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Streetlight 100 Benton Way American Canyon wireless law

American Canyon wants to regulate the installation of wireless antennas atop telephone poles and streetlights, like this one at 100 Benton Way.

American Canyon wants to establish its own parameters allowing companies like AT&T, Sprint and others to improve wireless signals in neighborhoods before state lawmakers or Congress get involved in the issue.

The city’s moratorium on “small cells,” or micro antennas installed on utility poles in the public right of way was extended last week by the City Council to give staff time to finish drafting a local ordinance regulating this technology. The moratorium was set to expire on Feb. 4.

Community Development Director Brent Cooper said he hopes to bring the ordinance before the Planning Commission in March and the City Council in April for consideration.

Last year, Cooper delayed the ordinance to see if a proposed state law (SB 649) limiting local control over small cells would pass. The bill was approved by the Legislature, but vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

But now a bill has been introduced in Congress that could also impact state and local authority over small cells, complicating American Canyon’s efforts to determine how many and what kinds of antennas can go up around town.

Congressman Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, introduced House Resolution 689 on Jan. 11 that says federal funding to “wireless broadband providers to promote wireless broadband deployment” should go first to states “that have enacted streamlined siting requirements for small cells.”

The telecom industry, which backed SB 649, said it was necessary to have state rules governing small cells to streamline the process and make their installation in communities across California more efficient. Cities like American Canyon opposed the plan because they said it would usurp local control over the siting of small cells.

“It’s pretty hard to insulate ourselves from what might become federal legislation,” said Cooper during the Jan. 16 City Council meeting. “But the best way to move forward is to arrive at an ordinance that clarifies what we’re looking for in the way of small cells.”

The proposed ordinance would also pave the way for the city to sign leases with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile to set up small cells on streetlights or telephone poles.

“It’s our understanding that when you have a lease agreement, then that would supersede any subsequent state or federal law that may dictate some other kind of measures because you have a contract,” said Cooper.

He said the city would look at the deal that the city of Napa signed with Verizon to establish micro antennas in certain locations, and perhaps use that a model for American Canyon’s agreements.

“It’s definitely an opportunity we can look to as well,” he said.

Cooper has also studied small cells ordinances in San Francisco and Walnut Creek to get ideas for American Canyon’s regulations.

AT&T and Sprint have approached the city about putting in small cells, according to Cooper. “Both of them are interested in American Canyon,” he said.

Councilmember David Oro suggested the city give preference to companies that have a store in town. Currently, only T-Mobile and Sprint have retail operations.

Cooper told Oro that the draft ordinance would address this idea.

“We’ll be adding this,” he said, along with language to prevent a single carrier from dominating all small-cells locations in the city.

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.