California's Governor Vetoes Telecom Industry's
"Small Cell" Antenna Bill (SB 649)
October 16, 2017 (updated Oct 17, 2017)
Shortly before midnight on October 15, Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 649, legislation promoted by the CTIA-The Wireless Association and the telecommunications industry.
SB 649 would undermine the ability of local governments to control the public rights of way in order to facilitate the telecom industry's deployment of up to 50,000 new cell antenna sites in the state. The bill would significantly increase exposure to microwave radiation, and for the first time expose the population to millimeter radiation.
Over 180 scientists and doctors signed a declaration demanding a moratorium on the increase of cell antennas for planned 5G expansion. Concerns over health effects from higher radiation exposure include potential neurological impacts, infertility, and cancer.
Over 300 cities and almost four dozen counties opposed the bill. Wireless safety and environmental health advocates from throughout California organized to oppose this bill and educate legislators and the governor about the risks to health and safety that this bill poses.
News stories regarding the Governor's veto:
Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle
July 27, 2017 (updated Oct 17, 2017)
My editorial note:
The telecommunications industry has proposed legislation in many states that would alter the local permit process that the industry must undertake prior to installing transmitters, antennas and other equipment in people's neighborhoods.
In California, the adoption of Senate Bill 649 would impair the authority of local governments in order to facilitate the telecom industry's installation of thirty to
fifty thousand new cell antenna sites. This would result in significantly increased exposure of the population to electromagnetic fields (EMF).
234 experts from 41 nations have petitioned the United Nations and the World Health Organization about the
adverse biologic and health impacts of EMF exposure. All of the scientists who signed the EMF Scientist Appeal have published research on this topic in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The Appeal states that current international EMF exposure
guidelines are obsolete and inadequate to protect human health and the
environment. The Appeal calls for a public health review of the growing body of
scientific evidence that includes reports of increasing rates of cancer and
neurological diseases that may be caused by exposure to EMF from wireless
As one of the advisors to the Appeal, I recommend a moratorium on installation of cell antennas until our government commissions an independent review of the biologic and health research to determine stringent radio frequency standards that ensure our safety.
On September 13, over 180 scientists and doctors from 35 countries sent a declaration to officials of the European Commission demanding a moratorium on the increase of cell antennas for planned 5G expansion. Concerns over health effects from higher radiation exposure include potential neurological impacts, infertility, and cancer.
In the U.S., the Federal Communication Commission's radio frequency guidelines were adopted
more than two decades ago and address only risks from heating (i.e., thermal effects). The guidelines were not designed to protect the
population from verifiable non-thermal health risks associated with wireless
Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.
Scientists and Doctors Demand Moratorium on 5G
5G Wireless Technology: Is 5G Harmful to Our Health?
5G Wireless Technology: Millimeter Wave Health Effects
Cell Tower Health Effects
Jerry Brown stops invasion of the cell phone antennas and other bad legislation
Editorial Board, Mercury News, Oct 20, 2017
Sometimes good government is less about making good things happen than stopping bad things from happening.
In that spirit — thank you, Gov. Jerry Brown ….
He also rejected a bill to take disputes over water rights away from the State Water Resources Control Board — that is, the experts — and assign them to administrative law judges unlikely to be sufficiently educated in the highly complex field. Guess who wins in that scenario.
The cell antenna bill was the most flagrant sellout by the Legislature. Hundreds of cities and nearly 50 counties were up in arms, faced with losing substantial revenue — at least $30 million a year statewide and likely much more.
Even more galling, communities would have been stripped of bargaining power to get companies to provide high speed service to poor neighborhoods even though the wealthy ones that generate most of their profits.
As one example of potential harm, the law would have given the companies priority over cities’ and counties’ own plans for public safety communications equipment on public property.
In his veto message, Brown, who has served as Oakland’s mayor, mentioned the questionable legality of taking away communities’ right to control their own property, among other valid criticisms. Questionable indeed.
