Local agencies would be able to challenge cell tower permits in court, under bill in California senate

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Not so fast.

A bill to put teeth in the FCC’s shot clock rule for local review of permit applications for wireless towers and equipment has been watered down a bit in the California legislature. As it reads now – after being amended twice so far in the senate – it basically says that if a mobile carrier or other wireless telecoms company provides all the necessary information, a permit application for a new site has to be acted on by local agencies within five months and a collocation request within three. If it’s not approved or denied within the time limit, it’s “deemed granted”. In other words, its an automatic yes.

Unless the city or county involved decides to go to court. That’s one of the loopholes inserted into the bill in the senate

Within 30 days of the notice provided pursuant to [notice received from the applicant], the city or county may seek judicial review of the operation of this section on the application.

The bill also allows local governments to stop the clock by asking applicants for additional information – as allowed under FCC rules – but puts no limit on that process.

The changes came after a long list of local agencies registered their objections, with the City and County of San Francisco in the lead. Initially, the senate utilities committee put even bigger loopholes in the draft bill, exceptions that would have pretty much made it moot. The author, assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward), took those poison pills out in a subsequent version and replaced it with the current draft, which is scheduled to be taken up by another senate committee – governance and finance – on Wednesday.

The California assembly overwhelmingly approved the original version – the one with no loopholes – back in May, but will have to vote on the changes, assuming AB 57 makes it through the senate.