SB 649 Threatens Cities Rights to Regulate Cell Towers

California Senate Bill 649 is being heard this week in Sacramento.  Please contact your state representatives and make clear your opposition to this terrible bill.

Things have been relatively quiet in Palos Verdes for the past two months as Crown Castle rethinks some of the highly intrusive cell towers they had intended to plop right next to homes.  The sites as proposed were ugly eyesores; virtually guaranteed to detract from neighborhood aesthetics and negatively affect the home values of the nearby residents.

Fortunately, decision makers in both Rancho Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Estates decided to aggressively assert the city’s right to regulate these sites as allowed under both state and federal law.  Unsurprisingly, the wireless industry doesn’t like this.  They want quick and dirty cookie-cutter sites they can throw up as cheaply as possible.

Cell towers are a multi-billion dollar business and the industry is heavily lobbying Sacramento and Washington to strip municipalities of their right to regulate these sites.  The latest attempt in California is Senate Bill (SB) 649, being heard this week at the state capitol.  SB 649 will override municipal authority to apply common sense local planning review to cell towers.

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An existing dreadful cell tower on a Monero Drive cul-de-sac in RPV, it is only 30 feet from the residence.  This site never should have been approved but it was put in place prior to RPV’s comprehensive wireless facility ordinance.  SB 649 derails the City’s authority to prevent ugly cell towers like this from multiplying throughout the residential neighborhoods.

We need your help to let Sacramento know this unacceptable.  They tried this last year when Assemblyman Mike Gatto attempted to push through a bill stripping cities of the right to regulate ugly and intrusive cell towers.  That bill died in committee after an outcry from concerned residents and the municipalities themselves.  We’ve shown before that the wireless industry can be stopped.

Sacramento needs to again hear from concerned residents.  Also, please urge your city government to contact our local state senators and legislators and voice opposition to SB 649.  In Palos Verdes, our state representatives are:

  • Assembly: Al Muratsuchi, 66th Assembly District, (310) 375-0691   contact (link)
  • State Senate: Ben Allen, 26th Senate District, (310) 318-6994   contact (link)

If you are outside of Palos Verdes, you can find your state representatives here (link).

Giving the Wireless Industry Free Reign in our Cities is a Terrible Idea

We’ve documented the really ugly and highly intrusive cell towers installed before Rancho Palos Verdes implemented its comprehensive wireless facility ordinance (link).  This is what cities can expect with the wireless companies calling the shots.  It isn’t pretty.  Now imagine one of these eyesores in front of your house.

We’ve documented how Crown Castle misrepresented the size and intrusiveness of RPV’s proposed cell towers using misleading photo simulations (link).

We’ve documented how Crown Castle misrepresented the applicable law in wireless facility applications in both RPV and PVE (link).  We also documented how Mobilitie was playing the same games and was formally taken to the woodshed by the state of Minnesota (link).

We’ve documented the misleading technical claims made by the wireless industry to fool municipalities into thinking they can’t deny a proposed cell tower (link).  We’ve also shown how they’ve changed their story when confronted on these claims.

We’ve shown how Crown Castle and the wireless industry used lawsuits and legal threats to intimidate cities.   We documented how they went for broke in 2016’s T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco and suffered a historic loss before the California Court of Appeals (link).  The court made clear cities maintain the right to regulate these sites despite the wireless industry’s attempts to twist the clear language of state law.

Don’t Let them Change the Law and Handcuff Cities

Now the wireless industry is trying to change state law despite the fact they’ve shown over and over they can’t be trusted to deal openly and fairly with cities.  It’s a terrible idea but it has huge amounts of money behind it.  Our representatives need to hear from the people, please contact Sacramento today and voice your opposition to SB 649.

 

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Our Biggest Week Ever

We had one thousand page views over the last week (1006 to be exact), a new record for this site.  There have been 27 views in the last hour it took to compose this post alone.  Thanks to all who took a look and a special thanks those who took the time to contact us.

