The City of Santa Barbara is closer to establishing regulations and an application process for the installation of small wireless facilities in the public rights-of-way after Tuesday’s Ordinance Committee meeting.
Committee members, particularly councilmember Kristen Sneddon, were not satisfied with the current draft of the ordinance. But they passed it to the full City Council with direction to City Attorney Ariel Calonne to add desired changes.
Mr. Calonne will add provisions giving residents a longer appeal window and define a reasonable gap in service.
He will also mandate a checklist that will be submitted to the public works director at the time of application. The checklist verifies that the proposed wireless facility meets guidelines, such as Federal Communications Commission rules and is sensitive to historic areas.
The proposed ordinance was requested by the City Council 18 months ago. If the committee didn’t pass the ordinance Tuesday, the next available date to review the changes would be in December.
“If we continue to move this forward and do nothing, what’s the on-the-ground result?” Ordinance Committee Chair Mike Jordan asked.
“We have little to no control at the current time,” Mr. Calonne said.
“And installations are going on as we speak, right?” Mr. Jordan asked.
“I would assume that to be true,” Mr. Calonne replied.
A group named Safe Tech SB has been voicing concerns throughout the ordinance process. The group is represented by Andrew Campanelli, principal litigator at Campanelli & Associates — which represents its business at AntiCellTowerLawyers.com.
Mr. Campanelli spoke for the group Tuesday, saying the ordinance was thoughtful but could be improved.
He did not provide a red-lined copy or presentation, as requested by Mr. Calonne. Mr. Campanelli said the changes would be too numerous for a red-line edit.
He recommended the city ask for proof of a gap of service beyond computer-generated propagation maps.
He also suggested property owners near a proposed wireless facility site receive written notice.
The draft gave residents seven days to appeal approvals. Mr. Campanelli said that was too short.
He advocated for more specificity throughout.
Mr. Calonne was worried about writing small details into the ordinance. If the city would want to change any detail in the future, then it would have to go through Ordinance Committee and City Council.
“The ordinance is structured in such a way that we’re trying to encourage applications that go away from residences, with good designs, that don’t mar the city streetscape,” the city’s outside counsel Tripp May said. “If we get those types of applications, we don’t need so much additional information. And if we get applications and locations we don’t like with a design that we don’t like, then it does make sense to probe further.”
Councilmember Sneddon argued the regulations are necessary because the ordinance affects telecommunications companies instead of small business owners.
“This is something that has the potential to affect people’s quality of life in different ways,” she said. “It’s a communications tower. Once they’re in and approved, it’s more difficult to move them. So I don’t have a problem with having extra regulations on them.”
The city’s control over the wireless facilities is limited by the FCC. Officials can’t weigh health and environmental impacts of facilities as long as the radio frequencies meet FCC guidelines.
The ordinance looks at aesthetic, location and fire safety among other factors.
All six members of the City Council will hear the ordinance next with the changes, as directed Tuesday.