California assembly considers preemption of local pole ownership, cell site permits

7 June 2017 by Steve Blum
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A bill to largely end local government control of municipally-owned light poles and other vertical infrastructure and eliminate discretion over where cell sites can be located has landed in the California assembly. The perks are limited to "small cells", but the way the definition is written, it’ll allow pretty big installations anywhere in the public right of way or in commercial or industrially zoned areas, as well as setting rental rates for publicly-owned poles at below market rates. Senate bill 649 was approved by the senate on a bipartisan 32 to 1 vote last week, with seven abstentions. The no vote came from senator Steven Glazer (D – Contra Costa); all those abstaining were democrats as well.

Its next stop will be in an assembly committee. The big question is which one? SB 649 began in the senate energy, utilities and communications committee – it’s being carried by the chair, senator Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) at the behest of AT&T, Verizon and mobile industry lobbyists – but was then considered and approved by the governance and finance committee, which deals with local government issues. In the assembly, the equivalents would be the communications and conveyance committee and the local government committee.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D – Los Angeles) chairs communications and conveyances. It’s a new committee, split off from the utilities and commerce committee at the beginning of the legislative year. There’s not much of a track record yet, but on at least one issue that involves local government and telecoms interests – a bill to require cities and to reimburse cable companies for relocating lines underground – it accomodated telecoms interests.

The local government committee is led by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D – Yolo County), the former mayor of Winters and a community broadband advocate. If nothing else, she should understand the dynamic between the responsibility cities (and counties) have to manage the assets they own and set community standards, and the need to expand broadband availability.

It’s possible – likely, I’d guess – that SB 649 will take the same double review path in the assembly as it did in the senate. Either way, there’s plenty of time to get it done – the deadline for committee action is mid-July.