An ordinance governing the placement of small wireless antennas on utility poles by telecommunication companies is finally moving forward in American Canyon after two years of delays.
The city’s Planning Commission on Monday night approved the ordinance, 5-0, sending it to the City Council for consideration next month.
The use of so-called small cell facilities by companies like Verizon, AT&T and others has grown in recent years as a way to expand wireless services to customers using smart phones and tablets.
Large cell towers provide coverage for much of the city, according to city planner William He. Still, there can be limited service in some areas of town, which is why companies now use small cell antennas placed atop telephone poles or streetlights that have a range of about a third of a mile, he said.
“The intent of the small cells are to fill in the gaps of the large cells,” He told the Planning Commission.
City planners were approached two years ago by a company, Mobilitie, that wanted to install a small cell antenna on a streetlight in the Victoria Faire neighborhood.
Realizing the city didn’t have standards in place for approving such equipment, the City Council approved several emergency moratoriums delaying any installations so staff could draft an ordinance.
The effort was further delayed by legislation in Sacramento last year that would have limited local government regulation of small cells. That bill, SB 649, was approved by the legislature, but then vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.
American Canyon’s ordinance establishes “baseline standards” for the siting of small cells either on city-owned poles, on private property or in the public right-of-way.
The standards govern such things as aesthetics, safety and noise to ensure the equipment doesn’t become a nuisance, eyesore or impair views. City staff say the standards comply with state and federal laws.
City officials shared the draft with telecom representatives, some of whom raised concerns with language in the ordinance, according to Community Development Director Brent Cooper.
Paul Albritton, an attorney representing Verizon, informed the city in multiple letters that a prohibition on using wood poles for small cells would go against existing legal statues.
“The ban on facilities on wood poles violates Verizon Wireless’s rights under both state law and joint utility agreements,” Albritton wrote in a letter dated May 14, the same day that the Planning Commission approved the ordinance after removing the controversial provision.
Cooper said on Tuesday that the city can still regulate the use of wood poles to ensure the equipment complies with the new rules.
“The Planning Commission discussed the objection and agreed to remove the prohibition,” said Cooper. “With the prohibition removed, SAFs [small cell facilities] installed on wood poles would need to accommodate the ordinance aesthetic standards.”
Many utility poles are hollow to allow for wiring to be installed inside them. But that’s not the case with wood poles, raising concerns among some planning commissioners.
“I for one don’t want wires running up and down a wood pole,” said Commissioner Eric Altman. “I think there’s safety issues,” and “with weather stuff happens,” even if the company says the wiring is shielded.
Altman later said during the meeting that companies could use wood poles “if they meet the standards we’ve set for our aesthetics, our safety, our noise in our community.”
The ordinance, Cooper said, calls for “a more aesthetic approach than wires mounted to the outside of the pole in conduit. There may be a technical solution to the problem that resolves this issue.”
Other language in the ordinance would prevent a single wireless carrier from achieving “a virtual monopoly by seeking permits for an extraordinary number of installations in the public right‐of‐way,” according to a staff report.
A “density” provision prevents a small cell antenna from being installed within 100 feet of another antenna owned by the same company.
Another provision gives preferential treatment to telecom companies that have retail stores in American Canyon.
In the event two or more wireless carriers submit a permit application at the same time for the same location, a permit will be issued to the applicant that operates a retail store in the city, according to the staff report.
If all applicants operate a store in the city, the permit will be granted to the applicant with the longest operating store in American Canyon.
For proposed small cells in the public right-of-way, a company will be required to fund the installation of one tree in the public right‐of‐way as close to each antenna as feasible, plus 10 years of care and maintenance cost.
If tree planting is not feasible, the applicant will have to pay a fee to cover tree planting elsewhere in the vicinity as determined by the city.