Limits on local authority over cell towers advance to the California senate

2 June 2015 by Steve Blum
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Cell towers and other wireless facilities are a matter of “statewide concern” and “not a municipal affair” according to California state assembly members. By a vote of 66 to 4, they approved assembly bill 57, authored by East Bay democrat Bill Quirk and sent it on to the state senate.

The core concept of the bill is that local governments shouldn’t be able to delay permits for building new towers or adding equipment to existing ones, beyond the limits set by the Federal Communications Commission. Cities and counties can deny permits – for a narrow set of reasons – or approve them. Or do nothing and let projects go ahead anyway, if AB 57 ends up being approved this year.

According to Quirk

Nothing in AB 57 limits or affects the authority of a local jurisdiction over siting decisions, as they still retain all existing rights to deny applications that do not meet the jurisdiction’s lawful siting requirements. AB 57 simply provides a workable remedy for a local jurisdiction’s failure to abide by existing federal deadlines.

Grounds for denying cell tower construction or expansion include zoning, aesthetics, design, height, bulk and environmental considerations. But not tin foil hat paranoia about imaginary radio wave hazards – that nonsense is preempted by federal law.

On the other hand, according to an assembly staff analysis

Opposition argues that this bill goes beyond the requirements of federal law and regulations, and that this bill effectively eliminates the ability of local agencies to meet the needs and best interests of local communities and determining the siting and collocation of wireless facilities.

So far, the bill has attracted wide support from telecoms industry lobbyists and opposition from lobbying groups for local agencies – no surprise either way.