Lawmakers who pushed this bill, SB 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, should be ashamed of themselves. It was a direct sellout to a powerful industry at the expense of constituents ….
On both these bills, Brown stood for broad public rights against moneyed interests. It was the governor at his best.
Gov. Brown right to block industry giveaway
Editorial Board, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct 16, 2017
A bill to give the wireless industry largely unchecked access to public property across California brought loud objections from local officials in the Bay Area and beyond. Can the industry hear them now?
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the legislation Sunday, acknowledging the value of deploying wireless technology “rapidly and efficiently” but adding that he favors “a more balanced solution than the one achieved in this bill.” Indeed, Senate Bill 649, authored by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, and passed by the Legislature last month, would have all but given away public infrastructure to wealthy corporations.
Verizon, AT&T and other wireless providers have pushed such legislation here and elsewhere to ease deployment of so-called small-cell equipment that boosts coverage provided by larger cell towers, particularly in urban areas and in anticipation of fifth-generation (5G) network technology. The bill would have granted the companies rights similar to those of utilities, leaving local governments with limited power to set fees or restrict placement on streetlights and traffic signal poles.
The companies, which have spent tens of millions of dollars on political contributions in California over the past few years, already enjoy generous state and federal protections. They shouldn’t get unfettered use of what was built and paid for by the public.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto messages send message to California Legislature: Don't
Editorial Board, San Diego Union-Tribune, Oct 16, 2017
The deadline for action on bills passed by the California Legislature has come and gone, and Gov. Jerry Brown is once again playing his role as the voice of mature wisdom in Sacramento. Examples: ...
-- He vetoed Senate Bill 649, which would have sharply streamlined the permitting process and limited fees for installing equipment such as small cell towers used by the cell phone industry. In his veto message, Brown acknowledged the importance of this “innovative technology” but said a “more balanced solution” made more sense than stripping local governments of their authority.
In Brown’s veto messages, common themes are evident. He doesn’t like bills that can be seen as posturing. He doesn’t like bills that could have unforeseen complications. And he really, really doesn’t like cluttering government code with new laws that address problems covered by existing laws ....
Veto SB 649
Editorial Board, Sacramento Bee, Sep 28, 2017
AT&T is used to getting its way in the Capitol. Once again, AT&T was able to muscle through legislation, this time Senate Bill 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would make it easier for telecommunications companies to place so-called small cell wireless contraptions on utility polls for 5G technology.
Backers made late concessions. But the vast majority of local officials remain opposed, saying they would lose too much control over the looks of their cities. We don’t believe local government should impose undue burdens on business. Nor do we believe the Legislature should go out of its way to big-foot local governments, and certainly not at the behest of one of the companies with the biggest feet of all.
Brown, the former Oakland mayor, should respect the concept of subsidiarity, and urge lawmakers and their telecom benefactors to try again in 2018.
Gov. Brown, veto the bill that
lets rich telecoms use public property practically free
Editorial Board, Mercury
News, Sep 25, 2017
Photo caption Gov. Jerry
Brown, shown at a Caltrain event, is the last hope for California cities to
keep control of where telecom antennas go.
Legislature wants to give telecom companies a nice big gift: at least $30
million a year, and perhaps billions of dollars in savings at the direct
expense of cities that both rely on the money and use their current leverage to
negotiate improved coverage for poor neighborhoods.
Gov. Jerry Brown — or,
perhaps more to the point, former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown — has to stop it.
He should veto SB 649, which gives telecoms carte blanche to put their “small
cell” antennas on any public property — street lights, public buildings — with
a token fee, instead of negotiating with cities for the use of taxpayer-owned
It’s an outrageous
giveaway to companies whose profits are in the tens of billions. And it’s
a slap in the face to California residents and taxpayers, who shouldn’t be
forced to allow access to public property without just compensation. It will
raise serious liability issues, but lawmakers left that up to cities to
resolve, even though they took away cities’ bargaining power.
