By Shawn Raymundo
AT&T has decided to temporarily table its plans to install a pair of additional small cell towers near residential communities in San Clemente until after the city has adopted an ordinance intended to establish guidelines for permitting such wireless technology, according to the city.
Associate Planner Katie Crockett told San Clemente Times on Tuesday, Nov. 12, that the telecommunications company agreed to postpone its proposal until the city’s ordinance is in place, which could be around mid-March—the deadline for when the city must either deny or approve the installation of the sites.
At the time this story was posted, AT&T had not responded to a request for comment.
The announcement of AT&T’s decision comes a week before the city council was scheduled to resume deliberations over the company’s permit application to install 4G-capable cell towers on light poles located at 3018 Camino Vera Cruz and 1101 Calle del Cerro.
In late August, the city’s planning commission denied AT&T’s applications for four use permits to install cell towers at the Camino Vera Cruz and Calle del Cerro locations, as well as at 2400 Camino Faro and 2411 Via Turqueza.
The commissioners had denied those permits because, they said, AT&T hadn’t proved that those locations were far enough away from homes and schools. AT&T appealed the denials for the Camino Vera Cruz and Calle del Cerro permits, which the city council began to consider at its Oct. 1 meeting.
During that meeting, the councilmembers’ deliberations on the matter concluded with them voting to continue the discussion to their late November meeting so the city and AT&T could have additional time to consider more information and alternative sites.
“So, (the item) is still on the agenda for the 19th, because it was continued to that date, but we don’t expect that the council will make a decision on that because they don’t need to,” Crockett said.
The proposed cell sites have stirred controversy among a group of residents who feel the towers are likely to expose families to harmful radiofrequency waves, as well as obstruct views and create eyesores, likely lowering property values.
Concerned citizens have claimed that AT&T will eventually upgrade the towers to have 5G capabilities—technology, they say, is untested and can pose a health risk to those living in close proximity.
In light of the concerns residents have raised over the cell site proposals, the city has been drafting an ordinance to update its design and development standards for small wireless facilities.
Currently, the city’s process to permit such technology requires a public hearing, a review from the Design Review Subcommittee and a $5,000 deposit from the applicant. However, updated rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have placed additional limitations on how local municipalities can consider use-permit applications.
One of the recent provisions imposes a “shot clock” in which a city can determine whether to approve or deny the application. According to the shot-clock rule, a city must act within 60 or 90 days of the submittal of an application.
Another provision does give a city the authority to require design and location standards, “so long as they do not prohibit service,” the city noted in a report on the proposed ordinance. A third provision prevents the city from charging more than $500 for an individual application.
“Given the shortened shot clocks and low fee requirements imposed by the FCC, modifications to the City’s process is needed,” the reported stated, adding: “The proposed Ordinance would modify the City process for reviewing and permitting small cells, as well as establish objective locational and design criteria in the purview of the City’s local zoning control.”
According to the report, the ordinance proposes a list of standards for preferred and discouraged locations of where small cell sites can be placed. Commercial and industrial properties are on the list of preferred locations.
The list of discouraged locations, the report notes, would prevent cell sites from being placed within 100 feet of a residential property line, 500 feet from a school and 300 feet from any other existing or proposed wireless tower.
The proposed distances, Crockett explained, are based on where the proposed sites will end up looking on a map.
“We cannot prohibit service anywhere, so when you look at those radiuses, staff feels that those still give carriers viable locations and would not prohibit service in most locations of the city if they meet separation distances,” she said.
Acknowledging that she can’t speak for AT&T and its decision to table its plans, Crockett noted that the ordinance will have benefits for both the city and the telecommunications giant. However, because AT&T submitted its application before the proposed ordinance has been adopted, the new regulations would not be applicable to the potential cell sites, she noted.
“(The ordinance) does establish guidelines . . . it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to comply with the guidelines . . . but it gives us a baseline,” she said. “But in the spirit of cooperation, they decided to wait for us.”
The city will host a wireless workshop on Nov. 20 from 5-7 p.m. at San Clemente City Hall, according to Crockett. The city, she said, is encouraging the public to submit comments and questions ahead of time so it can adequately address those concerns during the meeting, making the best use of everyone’s time.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.