Ordinance and regulations approved; next-generation cell service still years away
Whenever telecommunications companies are ready to start installing small cell wireless facilities in the unincorporated areas of Marin County, they’ll have to adhere to new regulations approved July 9 by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
As recommended by staff from the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA), the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an urgency ordinance and new policy regarding the installation of small cell wireless facilities, including the fifth-generation cellular wireless technology within public roads. The new policy goes into effect immediately.
CDA oversees the County’s telecommunications plan and created the guidelines to regulate the permitting, design, and location of the small wireless facilities within the public roads. The regulations outline the requirements for small cell wireless facilities, including 5G application, and installation procedures, establish the County’s location preferences and design standards, lay out public notification procedures, and cover the appeal process.
Antennas for 5G are much smaller than those necessary for the existing 4G system. 5G devices would be installed closer to cell phone users, often affixed to existing light poles, utility poles, and traffic light poles within the public right-of-way, including in residential districts. It’s likely the installation will not happen for several years.
The County’s existing Telecommunications Facilities Policy Plan (TFPP) was first adopted in 1990 and comprehensively updated in 1998 – more than 20 years ago. The plan did not explicitly address small cell wireless facilities. Similarly, the telecommunications facilities ordinance, Section 22.32.165, also does not include explicit standards applicable to small cell wireless facilities within public roads.
At the Board session, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who served on a Board subcommittee on 5G technology with Supervisor Damon Connolly, said there were many strong suggestions from residents concerned about 5G implementation and those in favor of stronger wireless connectivity. He emphasized that town, city, and county governments have permitting authority over such 5G antenna installations, not state or federal governments.
“At this point I think we’re better off erring on the side of having something on the record and not waiting one or two months. “… This is a start, and we can revise it if we need to.”
Connolly said he also appreciated the concerns of residents about the proliferation of small-cell antennas in residential neighborhoods.
“I believe this ordinance strikes a difficult balance given the current state of federal law through FCC regulation,” Connolly said. “I’m hopeful that current or future legislation will address some of the concerns raised today. … While we push for changes at the federal level, I believe this urgency ordinance is necessary and provides an objective set of standards for the deployment of small-cell technology in unincorporated Marin.”
Board President Kate Sears described the ordinance as the strongest one that the County can develop at this point given the challenges at the federal level and ongoing proposed legislation. She encouraged staff to share more information on the County website about 5G implementation and local control of antenna installations.
“I think a lot of time has been put into this and a lot of very careful thought, and it’s a step forward,” she said. “We don’t benefit from delaying.”