The idea is that this
break will enable telecoms to fast-track communication improvements and reach
more people. But telecoms, unlike nearly all California cities, are rolling in
money. This is why lawmakers, looking to their own political futures, favor
In cities like San Jose,
removing cities’ right to negotiate placement and compensation will skewer
current programs to expand and improve broadband access in poor neighborhoods
where telecoms have little interest in investing. Companies can make more money
beefing up service in the Almaden Valley than in Alum Rock, or in Lamorinda
rather than the flatlands of Oakland.
As the Greenlining
Institute, which works for racial and economic justice, says: “SB 649 will
not close the digital divide. Instead, it will allow phone and broadband
providers to override community decisions about how those communities use
No wonder 300
cities and 47 counties opposed the bill. So did several labor organizations
and, by the way, the California Department of Finance:
“Finance opposes this
bill,” says its report. “While statewide uniform rules can help the expansion
of new technologies, this bill goes too far by usurping city and county
zoning authority for infrastructure development, and it potentially
imposes reimbursable, state-mandated costs on cities and counties.”
By all but giving away
public property to for-profit companies, the bill will limit cities’ and
counties’ ability to locate their own communication equipment, including police
and fire systems, and equipment from corporate partners helping to equalize Internet
So it’s up to the
governor. The former mayor. Brown understands the struggle of poor communities
and the importance of local control over public property. Get out the veto pen,
Governor. We’re counting
July 21, 2017
The following editorials oppose the 5G "small cell" antenna bills proposed by the telecommunications/wireless industry in numerous states across the country.
The editorial boards of four major newspapers in California are opposed to this legislation because it imposes serious limitations on local control over the siting of cell antennas.
"The telecom corporations want to streamline permitting and reduce costs
for slapping their transmitters — ranging in size from a pizza box to a
small refrigerator — on municipal utility poles, street lights and
traffic signals wherever they want....
In Sacramento, the telecoms have hoards of money to fuel legislators’ reelection campaigns, and they routinely spend it.
the last election cycle, AT&T doled out more than $1.6 million to
political groups and politicians. It didn’t discriminate among parties.
Virtually everyone got a piece. The California Democratic Party was
given $615,000. But the Republican Party got even more, $625,000.
also spent $250,000 on the annual Speaker’s Cup golf tournament at the
world-class Pebble Beach course. That’s the Assembly Democrats’ big
By contrast, the League of California Cities and other local government
organizations aren’t allowed to spend a dime on politicians because
their money comes from taxpayers. They do lobby, however." (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2017)
The legislature, as well as most newspapers, have ignored the potential health risks from the proliferation of cell antennas necessary for 5G adoption including widespread exposure of the population to new radio frequency bands including millimeter waves. As many as 50,000 new cell sites will be required in California alone.
California should butt out of cities’ dealings with telecom companies using public facilities
Editorial Board, Mercury News, July 11, 2017
A state bill that would give huge telecom companies a financial break and unprecedented rights to use public property at almost no cost is sailing through the Legislature this summer.
Why? Money, of course. Telecom companies measure profits in the tens of billions. California lawmakers understand this, so that’s whose side they’re on. The bill sailed through the Senate. Now it’s up to the Assembly to stand up for communities — particularly low-income neighborhoods — that will be harmed by it.
SB 649 would prohibit cities from any discretionary review or public say on plans to put “small cell” wireless antennas on publicly owned light poles and other structures in any neighborhood. (Yes, even your neighborhood.) And it would sharply limit fees that cities charge private industry for using property or facilities that taxpayers have paid for.
Sponsored by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista, SB 649 is billed as cutting through permitting red tape and improving cell phone service. But it will slash existing revenue to cities such as San Francisco, which stands to lose millions of dollars a year. And it will eviscerate cities’ ability to bring high-speed Internet service to low-income neighborhoods, as San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has promised to do for East San Jose.
Other mayors are joining Liccardo and the League of California Cities to fight this outrageous power grab by the state and telecoms. We hope it’s not too late.