The reason for our blog

We started this blog back in May without much fanfare.  Our intent was to document our findings regarding Crown Castle’s proposed AT&T small cell deployment in Palos Verdes, California.  As you can see from this photo simulation, Crown Castle’s “small cells” aren’t all that small, particularly if they want to locate it in your front yard.

neighborhood cell tower

Crown Castle photo simulation of a proposed streetlight cell tower site in a residential neighborhood (Via Rivera) in Rancho Palos Verdes.

As we dug into it, we were truly astonished by the quantity of misleading site documentation, highly questionable technical claims, and false legal claims of entitlement.  Even more surprising to us was that these tactics were seemingly accepted, no one questioned it, this was just how the game was played.  It sort of reminded us of when you take your car to the body shop and the guy asks you if need a a real estimate or one for the insurance company (wink, wink).

We find this behavior highly offensive.  Consider that Crown Castle and the others claim an entitlement to place highly intrusive cell towers in residential neighborhoods right next to people’s homes.  No one wants a commercial telecommunication facility right next to their house.  They are ugly, often noisy, and have a significant negative impact on neighboring home values. Would you buy a home with an obvious cell tower several dozen feet away?  For most families their home is their biggest investment.  Yet these good folks are just supposed to suck it up and accept it so that these companies can hit their return on investment targets.

When it happens people feel helpless and with good reason.  It’s a David vs. Goliath situation, as a multi-billion dollar corporation has invaded their quiet little street allegedly justified by a bunch lofty legalese and technical mumbo-jumbo.  Even worse, the governing municipality whose primary obligation is to serve residents, often responds with “there is nothing we can do about it”.  It’s not true of course, but no one in City Hall wants a lawsuit on their watch. City staff may not be consciously thinking about it, but who would they rather have mad at them; a few residents or a sue-happy corporation?

Regarding the technical issues, well these guys are the experts and if they say it then it must be true, right?  Actually, no.  The level of false technical claims we’ve found and documented is truly staggering.  These “errors” could conceivably result from carelessness and incompetence rather than deception, though they do always seem to be to the cell tower applicant’s advantage.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be random.  If it is, these guys should head to Vegas as they’re on a hot streak.

What we aim to accomplish

We first started this blog after finding there was nothing on the internet like it.  The problems we were finding in Palos Verdes were systemic and we had a hard time believing they were isolated to our community.  Our goals were four-fold:

  • Maintain an accessible repository for relevant information and documentation regarding Crown Castle’s AT&T deployment
  • Inform Palos Verdes residents regarding the discrepancies we’ve uncovered, of our municipal rights to regulate these sites, and what residents can do about it
  • Provide a resource for those in other communities who may be in a similar situation
  • Document discrepancies in the event of future legal action

With regards to the last point, we’ve only put up a sampling of what we’ve found as it’s probably best not to show all one’s cards.  But here’s the thing, if a multi-billion dollar corporation is going to demand an entitlement to place a highly intrusive cell site right next to someone’s home, they better make sure every freaking “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed.  As anyone who follows these cases closely knows, this type of carelessness is the stuff that loses lawsuits.  Instead the submitted documentation is laughable.  Let’s just say the level of “carelessness” we’ve found is truly astounding.

Thanks!

Thanks to all that have visited the site.  We got a bunch of new emails via our contact page this week and are working to get back to everyone.  Please bookmark us and check back regularly as we usually put up new posts once a week or so.

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Meet Crown Castle’s competitor; Mobilitie, LLC

We’ve been very critical of highly questionable tactics on Crown Castle’s part.  As a quick reminder we’ve covered numerous troubling aspects of Crown Castle’s cell tower deployment in Palos Verdes:

  • Misleading photo simulations (here) and “not to scale” drawings (here) that show equipment smaller than actuality, and are missing important components entirely
  • Highly questionable technical claims regarding existing coverage and an alleged “significant gap” (here)
  • False legal claims regarding our cities’ rights to regulate these cell towers (here)

Plus various other sundry topics, just keep scrolling down the blog for more.

