Rules on Placement of Cell Firms’ Equipment Are Easy Sell

In response to a federal order, the San Marino City Council endorsed a resolution prepared by municipal department heads that defines where, in public rights of way, wireless companies may place equipment to convey their signal, requiring a high standard of evidence to allow such firms to gain exceptions to the guidelines.
Doing so provides virtually the only defense the city and its residents have against companies that want to set up their equipment — antennas and metal boxes, for example — in town, an act reviled by many residents as a stain on San Marino’s historic beauty and as a safety hazard, considering the area’s sometimes high winds and earthquake danger.
The city, however, is obligated to grant permits for these structures as long as companies’ applications are complete and the devices or structures meet what the city considers “objective aesthetic standards.” Exceptions would be granted only if the provider can provide “clear and convincing evidence” that its device cannot function within the city’s established standards.
The September order from the Federal Communications Commission was intended to speed up the development of wireless providers’ 5G data networks nationwide and requires local governments to make decisions on applications within 60 or 90 days, depending on the device. It also was intended to prevent local governments from having inordinate discretion in allowing the devices on public lands.
The FCC order concerns devices with antennas no more than 3 cubic feet in volume and with accessory equipment no more than 28 cubic feet in volume, and are most commonly observed as antennas mounted to existing poles or as metal boxes placed in right-of-way strips, colloquially called “refrigerators on the sidewalk.”
“There’s still an approval process, but it’s not open-ended,” City Attorney Steven Flower said in response to an audience member’s question on what the procedure will now be. “You can’t have an open-ended discretionary period. If they can show there’s no other technically feasible way to configure their equipment, then yes,” the company will be allowed to install equipment.
The city’s resolution lists, in descending order of importance, the following locations in which wireless devices will be permitted: intersections with traffic signals, non-signalized intersections with existing “cobra head” street lamps, streets with existing “cobra head” street lamps, and all other residential areas. They are prohibited within 200 feet of public or private schools and also within the medians on Huntington Drive, Old Mill Road and Sierra Madre Boulevard. The FCC order gave local governments until Monday to establish objective aesthetic standards.
“In this way, we are steering them as much as we can toward the locations that the city would most prefer,” Flower said. “This list of standard conditions is not exhaustive. We can come back and add to it if the council decides to.”
This middle ground represents a mutual frustration shared by city residents and officials, who have historically balked at having cellular towers and other devices that are overly noticeable. The two Verizon-owned towers on San Marino Unified School District property continue to generate ire from residents frustrated that company has not yet removed them despite its plans to do so. Such “monopoles,” which are frequently crudely disguised as trees, have been barred from the city moving forward.
“It seems like we’re all actually in this together,” resident Noelle Aloe observed.
Councilman Steve Talt, perhaps sensing where prospective audience speakers wanted to take their concerns, immediately shut the door on comments related to supposed health impacts of radio frequency emissions, of which evidence is virtually nonexistent.
“We cannot raise the health issues in here,” Talt said. “I know you’re all concerned with the health issues involved, but we cannot consider those in our decisions. The FCC is clear on this. It’s the same thing when we dealt with the issue with the school cell towers.”
Residents who spoke sympathized with the city’s situation and suggested other ways to push back against wireless companies. Ray and Miriam Quan, both of whom have led public opposition to the Verizon towers, turned to Rancho Palos Verdes for inspiration. That city foists the costs of outside consultants onto the providers and requires physical models to indicate where the proposed devices will be, similar to story pole requirements on building construction.
By coincidence, San Marino’s parks and public works director, Michael Throne, was with Rancho Palos Verdes’ government when those regulations were established and touted them as a success.
“It’s got to be a very tight box to keep these guys in line,” Throne said.
The City Council, predictably, unanimously approved the resolution. Talt and Vice Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey, both attorneys, were credited with helping to craft it throughout the previous weekend.
“It appears to me that this is the most restrictive approach that we can come up with,” Councilman Ken Ude said.

Leave a Reply