Residents Battle City Hall Over Cellular Antennas And Towers As Councilmembers Maintain "Code of Silence" On Discussion Of Neighborhood Impacts Not Required By Locally Preemptive Fed'l/State Laws
LB Vice Mayor/CD 9 Richardson Is Gov't Affairs Rep For Firm That Installs Cell Towers
|(May 19, 2020, 8:20 a.m.) -- In recent weeks, KTLA/5 and KFI radio both reported that City Hall contnds federal laws and FCC rules leave the City unable to stop a telecommunications firm from using a City utility pole to install multiple antennas that will beam high frequency cellular signals within feet of a home in the 4300 block of Clark Ave. Policy-setting Long Beach City Councilmembers have remained mum on the subject.
But is the Council's silence federally required? Or do LB Councilmembers simply prefer to gag themselves to avoid allowable discussion of what is effectively a citywide issue? If a corporate entity can do basically as it pleases using city property along a sidewalk-street parkway in the 4300 block of Clark Ave., it can do so nearly anywhere. To our knowledge, nothing that we can find prevents Council discussion of these issues.
It's not the first time this has come up. In December 2019, the Council shrugged objections from nearby homeowners and voted without dissent (motion by CD 5 Councilwoman Stacy Mungo) to let a telecom firm erect a multi-antenna tower (artificially camouflaged to look like a tree) in ELB's Wardlow Park within feet from where children play.
In 2018, the LB City Council (with City Attorney approval) enacted a 76 page ordinance (now City law) that contains specific requirements for such towers. It permits city and resident objections, albeit federally limited, on certain grounds. And nothing prevents the City Council from discussing cell tower issues even if federally preempted from actions.
Why the concern? Consider that your home microwave oven uses a roughly 600-1,1000 watt signal (usually at a lower frequency than today's cellular antennas) that moves water molecules, creating heat that cooks things. Since you don't put your head inside the microwave oven, you're not cooked. But what about heating or non-thermal effects at significantly higher frequencies with shorter wavelengths in the multi Gigahertz range (1 GHz = 1,000 Mhz) now termed "4G" and "5G"? telecom firms (like Verizon and AT&T) want to use those higher frequencies to handle bandwidth in the lucrative wireless marketplace. There's major money involved here.
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Residents may soon face additional hurdles: Two Sacramento bills would make it easier for telecom firms to obtain city approval and harder for residents (and cities themselves) to prevent it. And Long Beach Vice Mayor (CD 9 Councilman) Rex Richardson is Manager of Government Affairs for Crown Castle (his full time job), a firm that installs cell phone towers and supports both SB 556 and AB 537.
The City of Long Beach opposes SB 556. On April 21, 2021, City Manager Tom Modica sent Sacramento lawmakers a City opposition letter on SB 556, writing in pertinent part:
The City is committed to working with the Legislature to further the State's broadband goals with local design control. SB 556 directly conflicts with the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) adopted regulations on wireless services deployment, which local governments nationwide are actively implementing. FCC regulations explicitly enable local governments to ensure that telecommunication installations meet appearance and design standards, maintain traffic safety, support the integrity of historical resources, and safeguard quality of life. To protect the public's investment, the control of public rights-of-way must remain local...The City is committed to closing the digital divide, but the City opposes legislation that diminishes the City’s local control over our rights-of-way...
On May 13, LB area state Senators Lena Gonzalez and Tom Umberg both voted "yes" on SB 556. Their votes advanced it to the Assembly, (The state Senate vote was 31 yes, 2 noes, with 7 "no votes recorded.")
SB 556 was supported by (among others) the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, TMobile, Verizon and 14,000 individuals. Some echoed the telecom company line that new towers will help bridge the "digital divide" (a lack of digital devices among residents in poorer neighborhoods.) (Critics note it's not clear how proliferating cell phone towers for the telecom companies' profits would address the lack of digital devices among less affluent consumers.)
SB 556 was opposed by the City of Long Beach, along with the cities of Agoura Hills, Arcata, Bellflower, Belmont, Brea, Calabasas, Campbell, Carlsbad, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Chino, Chino Hills, Clearlake, Clovis, Colton, Corona, Costa Mesa, Culver City, Del Mar, Downey, El Centro, El Segundo, Elk Grove, Encinitas, Fortuna, Foster City, Fountain Valley, Hesperia, Huntington Beach, Inglewood, La Cañada Flintridge, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Lakewood, Lakeport, Lathrop, Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Los Altos, Madera, Maywood, Menifee, Mission Viejo, Monterey, Newport Beach, Norwalk, Novato, Oakdale, Oceanside, Pacifica, Palmdale, Palo Alto, Petaluma, Placentia, Rancho Cordova, Rancho Cucamonga, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rancho Santa Margarita, Redding, Ripon, Riverbank, San Buenaventura, San Carlos, San Diego, San Fernando, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Monica, Sebastopol, Signal Hill, Simi Valley, Solano Beach, South Lake Tahoe, Stockton, Sunnyvale, Tehachapi, Thousand Oaks, Torrance, Tracy, Tulare, Ukiah, Union City, Vacaville, Ventura, Vista, Wasco, West Hollywood, and Whittier, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and the League of CA Cities.
