Wireless permit shot clock primer for Californian planners

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Sharp limits on local review of proposed cellular sites and other wireless facilities went into effect in California at the beginning of the year. It’s the result of a new law passed last year – assembly bill 57 – that put teeth into Federal Communications Commission shot clock rules that say cities and counties have to make a decision on permit applications within 90 days if it’s adding equipment to an existing site or 150 days if it’s completely new. In California now, if the shot clock runs out, the permit is automatically deemed approved.

That’s on top of another FCC rule that sets a 60-day shot clock with deemed granted provisions for smaller collocations.

Omar Masry, the former wireless permit guru at the City and County of San Francisco (he’s with the mayor’s office now) co-wrote with attorney Robert May an excellent article with some detailed suggestions for local planning and public works officials who have to deal with the new rules. At the top of the list is advice to be very careful about carefully reviewing any new permit applications, and reject as incomplete ones where…

  • Any existing on-site wireless facilities were not built, modified or maintained correctly (request current site photos and prior plans/permits in submittal forms).
  • There are current Municipal (Building, Fire) Code Violations at the Project Site.
  • Commonly expected submittal items are missing. Determine if based on local practice, whether specific exhibits (geo-technical, archaeological surveys, Phase I reports, and environmental evaluations) should be required for freestanding facilities, or facilities with other major ground disturbances (excavations, access roads, fuel tanks, new equipment/building pads). Indicate these requirements up-front on the application forms.

Rejecting incomplete applications is the only way to stop the clock, other than by mutual agreement with the cell tower or wireless company. That rejection can’t be arbitrary, so a detailed checklist of required items is needed to ensure due process and make sure nothing is missed. If you’re involved in either building or reviewing permits for wireless facilities of any kind, Masry’s article is a must read.