Here are a few of SB 649’s problems:
By preventing cities from negotiating over antenna locations, the bill eliminates their ability to push companies to provide high-speed access in underprivileged areas. Without that leverage, companies will focus only on areas where they make the most money.
By limiting fees, the bill deprives cities of revenue they could use to increase access to broadband in those poor neighborhoods. Companies will save an estimated $30 million statewide over 10 years — at the cost of public services.
By making public property broadly available to for-profit companies, the bill will limit cities’ and counties’ ability to locate their own communication equipment, such as police and fire systems and equipment from partners — potentially Facebook in San Jose — working on ways to help equalize Internet access.
And wait until neighbors find out they have no say over the clumps of electronic equipment that show up on light poles near their houses. But state legislators don’t care about that. People won’t call them; they’ll scream to the local mayor and council members.
The bill sets a terrible precedent of forcing communities to all but give away public property for private profit. Yet it passed the Assembly local government committee last week and goes to the Communication and Conveyance Committee on July 12.
So — where are area Assembly members? Ash Kalra? Marc Berman? Evan Low?
They’re fresh from serving on city councils. They could lead the fight to stop SB 649 in the Assembly and be the heroes of local government. And their voters.
Democratic legislators take bold stands,
except when they
Editorial Board, Sacramento Bee, July 9, 2017
California’s Legislature, it’s said, is about as liberal as
With supermajorities of Democrats in both houses,
legislators definitely go out of their way to defy President Donald Trump,
especially on immigration issues. On business issues, however, lawmakers are
far less adventuresome.
In the coming days, the Democrats’ leftward slant will be
tested on major bills affecting the powerful telecommunications industry,
privacy rights and consumer protection….
A second, Senate Bill 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego,
would give wireless providers such as AT&T virtually unfettered ability to
place wireless transmitters on utilities poles control by cities and counties,
for a nominal fee.
It’s part of a national effort by wireless providers to
introduce 5G technology, which promises to vastly increase wireless’ ability to
provide super-fast connections, and compete more directly with old-line cable
providers. Similar bills are pending or have been approved in 20 states.
Hueso’s bill would cap fees that local governments could
impose on wireless companies at $250 plus expenses for placing their devices on
polls. Certainly, local authorities should not gouge companies that provide
what could be useful technology. But Hueso’s bill also strips local authorities
of the right to regulate the use of property in their jurisdictions. We side
with local officials: they should be able to determine what corporations build
in public spaces, not Sacramento legislators ….
Clearly, something else is going on. We cannot help but
think that for all their bluster and bravado, Democrats see business lobbyists
arrayed against them and do what too many politicians do: duck.
An audacious 5G power (pole) grab
Board, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2017
companies are preparing to roll out the next generation of wireless networks,
dubbed “5G,” which promise an enormous increase in capacity and connectivity.
These networks not only will increase competition in broadband, they are a key
enabling technology for a host of advanced products and services. They also
represent a gateway to better economic opportunities in inner-city areas that
are underserved by broadband today.
new networks are different in structure and appearance too. Instead of
high-powered antennas on tall towers, they rely on an array of lower-power
transmitters closer to the ground that serve much smaller “cells.” That’s why
mobile phone companies are concerned that cities and counties will throw up
bureaucratic or financial roadblocks to 5G in their communities. It’s not a
groundless worry; wireless companies already have encountered local resistance
in places where they have introduced the new technology.
look and the intrusiveness of the small cell networks that seems to spark the
controversy. People are upset about the deployment of thousands of pieces of
equipment the size of small appliances being placed strategically and liberally
on publicly owned “vertical infrastructure” (that’s bureaucratese for municipal
utility poles, street lights and even traffic lights). That means a lot of
equipment in full view and in proximity — really
close in some cases — to houses and people.
governments must retain some authority to push back on proposed deployments.