What's the LB City Council's record? On November 11, 2020, Councilman Daryl Supernaw agendized a meeting of his "Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (chair Supernaw, vice chair Uranga, member Pearce.) to "receive a report on Public Work's role in 5G site location selection." Supernaw was alone in starting the meeting (Pearce materialized after the meeting began; Uranga was absent).
Councilman Supernaw indicated he hoped the Committee would advance the issue to full City Council discussion...but that didn't happen. Councilwoman Pearce made a motion for the Committee to "receive" the report; Supernaw seconded it and the report and discussion went nowhere. A few months later, Mayor Garcia eliminated the "Transpiration and Infrastructure Committee" (replacing it with another Committee chaired by Supernaw) and management's 5G report effectively vanished.
During Public Works Director Eric Lopez's Nov 11 Committee presentation (including a PPT [here], LB's outside legal counsel volunteered that although federal preemption prevents the City from actions that disallow the antennas, the City Council could discuss (as opposed to acting) on the issues involved.
Although the City Council has adopted both federal and state "legislative agendas" that support "local control," there's no evidence the LB Councilmembers have has applied that stated policy in seeking relief from locally preemptive federal and state policies.
City management noted that the City has "limited regulatory authority."
However Long Beach Municipal Code Chapter 15.34, which the Council considered on April 17, 2018 and enacted on May 1, 2018 (9-0: Gonzalez, Pearce, Price, Supernaw, Mungo, Andrews, Uranga, Austin, Richardson) recites that its purpose is "to regulate the establishment and operation of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities within the City of Long Beach" with the intent to:
A. Allow for the provision of wireless communications services adequate to serve the public's interest within the City; B. Require, where feasible and consistent with the City's aesthetic and planning objectives, the co-location of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities; C. Minimize the negative aesthetic impact of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities, establish a fair and efficient process for review and approval of applications, assure an integrated, comprehensive review of environmental impacts of such facilities, and protect the health, safety and welfare of the City of Long Beach; D. Strongly encourage the location of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities in those areas of the City where the adverse aesthetic impact on the community is minimal; E. Strongly encourage wireless telecommunications providers to configure all facilities in such a way that minimizes displeasing aesthetics through careful design, siting, landscaping, screening, and innovative camouflaging techniques; F. Enhance the ability of the providers of telecommunications services to provide such services to the City quickly, effectively, and efficiently; and G. Conform to all applicable federal and State laws.'
When Long Beach (Lakewood Village neighborhood homeowners) Moira Hahn (artist; retired college art professor) and Mark Hotchkiss (electronics engineer) sought to challenge plans to put a multi transmitter cell antenna on a City parkway utility pole within feet of their home, they discovered how the system was tilted toward the telecoms and against them. Homeowners could appeal the antenna location, if they pay $106 to cover the City's cost of a hearing (in which the City will oppose their appeal.) If a city-hired hearing officer rules against them, the City doesn't allow an appeal to the City Council. Fifth district Councilwoman Stacy Mungo has remained publicly mum on the matter.
Previous hearings in LB brought uniform results, wth the city chosen hearing officer denying the appeals and upholding the telecom's desired installation.
On Dec 20, 2018, a few weeks after Councilman Supernaw's Committee meeting, Councilwoman Mungo made the motion (seconded by Austin) to authorize management "to finalize and execute a Master License Agreement, and any necessary amendments, with Verizon Communications, Inc., for the non-exclusive use of City-owned properties, including street lights citywide, for wireless telecommunications facilities, for a 20-year term (citywide).
On September 3, 2019, Mungo joined in a Council vote authorizing city management to enter into a contract allowing AT&T Mobility to build and operate a cell phone transmitting tower in Wardlow Park over the objections of nearby homeowners and within feet of a playground filled with children. The Council action took place with no Council discussion and limited information about its operation.
Firefighters have raised the issue of cell phone antennas for years. In 2004, the International Ass'n of Firefighters adopted a position opposing "the use of fire stations as base stations for towers and/or antennas for the conduction of cell phone transmissions until a study with the highest scientific merit and integrity on health effects of exposure to low-intensity RF/MW radiation is conducted and it is proven that such sitings are not hazardous to the health of our members."
In 2015, the CA legislature enacted AB 57, which deemed collocation or siting application of a wireless telecommunications facility approved if the city or county fails to approve or disapprove it "within the reasonable time periods" by the FCC but included the following exception: "(f) Due to the unique duties and infrastructure requirements for the swift and effective deployment of firefighters, this section does not apply to a collocation or siting application for a wireless telecommunications facility where the project is proposed for placement on fire department facilities."
In 2017, the state legislature passed, but Governor Brown vetoed, SB 649, which permitted small cell antennas under city and county requirements but not if the small cell is located on a fire department facility.
With cell towers now poised to proliferate in Long Beach neighborhoods citywide, it's unclear for how long the Council can maintain its current "code of silence" on these issues.
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