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SH City Council adopts urgent ordinance regulating small wireless facilities

Telecommunications devices allowed to be installed on poles beginning April 15.

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The Signal Hill City Council addressed several items of municipal business during its long April 9 meeting, including adopting an “urgency” ordinance and new policy regarding small wireless facilities in public right-of-way areas.

The council also approved extending two public-works contracts, chose councilmember organizations and decided on May 14 as the date on which to conduct interviews and select six new commissioners.

Wireless policy
The council conducted a public hearing and– after much council discussion– adopted two ordinances and a new policy regarding wireless-telecommunication device-installation in public right-of-way areas around the city.

City Manager Charlie Honeycutt explained that, because of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy passed in September 2018, the city has to comply with a sped-up process for allowing installation of those devices.

“Wireless service providers want to place small wireless facilities throughout the city to increase the capacity of their wireless networks to meet the growing demand and provide higher data transmission rates,” Honeycutt said. “This will be largely accomplished by installing cellular equipment on streetlight and power poles throughout the city.”

Honeycutt said that though such a policy was defeated in California, the FCC approved the policy on a national level to ensure the implementation of 5G technology for the public.

He added that the City has been working with a technical consultant on how best to comply, recognizing that the technology is critical to businesses, but so is the need to manage its aesthetic impact.

Deputy City Attorney Danny Aleshire said that wireless technology is an unusual area of land-use law in that it’s overseen and regulated by the FCC. By April 15, the city must approve applications to install small wireless facilities (SWFs) within a much shorter period of time than before– 60 days to install on an existing pole or structure, or 90 days to install on a new structure.

According to the FCC regulation, SWFs must be mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height, with equipment volume less than 28 cubic feet and antenna volume less than three cubic feet, Danny said.

“5G is going to be extremely faster than existing 4G or LTE technology– up to 200 times faster,” he said. “While 4G can accommodate 2,000 devices per square kilometer, 5G can accommodate 1 to 2 million devices.”

Unlike the large towers deployed for 4G technology, SWFs are installed closer together, with 10 to 100 times more antenna locations, Danny said, adding that more than 300,000 will be installed across the country in the next three to four years. Because each SWF has a 400-foot coverage radius, they will be installed in residential neighborhoods, as well.

The faster “shot clock” for SWF-application approval will not allow for the city’s usual discretionary review and appeals process, Danny said. The regulation states that any design standards a city wants to impose cannot effectively inhibit the installation of small cells and have to be pre-published prior to April 15.

Therefore, the council needed to approve both a regular and urgency ordinance so that it could take effect immediately instead of after the usual second reading and 30-day waiting period, he said.

A new policy, adopted in parallel to the ordinances, can be revised later, especially since the technology and regulations are in flux, he said.

“This is a very rapidly changing area of the law,” Danny said. “By adopting a policy that can be amended by the public-works director, we’re hoping to maximize the flexibility to allow the city to adapt to ensure its design character isn’t upset by the new small wireless-facility installations.”

Councilmembers Edward Wilson and Tina Hansen questioned why the City needed an urgency ordinance if the FCC policy has been in place for several months.

Kelli Tunnicliff, public-works director, responded that staff believed the city’s existing ordinance would suffice, but realized earlier this year that it needed to make changes. City Attorney Dave Aleshire added that city staff doesn’t have as much expertise in this new area and could not have anticipated its effects on the previous policy, which had only been approved three years before.

Hansen asked whether residents’ views would be impacted by the installation of new poles. Tunnicliff responded that view considerations are being included in the policy but applications can’t go through the Planning Commission anymore for site-design review.

Mayor Lori Woods asked who pays for SWF electricity, and Hansen asked whether installation will involve digging up the area around poles to install fiberoptic cable. Tunnicliff answered that the electricity would be separately metered and there would be digging involved.

“It sounds like the ‘wild west’ to me,” Wilson said of this industry change.
He also questioned whether the City should form a utility agency to deal with technology infrastructure and whether old facilities would be taken down, to which Danny said they might be or they might be simply abandoned.

Amid the council’s considerations, Deputy City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn said that the legal landscape is still changing with cities questioning their obligations. She cited an April 4 California case plus another one pending and other federal legislation.

“We’ve really done our best to make [SWFs] as unobtrusive as possible, recognizing that we’re going to have probably as many of them as we have poles in the city,” Tunnicliff said.

The only public comment during the hearing was a Verizon Wireless representative who said that her company’s legal department had sent a letter to the council that day.

“Several draft-ordinance requirements contradict FCC law,” she said, advising the council and staff to meet with stakeholders regarding problematic design standards and application requirements.

“For example, the draft policy requires concurrent submittals for fiber or cable connections with small wireless facility applications,” she said. “However, fiber backhaul connections are generally provided by another company that will build and maintain its own fiber under separate special permits and applications.”

She added that language regarding removal and replacement of existing streetlights is actually subject to Southern California Edison (SCE) limitations for safety reasons.

Danny said that because the ordinance had to be passed before April 15, there wasn’t time to have a meeting, but that the new policy could be changed if there is something to adjust.

“Clearly, I don’t think we have a choice but to pass it, otherwise we have no control at all,” Hansen said. “But there are so many unknowns here– where they’re going to be, the streets being dug up, and then how are they going to be put back together […]. There’s so many questions out there.”

Wilson said that a councilmember used to attend the National League of Cities, where they could talk to national representatives about local issues, but he regretted that was curtailed due to budget considerations.

“What you don’t know can hurt you,” he said. “When you’re not there at the table, you’re probably not being discussed. […] We need to start participating more in those type of events.”

Woods requested that the ordinance include requiring a planning commission to sit on the application discussions so there was some community representation. However, Wilson objected because of imposing on the commissioner’s time and technological understanding.

