Nimby laws will keep Google Fiber out of its own backyard

3 June 2014 by Steve Blum
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All Google has accomplished so far by including 5 Silicon Valley cities on its list of 34 candidates for fiber build-outs is to prove that California is a land of opportunity for obstructionists and not for broadband. To build on its home turf, Google Fiber has to accept that state and local laws allow anyone with an objection – no matter how trivial – to snarl and delay construction for months or even years.

The clearest warning comes in Palo Alto’s response to the Google Fiber City Checklist. It was by far the friendliest. The other 4 didn’t do much, if anything, besides submitting standard operating procedures.

In the checklist, Google asks if a city can “help make construction speedy and predictable”. By outlining the design review process for fiber huts, Palo Alto, in effect, said no

This process would trigger [California Environmental Quality Act] review, and…[the] decision may be appealed by any member of the public to the City Council, which has the ultimate decision-making authority.

The timeline for minor projects that are appealed to the City Council may extend as far as six months from the date an application for design review is formally considered “complete” per the California Permit Streamlining Act.

The process to satisfy the CEQA analysis has not been determined at this time. The discretionary design review process timeline will be affected by the CEQA process that would apply to the project.

Palo Alto’s appeal process is typical for Californian cities. It only takes one Nimby complainer to trigger it, and six months isn’t a real deadline for resolution. That’s a minor obstacle, though, compared to CEQA lawsuits. AT&T has been fighting to put Uverse boxes on San Francisco sidewalks since 2007 with no end in sight.

Mountain View’s response only mentioned CEQA in passing. San Jose and Sunnyvale ignored it. And there’s still no public response from Santa Clara. Silicon Valley cities are, in effect, confirming what Google has already said: barriers to broadband in California have to come down before competitive fiber is feasible. Which might have been the point of asking them in the first place.