Verizon Wireless is a vote away from installing an array of transmitters to boost cellular voice and internet coverage along Napa city streets.
Tuesday night, the City Council will review the carrier’s pilot program to install 32 pole-mounted transmitters known as “small cells” for their compact size compared to full-size cell towers. The proposal is the result of months of negotiation between Napa and Verizon after opponents of the telecom began speaking out against the transmitters last year, claiming the equipment’s radio-frequency emissions would raise health risks in the surrounding areas.
Council members are scheduled to take up the Verizon plan at their evening session, which begins at 6:30 at Napa City Hall, 955 School St.
Verizon in December 2017 received a city master permit to install the small cells at 53 locations, to supplement wireless coverage provided by its primary transmitters. However, the project also requires separate permits to install equipment at each location, and Verizon in December 2018 sent Napa a notice stating that the city’s delay in denying or approving 22 applications made transmitters legal by default at those sites under federal and state law, according to Don Schmidt, associate civil engineer for the city. (A policy enacted by the Federal Communications Commission in September 2018 – which Napa and other cities have formally opposed – sets a “shot clock” of 90 days during which a local government must approve or deny a permit for a small cell before it is presumed to be legal.)
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In the 10 months since, Napa and Verizon have negotiated a revised proposal would clear the company to install 32 transmitters on city light poles, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.-owned wooden utility poles or new poles, the minimum number Verizon says can support a functional system, Schmidt wrote in a pre-meeting memorandum.
In exchange, Verizon would agree not to file any other applications until at least 26 sites are built and documented to meet federal radio frequency exposure standards, by Aug. 15, 2020, or until Jan. 1, 2021, provided that whichever sites are under construction are confirmed to comply with federal law.
Napa has approved permits for Verizon small cells at three locations, but none has yet been installed, according to Schmidt.
In response to opponents’ push to block the installation of small cells, city officials have said Napa can regulate the placement and esthetics of cell transmission equipment, but is barred by federal law from banning any such equipment that meets federal radio emission standards. Foes have alleged that cell transmitters increase cancer risk for those living or working nearby, while also depressing home resale values.
Published research on the health effects of wireless signals on health has reached conflicting conclusions. In 2011, a World Health Organization research paper declared electromagnetic fields to be a “possible” carcinogen, but the American Cancer Society disputes that.