California legislature approves LA fast track wireless reviews, sorta

12 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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The way California law works now, if a permit application for a new cell tower is held up for more than five months because of reviews or challenges resulting from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), then the permit is deemed approved. Yep, regardless of whatever other issues are involved, once the shot clock expires, permission to build a new cell tower is automatically granted.

Suppose, though, that CEQA didn’t apply to…

  1. Antennas, including microwave dishes and arrays.
  2. Antenna support structures.
  3. Equipment enclosures.
  4. Central system switch facilities.
  5. Associated foundations and equipment.


The project site…already contains either of the following:

  • An antenna support structure and either of the following components:
  • Antennas.
  • Equipment enclosures.

Well, that’s the way it’ll continue to work for a next generation public safety radio system in Los Angeles County, assuming it’s happening on public property and it passes a simple environment check. And assuming governor Brown signs senate bill 1008, which landed on his desk last week.

The exemption was originally granted in 2012, and is being extended because it’s taking a really long time to build. It’s also limited, in the grand scheme of things. Big as it it, it’s lilliputian compared to the infrastructure deployed by a typical mobile carrier.

But at its core, there’s a sound principle at work: when time is critical – shot clocks included – chop out the impenetrable undergrowth of endless procedures, reviews and appeals and eliminate obsessive minutia, and instead identify on genuine problems. And solve them quickly. Or deny the application just as fast.

The Federal Communications Commission is preparing for more preemptions of state and local authority over wireless facility colocation and tower construction projects. In order to effectively exercise what little discretion remains, cities and counties can’t be trapped like a kitten in ball of yarn by byzantine statutes and case law that drag decisions out for years.