precedent for this kind of brazen move: The phone and cable TV companies
persuaded the Legislature in 2006 to end local control over the construction of
new cable TV systems, arguing that a shift to state licensing would bring
much-needed competition to pay TV. But that logic doesn’t apply to the mobile
phone market, where there is vibrant competition. Local government officials
are crying foul, calling it an audacious power grab and the equivalent of a
gift of public funds to billion-dollar telecommunications companies that don’t
need the help.
mobile networks also will involve much more equipment in public view than an
upstart cable TV system. Wireless companies say that the transmitters are
typically the size of a pizza box or briefcase, although the bill would allow
equipment up to the size of a small refrigerator.
Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), the author of
SB 649, argues that wireless upgrades are a public benefit, and therefore local
governments should not have the right to endanger them with unreasonable
hurdles. Besides, he says, the more that individual cities are allowed to
charge for their pole rentals, the less that wireless companies will have left
for network upgrades in other, possibly more needy communities. But the bill
goes far beyond setting a reasonable fee to access public property; it would
usurp the rights of cities and counties to make decisions about how to use
their property. Those rights include the right to make the wrong decisions.
It’s clearly in everyone’s best interest for 5G networks to be
deployed, and surely most local governments would agree. But why shouldn’t
cities and counties be able to try to leverage their assets to get a good deal
for residents as part of the process, or take the time to get the public’s
input on what could be a significant change to their physical and virtual
cell technology does not have to be obtrusive or unattractive, nor will every
street in a community necessarily require outfitting. That’s why local
governments must retain some authority to push back on proposed deployments.
Left to their own devices, telecommunications companies would naturally opt for
the most efficient and cost-effective configuration when making a capital
investment. Their goals are making profits and serving customers, not making a
city look nice.
telecommunication industry has been pushing this “streamlining” strategy in other states, with various
degrees of success. Eleven have adopted some sort of laws to limit the local
permitting process and pole fees. Legislators in other states, like Washington,
have been more skeptical. California’s lawmakers ought to be wary as well and
show more interest in protecting the rights of communities to govern the use of
their infrastructure, rather than letting telecommunication companies make
those decisions for them.
A brazen phone
Editorial Board, San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 2017
governments should decide where cell phone equipment goes.
Francisco has hundreds of them: slim cylinders and flat boxes strapped to
utility poles that serve as mini-cell towers to speed up wireless service. The
devices are essential for anyone carrying a smartphone or tablet, but the
subject is breeding a battle over money and political control.
firms such as Verizon and AT&T are pushing Sacramento to pass a law that
would essentially remove the control cities and counties now have over where
the equipment goes and how much localities can charge. In San Francisco’s case,
the loss could total in the millions, according to Supervisor Mark Farrell, an
opponent of the measure, SB 649.
argument, backed by scores of other local jurisdictions, is about as basic as
home rule gets. Cities, not Sacramento, should have the final say on what
private industry can build in the public right of way.
telecoms are selling the measure as a way to streamline approvals and improve
coverage, an appealing idea to anyone who’s had a call dropped or Facebook
session cut off. But these companies also want to curb the fees that local
communities can charge to only a few hundred dollars per device.
Francisco’s experience, nearly all of the mini-cell towers are approved, making
the argument about timeliness suspect. The existing rules give telecoms ready
access to phone poles and utility posts as a way to fill in broader cell phone
service that can be disrupted by tall buildings, thick walls or rolling
landscape. Also, as wireless needs grow, more bandwidth to handle the traffic
is needed. Cities have responded with lease agreements and worked out
arrangements to put the wireless boxes in the right spots.
bill would shred that process. The measure, which is showing up in nearly
identical shape in other states, is about cutting expenses and avoiding local
oversight. Health concerns about cell phone towers are not an issue in this
dispute since that topic is governed by federal rules.
bill has already shot through the state Senate and faces its first test before
the Assembly’s Local Government Committee on Wednesday. That panel should heed
the criticism from their home communities and stop a measure that subverts