Three CA Bills Could Put 5G in Your Backyard
This article was originally published on June 04, 2021
Last updated August 26, 2021
by Children’s Health Defense California Chapter Content Team
A suite of three bills moving through the California legislature stand to negatively change the landscape of our communities forever. Sponsored by the wireless telecom industry, bills SB 556, SB 378, and AB 537 will shift control over where small wireless telecommunications facilities (aka small cell towers), fiber optic networks, and telecom facilities will be located in our communities from local planning departments to the telecom industry itself.
Update August 26, 2021
Both SB 556 and SB 378 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 26, 2021. Both have had 2 of the 3 required readings and will soon be read and voted on for the final time in the Assembly.
Why should we care?
These “small cell towers” are a key component of the 5G wireless network rollout that telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon have been pushing. More than 2 years ago, Children’s Health Defense was raising the alarm about the potential harm this technology could inflict on our children. If these 3 bills become law, your community will no longer be able to protect you from 5G installations.
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 bills.
The League of California Cities opposes SB 556, as well they should. This bill removes local control of street light and traffic signal poles, allowing small cell towers and 5G antennas to be installed over local objection. The Legislative Counsel’s Digest notes, “This bill would prohibit a local government or local publicly owned electric utility from unreasonably denying the leasing or licensing of its street light poles or traffic signal poles to communications service providers for the purpose of placing small wireless facilities on those poles.”
There is some good news, though. The Legislative Counsel’s Digest goes on to say that local authorities can deny use of a pole “because of insufficient capacity or safety, reliability, or engineering concerns subject to certain conditions.” If this bill becomes law, you can lean heavily on your local town, city, or county government to declare these small cell towers a safety concern.
This bill has passed the CA State Senate and has been read once in the CA State Assembly. Two more readings are required before the final vote. This bill has been referred to the Committee on Local Government and the Committee on Communications and Conveyance. It will be heard by the Committee on Local Government during its regular Wednesday meeting on June 09, 2021, at 1:30 p.m. in the CA State Capitol, Room 4202. The Assembly Daily File has more details on the hearing and will be updated if the time or location changes.
In another move to limit local power, SB 378 makes denying a telecom company a permit to put underground fiber in nearly impossible. The Legislative Counsel’s Digest states, “This bill would require a local agency to allow, except as provided, microtrenching for the installation of underground fiber if the installation in the microtrench is limited to fiber.”
The exception referred to isn’t much of an exception. Section 3(a)(4)(b)(1) of the bill spells out the exception as “the local agency makes a written finding that allowing microtrenching for a fiber installation would have a specific, adverse impact on the public health or safety.” The Senate Floor Analysis makes this even clearer, stating, “SB 378 requires local governments to allow microtrenching, even where local officials determine that another method would best serve all of the needs of the community.”
This has passed the CA State Senate and has already been read once in the CA State Assembly. Two more readings are required before the final vote. This bill has also been referred to the Committee on Local Government and the Committee on Communications and Conveyance. It will be heard in the same meeting as the SB 556 on Wednesday, June 09, 2021.
This poorly-written bill effectively removes the ability for local governments to control what kind of internet service infrastructure can be built in their area.
At first glance, this bill looks like it is just aligning California law with the FCC’s rules, but looking a little deeper shows that this bill goes beyond redefining how long a municipality has to respond to permit requests. Section 2(a)(3)(B)(g) of the bill reads, “A city or county shall not prohibit or unreasonably discriminate in favor of, or against, any particular technology.”
This means they can’t say “no” to a 5G facility.
This bill has passed the CA State Assembly and has been read once in the CA State Senate. Two more readings are required before the final vote. This bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee, but it is unclear if they will address it in their regular Wednesday meeting on June 09, 2021. You can check their agenda on the Senate Calendar, but they don’t always post the bills they are reviewing ahead of the meeting.
What to do? Act now!
Contact your State Assemblymember to register your opposition and concerns, asking them to vote NO on SB-556 and SB-378.
Contact your State Senator to register your opposition and concerns, asking them to vote NO on AB-537.
Act now to protect your community!
Update June 11, 2021
This week, all three of these bills moved forward. Here’s a summary:
On June 09, 2021, the Assembly Committee on Local Government heard and voted on both SB 556: Street light poles, traffic signal poles: small wireless facilities attachments and SB 378: Local government: broadband infrastructure development project permit processing: microtrenching permit processing ordinance. Both bills passed without substantial changes and with no “No” votes. Both bill are now waiting for the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance to hear and vote on them. No date has yet been set.
Also on June 09, 2021, the Senate Rules Committee referred AB 537: Communications: wireless telecommunications and broadband facilities to the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee as well as the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. No date has been set in either committee for the bill to be heard.
Update June 17, 2021
AB 537 has been set for hearing on June 21, 2021 in the Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee.
Update June 24, 2021
Both SB 556 and SB 378 are now scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Chamber of the CA State Capitol.
On June 21, 2021, the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee passed AB 537 with 10 of the 14 members voting in favor and the other 4 not voting at all. It is now waiting for a hearing in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. No date has been set.
Update July 2, 2021
AB 537 got some minor amendments ahead of the July 8 hearing in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. The first requires a 30 day waiting period after a local government has failed to act on a permit application. The second inserts standard language about safety. You can see these amendments by using the Compare Versions tab on the California Legislative Information site. The safety amendment references two other codes, both of which are very long and technical:
- Article 2 of Chapter 3.1 of Division 5 of Title 1
- Public Utilities Commission’s General Order No. 128, Rules for Construction of Underground Electric Supply and Communication Systems
SB 378 got a minor amendment as well, which didn’t substantially change the bill. It was amended to reference Government Code Section 50030 which limits permit fees for telecommunications installations.
Both SB 556 and SB 378 are scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Chamber of the CA State Capitol.
Update August 16, 2021
After passing the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance handily, both SB 556 and SB 378 are scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 in Room 4202 after the regular session closes.
After a minor amendment that makes it even clearer that it is targeting 5G, AB 537 was placed on the suspense file by the Senate Appropriations Committee.