Express lane bill for tower permits clears California legislature

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Not much point if no one pays attention.

Permit applications for new cellular towers and other wireless telecoms facilities will be deemed granted in California, if local governments don’t make a decision within Federal Communications Commission deadlines. Assuming governor Jerry Brown agrees.

The California assembly waved assembly bill 57 through on a 66 to 8 vote last week, agreeing to amendments made in the state sentate. The measure puts teeth in the FCC’s shot clock: if an application for a new tower or other wireless facility isn’t approved or denied in 5 months or one for collocation of equipment on existing facilities isn’t acted upon within 3 months, then the permit is automatically granted. There are provisions for temporarily stopping the clock while applicants answer questions, and local governments can still try to block cell towers in court.

AB 57 was backed by mobile carriers, affiliated lobbying groups and business organisations, and initially received near unanimous support from lawmakers. But it drew strong opposition from local governments, citizens groups and their lobbyists, and the list of legislators either voting against it or abstaining grew as time went on. According to the legislative analysis prepared for the assembly, the arguments against the bill boiled down to we want local control

Opposition argues that this bill effectively eliminates the ability of local agencies to meet the needs and best interests of local communities on determining the siting and collocation of wireless facilities. Opposition notes that federal law and regulations are sufficient on the matter and no change to state law is needed.

That ability, however, is pretty much limited to stalling unpopular permit applications, rather than engaging in substantive reviews. The bill’s author, assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward), said that it doesn’t affect the existing authority local agencies have over wireless facilities (which isn’t much anyway) but does prevent them from exploiting a “loophole” to create “unreasonable delays” in reaching decisions.