published on September 15, 2017 - 9:38 AM
Written by David Castellon

A bill opposed by some Valley communities making it easier and cheaper for telecommunication companies to install mini cellular antennas could soon be signed into law by California’s governor.

State Senate Bill 649 was approved by the California Senate on May 31, but it underwent modifications when it went to the Assembly and was approved Wednesday in a 46-16 vote, with 17 members failing to vote.

After that, the amended bill went back to the Senate to be voted on again, and on Thursday it passed again on a 22-10 vote, with eight senators not voting.

That means it’s now in Gov. Jerry Brown’s hands awaiting signature.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, to make it easier for the nation’s four cellular providers — Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — to install the mini antennas in publicly-owned spaces, mostly on utility and light poles and rights of way of streets and parks.

Among the provisions of AB 649:

  • That cities and counties make their vertical infrastructure — light and utility poles —available for the placement of small cells under fair and reasonable fees, terms, and conditions.
  • Establishes that small cells are permitted uses not subject to city or county discretionary permits in rights-of-way and commercial and industrial zones.
  • Annual charges by cities or counties to lease vertical structures can’t exceed $250 for each small cell attached, with some additional fees.

In a press conference earlier this month, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand called the bill an “end around” by the cellular companies to bypass the control cities and counties have to say where these antennas can go and requirements to put the equipment in aesthetically-pleasing containers so ugly machinery isn’t hanging from poles.

“This bill would essentially strip local governments of the authority to find the best locations for these boxes and, in many cases, how the boxes are designed or installed,” Jonathan L. Kramer, a telecommunications engineer and lawyers who specializes in representing local governments on telecommunications issues, including Fresno, said during the press conference.

“This is equipment that is going to be in the public right of way for at least 40 years, so doing it right the first time is critically important, and under SB 649 we are taken out of that process,” he added.

Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle, one of 14 representatives from other Valley cities who stood behind Brand during the press conference, told reporters that if the legislation becomes law, it could hurt cities financially, as they currently can negotiate lease fees with wireless companies much higher that the bill’s $250 cap.

“Typically, all of our leases are on towers … in the $2,500 a month range,” said Pyle, adding that small cell antennas hadn’t been installed yet in in his city, so lease rates for them hadn’t been negotiated.

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