Los Altos council passes 5G regulations, weighs in on housing bills

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Residents opposed to the installation of 5G small-cell node technology have posted signs around town.

At the July 30 Los Altos City Council meeting, Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins called for unity in furthering the Los Altos Community Center project, noting that the all-women council could represent female leaders everywhere by unanimously approving a funding request that would prompt contract signings and shovels hitting the pavement.

“This is a major accomplishment despite the fact that I am disappointed,” Bruins said of the split 3-2 vote allocating approximately $4 million more than anticipated for the project’s completion. “We could have shown how five women got this thing across the finish line.”

At a last-minute special meeting Aug. 5 with Bruins absent, however, her fellow council members were unified in approving both items on the agenda: an urgency ordinance regulating installation of wireless facilities and letters drafted by Councilwoman Anita Enander in response to housing bills scheduled for review by the California State Legislature as it returned from its summer recess Monday.

‘Standing up to bullies’

With the exception of one resident and one Verizon Wireless lawyer, all 15 people who spoke during public comment at the special meeting urged the council to pass without delay the urgency ordinance drafted in the wake of emerging 5G small-cell node technology. This was the second special meeting organized to address the topic.

After receiving significant direction from the council July 30, Gail Karish – telecommunications attorney for Best Best & Krieger LLP, which serves as Los Altos’ city attorney – introduced the urgency ordinance and resolutions related to design standards and fees to establish a framework for the installation of wireless facilities throughout Los Altos. The ordinance was modeled after a document dubbed the “Mayor’s Proposal,” composed almost entirely of language from the city of Mill Valley’s wireless facilities ordinance, also drafted by Karish’s firm.

The design standards outline acceptable locations for small-cell nodes, state the city’s preference for “camouflaged” equipment and aim to maintain the most stringent requirements possible without conflicting with U.S. Federal Communications Commission regulations passed in 2018 to “expedite 5G rollout.”

Some cities have elected to sue the FCC, citing limitations on local control related to the permitting process and fees charged to wireless carriers. Mayor Lynette Lee Eng called on her colleagues to join the fight when the council first discussed the topic July 9, listing local jurisdictions such as Burlingame and Fairfax as examples.

Neighbors echoed calls from resident Carey Lai, who has repeatedly said he is not against 5G technology. After receiving a letter in the mail informing him that a cell node would be posted just outside his property, Lai spearheaded the campaign for regulations addressing the incoming permit applications from wireless carriers. Lai’s plea at the July 30 council meeting resonated with neighbors, who said at the Aug. 5 meeting that passing the urgency ordinance was “prudent,” “sensible” and “really not that big of a deal.”

“I was raised to stand up against bullies,” Los Altos resident Nicholas French said. “When we have heard from the cellphone companies, it feels like they’re shoving (small-cell facilities) down our throats … like they’re saying we don’t have another option.”

Los Altos resident Richard Gorman, who has an extensive background in wireless technology, offered to pay out of his own pocket to provide cellphone repeaters, or cellular signal booster technology, to each resident with a wireless provider not willing to “ante up” and supply it at no cost. According to Gorman, that would fix coverage problems, and any fear of litigation could be negated by his additional offer to pay fees out of pocket.

The council approved the urgency ordinance 4-0 after amending it to add protections for multifamily housing and to designate a specific noise decibel constraint (no equipment that could presumably run 24/7 should exceed 45 decibels).

A need to be heard

Before Enander was elected to the council last November, she attended many city meetings and watched as council members struggled to implement policies, feeling as though the state of California had “tied their hands.” Once elected, she volunteered to be the Los Altos point person for all of the housing bills moving through the State Legislature; Enander stayed informed through her service on the Santa Clara County Cities Association legislative committee and through bill tracking in her free time. She drafted a series of letters aimed at weighing in on pending housing legislation, including Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, proposed by East Bay State Sen. Nancy Skinner.

Enander notified her colleagues Aug. 5 that it was their final opportunity to approve her letters before the deadline to submit them prior to the Legislature’s imminent return from its summer recess.

“To be blunt, our chance that anything we’ve argued actually gets taken up by anyone is very small,” she said. “What matters is the position we have taken.”

After a short discussion, the council approved Enander’s nine letters 4-0.

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