The Elk Grove City Council on Aug. 28 unanimously approved a licensing agreement between the city and AT&T Mobility to have small cell antennas placed throughout Elk Grove.
That decision was related to changing technology, which no longer requires large antenna structures or “cell sites” for cellular telecommunications.
Older cell antennas, which were placed on monopoles, trees, major power lines and other tall structures, have been used for 2G (second generation), 3G and the current 4G/LTE systems.
Small cell antennas, which can be used for both 4G/LTE and 5G technologies, will be placed on telephone or small power line poles, traffic signals, and light poles.
Currently, Elk Grove does not have 5G technology, which is expected to be available in the near-future. That technology is marketed as potentially providing speeds 100 times faster than 4G technology.
With the council’s approval of small cell antennas, through a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order, the city would have to meet deadlines for approving or denying antenna location applications.
City Attorney Jonathan Hobbs said that the city will have 60 days to approve or deny placements of cell facilities on existing poles and 90 days to approve facilities on new poles, or face the possibility of being sued by AT&T.
“What that allows the carrier to do if we miss a (deadline) is it gives them a right to go to court to determine whether or not we acted reasonable or timely,” he said. “They don’t automatically win. It just gives them a cause of action to step into federal court to determine whether or not we have acted diligently.”
Following Hobbs comments, AT&T Mobility representative Matt Yergovich told the council that the company is prepared to respond to any possibly unlawful delay in the placement of small cell antennas in Elk Grove.
“Of course, AT&T reserves the right to contest the city code should it unlawfully inhibit future wireless deployment,” he said.
Yergovich expressed excitement with the idea of AT&T offering 5G technology in Elk Grove.
“When it comes to 5G, I’m actually excited about the possibility of increased data speeds and making the network better,” he said.
It is contended by wireless providers that more small cell antennas in closer proximity are necessary to meet the growing demand for wireless data usage for devices that depend on such service.
Hobbs explained to the council that the FCC set forth provisions regarding what can and cannot be regulated in regard to small cell antennas.
Hobbs noted that because the city has land use rights under federal law, the city does have the ability to regulate in the area of aesthetics, in regard to the placement of cell facilities.
With the FCC order that allows for the spacing of small cell antennas for aesthetic purposes, the council approved a requirement that the facilities be at least 500 feet apart from each other, and that no cell antenna be placed in front of residential yards. However, cell antennas in side yards will be permitted.
Additionally, no small cell facility should be placed immediately adjacent to a front yard of any residential dwelling.
Hobbs also mentioned that the city cannot deny a cellphone tower or facility based on health effects.
“The city may not regulate the placement, construction or modification of a wireless service facility on the basis of environmental or health effects, so long as the facilities comply with the FCC’s regulations,” he said.
During this hearing, various speakers shared their concerns regarding potential negative health issues related to the installation of new wireless technology.
One of those speakers, Pamela Marquez, told the council that research regarding health impacts from small cell antennas is being ignored.
“The telecoms, the FCC and the city of Elk Grove continue to ignore research that clearly demonstrates we will be harmed by this 4G/5G technology,” she said. “The only real question is ‘Why?’ Is it ignorance, is it malevolence or is it just about the money? Whatever the reason, they clearly do not care about the health or the public.”
Noah Davidson said that since the installation of a cell antenna near his home, several members of his family have experienced health issues.
“Shortly after the antenna was installed, my nieces began experiencing health problems,” he said. “Other members of my family have also experienced health problems since the antenna was installed.
“I’ve started an activist group in Sacramento to oppose the placement of cell antennas near people who do not want them. I’m not against 5G entirely.”
Following another anti-5G speaker, Vice Mayor Pat Hume reiterated Hobb’s comments regarding the council’s inability to “control anything to do with health.”
“We cannot regulate health concerns as per the FCC,” he said. “If that is the only argument that you’re bringing to this podium, we have no power to do anything about that.”
Dante Williams, a member of the Verizon small cell strategy team, stressed the importance of 5G in relation to public safety.
“I want to make sure that my first responders have all the information and technology at their fingertips to be the most effective they can possibly be, and I want to see that in every single community that I live, work and play in,” he said.
Mark Edgar, another supporter of 5G technology, said that adding small cell antennas positions Elk Grove for the future.
“(It) positions Elk Grove to be ahead of the curve and not behind the curve, and a leader and not a follower,” he said.
Several speakers, including Mark Graham, an outspoken opponent of proposed cell phone towers in Elk Grove, requested that the council delay their decision on small cell antennas in Elk Grove.
“The reason you need to postpone this is (it is) premature,” Graham said. “This is the first time the council has ever sat down and had a discussion or an opportunity to have a discussion of this proposed code amendment, which you’ve only had for three days, including the weekend, which is 71 pages long.”
Graham also suggested that that the city could limit the operation of cell antennas by decreasing their power output.
During the council’s deliberation, Council Member Darren Suen said that he saw no reason to delay voting on this issue.
“Getting back to just doing the best research that we can and making the best decision that we can, and I don’t have any confidence that if we delay this thing, there’s going to be any other information that’s going to make all of a sudden everybody go, ‘You know, that’s it,’” he said.
Hume described his approach in voting for the licensing agreement for small cell antennas in Elk Grove.
“People have a lot of strong opinions,” he said. “I have to adopt what I consider a universalist, ethical position, which is the greatest amount of good for the most amount of people with the least amount of harm for the fewest amount of people.