The Santa Barbara City Council postponed the question of 5G coming to Santa Barbara, voting Tuesday to delay whether or not to approve a license agreement with Verizon Wireless for deregulated wireless installations on city street lights.
After voting the previous week to approve the agreement, the council reversed course in a 4-3 vote to delay the vote on the licensing agreement by 90 days after members of the public expressed concerns over the possible health risks posed by 5G technology.
In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission removed regulatory barriers to facilitate deployment of infrastructure necessary for advanced wireless services, according to a city staff report.
“The wireless industry is currently focused on building networks of small cell facilities which when combined with traditional macro cell tower sites, provide the optimal density of cellular service to provide additional capacity. These small cell facilities are intended to accommodate a fifth-generation cellular network once the antenna technology is deployed,” read the report.
The FCC ruling included requirements for cities to accommodate small cell facilities within public rights of way, including limits on fees and a mandate to publish design standards and guidelines for the small cell facilities.
To this end, the city of Santa Barbara has already entered into licensing agreements with AT&T and Crown Castle for the small cell installations, many of which have already been placed around town.
While these installations are 5G capable, Verizon Wireless has indicated to city staff that there are no immediate plans to deploy 5G in Santa Barbara. Nevertheless, public commenters voiced concern over the effects of high intensity 5G radio frequencies.
The message to the council Tuesday was clear: those concerned about 5G have seen evidence that the technology is unsafe, and want the city to investigate the potential impact it will have on public health before allowing it into the community. Specifically, public speakers asked that the council limit the installation of the small cell facilities and create a boundary around schools and hospitals.
While the council is interested in safety issues related to 5G, City Attorney Ariel Calonne reminded the room that because the federal government had deregulated the technology, it left the city with little power.
“We can’t say no to the installation of these small cell sites, so we’re kind of between a rock and a hard place,” Mayor Cathy Murillo told the News-Press.
Ms. Murillo voted in favor of the agreement in order to retain aesthetic control over the installation, but a last minute change of heart by Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez prompted her to make a motion to delay the vote for 90 days.
In addition to delaying the decision, the council also voted to develop a long term ordinance for the city’s regulation of 5G as far as it is allowed under federal law. During the 90-day delay, Mr. Calonne will meet with groups around town and hear their concerns about 5G in order to craft an ordinance controlling its installation.
“If there are additional regulator opportunities I will be happy to report them to the council,” said Mr. Calonne.
However, Mr. Callone said it is clear that the federal government does not allow the city to regulate the health and environmental effects of 5G’s radio frequency emissions, making any attempt to do so an uphill battle.
“That is the wave of the future,” Ms. Murillo said. “People have a right to be concerned about it. It’s a decision made at the federal level that the city cannot limit their installation based on environmental or health concerns. That’s a fact, and that puts us in a hard place because we can’t say no.”