It turns out that while Crown Castle (and its former entities NextG and Newpath Networks) may have written the book on questionable tactics, they certainly aren’t alone in practicing them.

Introducing Mobilitie

Mobilitie, LLC is a cell tower outfit out of Newport Beach that makes Crown Castle look like pikers.  They want to place thousands of cell towers in the right of way for Sprint and they are coming our way.  We recently found out they are trying to establish themselves on the peninsula, all South Bay cities need to be on guard.

Sprint is dealing with cash-flow issues and has dramatically scaled back their planned network expenditures over the last few years.  Despite what the guy on TV says, network quality has suffered.  Sprint saw Mobilitie as their savior, able to roll out thousands of cheap, quick, dirty, and most important, rent-free cell towers in the public right of way. In addition, Sprint further plans to save money by connecting the cell towers using a master tower with microwave links rather than running fiber optic lines between them.

However, that plan would only work provided municipalities were willing to go along with it (or alternatively, thought they had no choice in the matter).  Note also that these master “backhaul” towers are typically 120 feet tall in order to ensure they have line of site connection to the smaller towers that directly serve the consumer.  Certainly not aesthetically pleasing or in-character with most neighborhoods.

mobilitie-120-foot-utilty-pole

Example of a proposed microwave backhaul tower.  Note the ridiculous “utility pole” designation. This monster tower would communicate with smaller towers thus being cheaper than running fiber optic lines between sites.  Also note the residential neighborhood character for this proposed example.

Mobilitie (not to be confused with the wireless carrier ATT Mobility) has multiple alter egos.  They’ve been doing business as (dba) the “California Utility Pole Authority” in our state and numerous other monikers across the US.  There’s an interesting post here on their recent incarnation as the “Pole & Fiber Network Authority” in Maine.  These guys seem to have an “authority” obsession, despite the fact they have no authority.  They are a private company with no connection whatsoever to any government agency.

We won’t comment on the motives behind the alter egos but will say that we are grateful that multiple knowledgeable individuals quickly spread the word as to who exactly these guys were and what was going on.

The Minnesota Smackdown

Mobilitie doesn’t like being criticized.  So instead of us describing their tactics, we’ll let the Minnesota Department of Commerce do it.  This department actually does have “authority”.  It seems the good folks of Minnesota don’t appreciate slick Southern Californians telling them what they are “allowed” to do under Minnesota law.

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minnesota-mobilitie-smackdown

You can find a full size PDF of the document here.

What a great letter, we only wish California’s regulatory agencies were as proactive in protecting our cities from the wireless industry’s misleading claims of entitlement.  In that absence, we are extremely grateful that San Francisco took the lead in aggressively defending municipal rights in T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco (2016).  It’s a shame it also took the California Court of Appeals to set the record straight.

Our favorite quote from the Minnesota letter:

The Department requests that Mobilitie cease from asserting that PUC (Ed: Public Utility Commission) authority has exempted it from the regulatory requirements of local government units.  If such communications continue, the Department will pursue whatever remedies it may have available under Minnesota law.

 LOL, gotta love it.

What this means for Palos Verdes

As far as we know, Mobilitie has only made overtures on the peninsula so there’s likely no direct impact yet.  That being said, the Minnesota smackdown letter mentions tactics reminiscent of Crown Castle’s claims in Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes.

We’ve documented how Crown Castle claimed federal law (known as section 6409) applied to their proposed cell towers, and that because of that, the City couldn’t deny them.  As we made clear in our post (here), those claims were blatantly untrue.  Crown Castle has also repeatedly claimed the California Public Utility Code Section 7901 limits municipal power to regulate their cell towers in the right of way.  T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco utterly obliterated that claim.

Residents and municipalities need to question California’s regulatory agencies why they aren’t taking a more proactive stance against these tactics.  Until that happens, California cities need to aggressively challenge every claim made by any of these guys.

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