Small Cell Wireless Communications Facilities in San Bruno
To regulate the installation of small cell wireless facilities by wireless communication companies consistent with recently adopted Federal regulations, the City of San Bruno has drafted a new municipal code ordinance and related resolution regulating these facilities in the City's right-of-way and easements in public and private properties. "Small cells" are low-powered wireless antennas that have a range of approximately 150 to 500 feet. The City will apply new regulations including Design and Siting Guidelines, Engineering Design Standards, and Standard Conditions of Approval in a new permitting process for wireless facility permits through the City Public Works Department.
Cities are bound by State and Federal laws to allow small cell installations, thus San Bruno's local regulations must abide by these laws when regulating them at a local level. California Public Utilities Code Section 7901 authorizes telephone companies to use the public right-of-way for the purpose of providing telephone service. Public Utilities Code Section 7901.1 authorizes cities to regulate the "time, place, and manner" of telecommunications installations in the right-of-way. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47 United States Code section 332) also permits cities to regulate the use of public right-of-way so long as those local regulations do not: 1) effectively prohibit the provision of telecommunications service or 2) unreasonably discriminate between carriers.
Pursuant to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the City retains the ability to regulate installations for aesthetic purposes so long as its regulations do not effectively prohibit the provision of telecommunications service. However, cities cannot regulate wireless installations based on concerns regarding radio frequency ("RF") emissions. Regulation of RF emissions is preemptively regulated by the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC"). Cities can require applicants to meet the FCC standards, but cannot require lower radio frequency emissions. The City typically requires a peer review by a City-hired independent consultant to review the RF reports submitted by applicants.
These new City regulations are a response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at the urging of the cellular network industry, passing a declaratory ruling known as the "Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment" in September 2018. The FCC ruling clarifies and more specifically restricts the authority of state and local governments to regulate small wireless facilities in the public right-of-way and public utility easements. The FCC Order defines small wireless facility, provides for the expedited processing of small wireless facility permit applications, limits the fees that can be assessed by municipalities on the review of these applications, and places new limitations on discretionary aesthetic criteria cities can apply to these facilities. The new application review "shot clock" for small wireless facilities is 60 days for placement on an existing structure and 90 days for installation of a new structure.
In response to the FCC order, the City took two major steps. The City joined a coalition of communities that appealed the FCC order and sought a stay request from the FCC pending resolution of the litigation, and the City began reviewing its wireless facility regulations and permit processes in anticipation of the FCC Order going into effect. On December 10, 2018, the FCC refused to grant a stay of the order but ruled that to the extent agencies chose to impose aesthetic requirements, they would not go into effect until April 15, 2019, allowing agencies an additional 90 days to establish and publish aesthetic standards. The City published draft Guidelines on its website for use in the interim period. The coalition is continuing to litigate the case on behalf of the member cities, including San Bruno.
Ordinance & Resolution Adoption Public Meetings (October 2018 to June 2019)
The San Bruno Planning Commission held study sessions on small cell wireless facilities in October and November 2018, and held a study session and community engagement session on January 15, 2019, to obtain community input on future City policies for small cell wireless communications facilities in the public right-of-way and easements in public and private properties. The Planning Commission reviewed the draft regulations at a public meeting on March 19, 2019. The City Council reviewed the draft regulations at a public meeting on May 14, 2019. The regulations were adopted by the City Council at public meetings on June 11, 2019, and June 25, 2019.
View the following meeting date for information and documents from that meeting:
- October 16, 2018 - Planning Commission Study Session Number 1 (PDF)
- November 20, 2018 - Planning Commission Study Session Number 2 (PDF)
- January 15, 2019 - Planning Commission Study Session Number 3 Community Engagement Session (PDF)
- March 19, 2019 - Planning Commission Public Meeting (PDF)
- May 14, 2019 - City Council Public Meeting to review the draft regulations and provide input
- June 11, 2019 - City Council Public Meeting to Waive First Reading and Introduce an Ordinance Adding Chapter 8.36 (Small Wireless Facilities In the Public Right-of-Way and utility easements in public and Private Properties) to Title 8 (Streets, Sidewalks, and Rights-of-Way) and Adopt a Resolution with Small Wireless Facilities Design and Siting Guidelines, Engineering Design Standards, and Standard Conditions of Approval
- Agenda, Staff Report, Ordinance and resolution
- City Council Resolution Number 2019-61 Adopting Design and Siting Guidelines, Engineering Design Standards, and Standard Conditions of Approval for Small Wireless Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way and Utility Easements in Public and Private Properties was adopted by the City Council. All small wireless facility applications will be reviewed for compliance with the Resolution.
- Please review the Resolution here:
View the Resolution Number 2019-61 (PDF)
- June 25, 2019 - City Council Public Meeting to Waive Second Reading and Adopt an Ordinance Adding Chapter 8.36 (Small Wireless Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way and Utility Easements in Public and Private Properties) to San Bruno Municipal Code Title 8 (Streets, Sidewalks, and Rights-of-Way).
City Council Ordinance Number 1873 Establishing Regulations for Small Wireless Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way and Within Utility Easements in Public and Private Properties was adopted by the City Council on June 25, 2019 and was effective on July 25, 2019. All small wireless facility applications will be subject to compliance with this Ordinance.
- Please review the Ordinance here
Ordinance Number 1873 (PDF)
Small Wireless Facility Location
For more information, please read the following FAQs.
Here are some examples of what small cell installations might look like: