OCEANSIDE — Council approved the template of a license agreement that defines the terms and conditions allowing wireless phone companies to install small cells on city-owned streetlight poles.
At its May 20 meeting, Council adopted a resolution that approves a template Master License Agreement (MLA) for small cell wireless facilities on city-owned streetlight poles within the public right-of-way.
Small cells are a type of wireless facility that uses 4G and 5G technology and increase speed for carrier networks. They are often put on streetlight poles due to their numbers around the city (the city owns 8,000 poles) and because of their data and power connections.
According to city staff, which recommended the resolution’s adoption, the template MLA allows the city to process applications from start to finish within the federally mandated timeframes. Recent changes in federal regulations regarding wireless deployments favor such a master agreement, staff explained in its report on the resolution.
The MLA provides the same terms and conditions to all wireless service providers. It also has a goal of bringing all existing small cell facilities under the new program.
Oceanside currently has 60 small cell facilities and 30 wireless communication facilities called “macro-sites” on poles all within the public right-of-way.
The template MLA does not authorize the installation or construction of any small cells. Those facilities will still need to be approved by the city’s engineering division for compliance to conditions.
The template requires small cells to have radiofrequency emissions compliance reports that demonstrate each facility complies with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. It also sets a “safe harbor” fee of $270 per small cell attachment to each city-owned infrastructure on top of permitting fees.
The FCC mandates that small wireless facilities can be mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height including their antennas or on structures that are no more than 10% taller than other adjacent structures. The facilities also cannot extend existing structures on which they are mounted to a height of more than 50 feet or by more than 105, whichever is greater.
Staff hired Telecom Law Firm to assist in drafting the template MLA.
Attorney Michael Johnston from the firm explained to Council additional requirements and limitations for cities that recent FCC orders dictate.
The city cannot prohibit wireless services or wireless facilities, discriminate between service providers that are functionally the same, or regulate based on environmental effects from radiofrequency emissions as long as the facilities comply with FCC regulations regarding emissions.
The FCC orders also require the city act on a wireless application within a reasonable time and must issue a written decision.
“It basically says the city cannot say no and deny access for an indefinite period of time for wireless providers,” Johnston said. “You have to accept that application and you can’t use what you normally use to study the issue, which is a temporary moratorium.”
Council received several comments from the public, many of which expressed opposition to the template and to increased 5G services in the city.
Suzanne Hume, founder of local organization CleanEarth4Kids.org, wants to keep small cells out of residential areas, parks, schools and high-risk fire areas like the city of Encinitas.
In November 2019, Encinitas City Council amended its 5G wireless policy to exclude cell towers from going up in residential areas, parks and high-risk fire hazard areas. The towers also cannot be installed within 500 feet of daycare centers, schools or homes that are not in residential zones.
Johnston explained the difference between what Encinitas did to the template MLA.
“Encinitas adopted a regulatory policy that regulated location and design of wireless facilities in the right-of-way,” Johnston said. “This is just a master license agreement that identifies terms and conditions for access to city poles.”
Johnston also noted that what Encinitas did is a risky move legally for cities.
Oceanside City Council approved the resolution 4-1 with Councilmember Esther Sanchez opposed.