California cell site free-for-all bill shredded in senate analysis

by Steve Blum • , , ,
By wdwd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Deconstructing the text.

A much different assessment of senate bill 649 has been posted as it heads toward a hearing tomorrow in the senate’s governance and finance committee. That’s the bill that would largely eliminate local control in California over cell sites in the public right of way and commercial and industrial zones, and give mobile carriers the right to attach their gear to publicly owned light poles and other vertical assets at will for $20 a year.

SB 649 is being carried by senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), who chairs the energy, utilities and communications committee. The legislative analysis offered by his staff read like it was written by AT&T and Verizon, whose lobbyists flanked Hueso when he presented it to his colleagues a couple of weeks ago.

A new analysis done for the governance and finance committee takes a much different tack, among other things noting that SB 649 amounts to a gift of taxpayer money to mobile carriers…

Local officials’ first duty is to protect the interests of their constituents. They have broad authority to regulate activities to preserve the public welfare, and they have developed processes in accordance with that duty for permitting wireless telecommunications facilities. Some jurisdictions impose more conditions than others due to specific local circumstances, and the FCC has recognized this need. SB 649 goes well beyond federal law to strip local governments of this authority. By making small cells permitted uses, SB 649 extends by-right development to small cells, and it stops local governments from establishing discretionary permitting processes—even in historic districts if they allow any kind of commercial or industrial uses…And SB 649 goes even further than other by-right proposals because it require local governments to offer up their vertical infrastructure for use by other entities and removes their ability to charge fair rent by capping lease fees for vertical infrastructure to an amount that is a small fraction of the rates in current agreements between carriers and local governments. SB 649 sets a concerning precedent that reappropriates taxpayer funded infrastructure for private benefit.

Hueso got a unanimous yes vote in his own committee, but that was clearly on the basis of the customary courtesy afforded chairmen and not on the merits of the bill. Committee members, including the governance and finance chair, senator Mike McGuire (D – Healdsburg), made it clear that they would eventually vote against it if the language remained as is.

He’ll have a chance to make good on that promise tomorrow.