“We’re going to hire people– consultants– and we have staff,” he said.

Dave agreed with Wilson because of the FCC rules.

“It has to be clear that it’s the public-works director that is the approving official,” he said. “You do not want to confuse what our process is.”
However, he acknowledged that the planning commission should follow the application processes.

“Even if they don’t have a role in it, I think the planning commission should understand what’s going on,” he said.

Wilson moved that the ordinance, urgency ordinance and policy resolution be passed, which was seconded by Vice Mayor Robert Copeland and approved by the council in a 5-0 vote. The council also agreed to post the new policy to the City’s website.

Organizations and commissions
The council then agreed to adopt a resolution identifying the various organizations that councilmembers would participate in and attend, such as the Southern California Association of Governments.

Honeycutt said that Larry Forester’s recent retirement from the council left four vacancies– alternates for the League of Contract Cities and the Gateway Council of Governments, and delegate positions for the League of California Cities and Southwest Resource Recovery Facility (SRRF).

Councilmembers discussed amongst themselves about filling those seats and changing other delegate and alternate positions to various organizations. The council passed a resolution amending the appointments.

Along with that, the council agreed to the May 14 regular council meeting as the date to conduct commissioner interviews and make appointments for six open commissioner seats.

Shin-Heydorn said that the three city commissions allow citizens to be involved in local government and that the city conducts a biennial recruitment for commissions in the spring of odd-number years following general municipal elections.

Two seats on each commission will expire on May 31, she said.

She then reviewed the responsibilities and meeting dates for the planning, parks-and-recreation and civil-service commissions. Commissioners must be U.S. citizens, 18 years or older, registered to vote and reside in the city 29 days prior to their appointment date, she said.

The City will accept applications until Thursday, April 25, at 4:30pm, she said, adding that applicants can apply through the City’s website at cityofsignalhill.org.

Wilson suggested that work history not be included on the application but instead applicants can emphasize relevant experience in general, such as volunteer experience.

Shin-Heydorn agreed and said that there is now one common application for all commissions based on a previous suggestion by Wilson and that one person could apply to multiple commissions.

Road paving
Honeycutt told the council that Orange Avenue, between Spring and Hill streets, needed emergency repairs.

“Orange Avenue has taken some punishment, particularly with the rainy weather we’ve had,” he said. “We need to get out there pretty quickly and make repairs to that street.”

Tunnicliff said that, because the work is over-extending the public-works crews, staff proposed extending an existing 2016 contract with nearby Excel Paving for the work. The council approved a new three-year contract for $825,740.

“The City has received an increased number of resident complaints regarding potholes in the past few months due to the heavier than normal rains,” she said. “The public-works crews have been continually repairing these potholes only to receive new complaints several days later in new locations.”

Tunnicliff added that the topography of Orange Avenue makes the repairs difficult due to traffic and the sight distances.

She said that the cost to repave Orange Avenue would be $343,200 for paving 260,000 square feet plus between $100,000 and $140,000 in non-paving costs. The total would be supplemented by about $180,000 of Proposition C funding plus other minor outside funds that would expire on June 30 if not used.

She said that grinding work will begin Friday, April 12, and paving on Saturday.

Conservation Corps
Honeycutt asked the council to also consider renewing a contract-services agreement with the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, citing a very good 14-year relationship between the Corps and the city.

“We’ve had the pleasure of actually hiring some of their Corp members to full time positions here in the public-works department,” Honeycutt said. “So it’s been a very good experience for both the Corps members as well as the city in terms of utilizing their services [and providing them] job experience.”

Tunnicliff said that the Corp offers at-risk youth and young adults paid experience and mentorship while they finish school.

She said that workers have helped public-works maintenance operations by removing graffiti, repairing facilities, weeding, cleaning gutters and alleyways along main roads, while also cleaning bus stops and homeless encampments. Future work may involve help in constructing View Park.

She added that staff’s proposed hourly compensation of $27.31 per hour– not to exceed $39,763.36 annually– is a fully-burdened rate that includes workers compensation, benefits, training, overhead and equipment.

“They’re hard workers, and they’re a valuable asset,” Woods said.

Presentations
Woods made three presentations recognizing city employees.

She and Police Chief Christopher Nunley introduced Angel Hernandez, a new emergency-operations coordinator (EOC) with the police department.

Woods said that Hernandez has worked in several municipal departments part-time and has degrees in emergency management, emergency services and health sciences. He also has EMT experience and was an assistant EOC.

“In both his academic and professional career– all at the age of 23– Angel has been consistently praised for being a collaborative partner that shows initiative and works well across department lines,” Woods said.

Hernandez expressed thanks for learning a lot about the city during his internships in the public works, finance and police departments.

“My goal is to assure that our city is prepared to respond to any disaster that it may face,” he said.

Woods and Nunley also presented a proclamation for National Public Safety Telecommunications Week to two representatives of the police department’s dispatcher/jailer group.

“911 call-takers, dispatchers and technicians are typically the very first emergency-service professionals that the public has contact with during any emergency,” Woods read from a proclamation. “They assist the public in the police station lobby who are requesting police assistance [and] perform a multitude of record checks to assist field units.”

Woods added that Signal Hill dispatchers also serve as jailers and process prisoners in and out of the facility.

Finally, Woods presented a proclamation to Signal Hill Librarian Charles Hughes recognizing National Library Week.

“Today’s libraries are not just about books,” Woods said. “Libraries promote civic engagement […] Librarians empower their communities to make informed decisions by providing free access to information.”

Woods said that the new library, scheduled for completion by July, will be a great asset to the community.

“We’re all very excited,” she said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

The next Signal Hill City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, April 23, at 7pm in the council chamber at 2175 Cherry Ave.

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SH City Council adopts urgent ordinance regulating small wireless facilities