What is Happening in Contra Costa County?
As citizens within this community, it was never our intent to Stop 5G from happening. Our group, East Bay Neighborhoods for Responsible Technology (EBNRT), set out to create a wireless ordinance that preserved local authority and protected the citizens from Federal overreach! Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to do just that in February, 2019 when Verizon filed permits to install 12 close proximity microwave radiation, i.e., small cell antennas, in residential neighborhoods throughout Alamo and unincorporated areas of Walnut Creek. Instead they folded and stated “our hands are tied” thereby abdicating their ability and responsibility to make decisions about these antennas on behalf of the citizens in Un-incorporated areas of the County.
What Can We Expect?
This is just the beginning of the many permits that will be pulled by Verizon and the other carriers in order to meet the needs of the infrastructure necessary for the implementation of 5G. The industry estimates the need for 800,000 new 5G antennas in the United States adding to the existing 300,000+ cell towers and have relayed that the build-out of 5G will be completed within the next few years, It took over 30 years to build the existing 1G – 4G infrastructure.
The difference between these small cells and antennas placed on electrical towers is the proximity. Small Cells will be placed in locations near homes and schools just steps from front doors! As well, 5G will be incorporate millimeter waves which do not travel far and don’t penetrate buildings very well, so they need to be densely populated in our neighborhoods in order to function!
Why are cities allowing these?
Some of the obstacles for cities include the 1996 Telecommunications Act (TCA). Its main purpose was to stimulate competition in telecommunications services, but included in the Act is language stating that cities cannot regulate placement, construction and modification of personal wireless services on the basis of environmental effects of RF emissions. Unfortunately, there is conflicting language of Sec. 704; Facilities Siting Radio Frequency Emissions and Standard, which also states that “Nothing in the Act shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government to make decisions regarding the placement, construction and modification…. except when it comes to environmental effects.” (The “environmental effects” has now been expanded to include “health.”)
Add to this the fact that there have been several streamlining rules that were released in late 2018 that further limit local government authority. Immediately following these new rules, the US Conference of Mayors, CEO Tom Cochran said in a statement, "The [FCC] has embarked on an unprecedented federal intrusion into local (and state) government property rights that will have substantial and continuing adverse impacts on cities and their taxpayers." Within a week of the FCC's vote, over a dozen cities and other local government agencies began filing lawsuits.
There are also several bills trying to repeal these new rules. You can see that local governments have their hands full when trying to steer through the complexities of these rules, which is why the County attorney, as well as other local government attorney’s, lack the expertise necessary to navigate this specialized area of law and why many cities retain outside counsel to help them successfully write new ordinances that address the many nuances of these small cells. One of the biggest reasons a new ordinance has to be written is that it is the first time in the history of this technology that these antennas will be placed so close to the public, near homes and schools.
What Did Our County Do?
During the February, 2019 hearing, the BOS were seemingly not aware of any of the risks involved in allowing these close proximity microwave radiation antennas. Besides the health risks, there are fire risks, declining property values and the negative aesthetics that will bring a sense of industrialization to our bucolic neighborhoods. When faced with what to do, they allowed themselves to fall victim to the scare tactics used by the Telecom industry and dismissed all concerns relayed by citizens. Add to this that it was clear that many of the BOS were not prepared (due diligence) for the hearing as most had not read any of the materials that were forwarded to them, nor did they do much or their own research. Instead, they leaned heavily on Telecom as their experts for their guidance.
As well, when presented with evidence of their preserved powers; submitting legal documents by law firms specializing in Telecom law and showing them ordinances from other cities that comprehensively address this new type of infrastructure - they still relented, “our hands are tied.”
For example, when pressed to have these antennas tested yearly to verify that they stayed within the FCC exposure limits, and when asked to have this added as a condition of approval, they caved in to the threat relayed by Verizon attorney, Paul Albritton, who relayed that it was “illegal and unenforceable.” But a little research will show you that other cities have implemented this condition into their ordinance and none of them have been challenged by Telecom.
Again, local governments have never been completely preempted from regulating these small cells; that’s what the TCA states, that’s what Telecom law firms have confirmed, that’s what many cities across the country have concluded. The proof? Cities across the country have created wireless codes that work within the nexus of the TCA, State and local laws, and the 2018 Rules & Orders, thereby creating ordinances that work for their communities. This is exactly what the TCA’s writers expected would and should happen, but Contra Costa County has forfeited their right to regulate this infrastructure.
All unincorporated areas of cities in Contra Costa County represented by County Supervisors.
District 1 - John Gioia - El Sobrant, Kensington, North Richmond, East Richmond Heights District 2 - Candice Anderson - San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, Canyon, Rossmoor, Parkmead, Saranap and a portion of Walnut Creek.
District 3 - Diane Burgis - Portion of Antioch, Brentwood, Discovery Bay, Oakley
District 4 - Karen Mitchoff - Concord, Clayton, Pleasant Hill, portion of Walnut Creek
District 5 - Federal Glover - Portion of Antioch, Pittsburg, Martinez, Pinole, Hercules, Pacheco, Port Costa, Rodeo
East Bay Times Article
Contra Costa County approves controversial 5G despite protests
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