Streetlight 100 Benton Way American Canyon wireless law

The installation of wireless antennas atop streetlights, like this one at 100 Benton Way, could become regulated by a new ordinance being developed by the city of American Canyon.

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

Governor Jerry Brown pleased officials in American Canyon and other California cities and counties with his veto last month of legislation governing the addition of wireless equipment atop utility poles.

Senate Bill 649, which was backed by the telecommunications industry, sought to establish statewide rules for the placement of “small cell” wireless facilities throughout the state. “Small cell” was defined as equipment taking up from 21 to 35 cubic feet of space atop streetlights and other poles.

American Canyon opposed the measure, saying it would have interfered with their governance of wireless infrastructure in neighborhoods and other parts of town.

Community Development Director Brent Cooper applauded the governor’s veto of what he called “a terrible bill that would have removed local jurisdiction over cellular facilities in public rights of way.”

“It’s terrific news,” Cooper said of the veto.

The city has wanted to adopt a new ordinance that would define standards for the addition of antennas or wireless telecommunication facilities in the public right-of-way. The issue arose in 2016 after a company, Mobilite, contacted City Hall about placing cell equipment near homes and the Community Gym on Benton Way.

Council members approved a moratorium last year on the siting of new telecommunications antennas to give Cooper time to draft the ordinance.

But Cooper stopped working on the ordinance after SB 649 was introduced earlier this year in the Legislature. He said there was no point in the city adopting new rules until it knew the fate of the legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, and co-authored by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa.

“With this behind us, we will resume work on a proper ordinance,” said Cooper.

Dodd told the American Canyon Eagle in June that he supported SB 649 because “consumer demand for reliable, high-speed wireless networks continues to expand rapidly across our state.”

He said it was “important that we install the necessary infrastructure to meet this demand and realize the economic benefits for our communities.”

The former Napa County supervisor acknowledged the concerns of local governments like American Canyon and Yountville, which also opposed SB 649, while reiterating the need for the new law.

“As someone who served in local government,” said Dodd in June, “I believe that it’s important to conform with reasonable local requirements while creating the most streamlined process possible to meet the broadband needs of our residents.”

Dodd did not respond for comment regarding the governor’s veto.

Brown said in his veto message of SB 649 that there was “something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently.”

“Nevertheless,” he added, “I believe that the interest which localities have in managing rights of way requires a more balanced solution than the one achieved in this bill.”

Representatives of local governments in Sacramento thanked Brown for opposing the legislation.

Rich Garbarino, president of the League of California Cities, said the veto recognized “that it’s bad policy to put telecommunications industry profits ahead of the rights of Californian businesses and residents to have a say over how their public infrastructure is used.”

Garbarino said cities support “expanding connectivity but not through a policy that would have shifted power and resources from our communities to a billion dollar industry.”

Keith Carson, president of the California State Association of Counties, said SB 649 would have “allowed telecom companies to usurp local authority and install unsightly equipment on public property with little or no local input. The veto of this bill puts the telecom companies on notice that they have to sit down with local governments and address this issue fairly, and in a way that recognizes local government authority.”

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