But the limit doesn’t include “associated” equipment like electric meters, back up batteries and similar, or anything that’s reckoned to be camouflaged or otherwise out of the public view. Wireless companies can install as much of that stuff as they want. Given the current downsizing trend in cell site design, the free pass will apply to the vast majority of installations.

AB 2788 was approved by the assembly back when it was about natural gas, so it’s sitting in the California senate now, where it’s scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the energy, utilities and communications committee.