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Laguna council seeks to address residents’ concerns as it considers new 5G-related rules

City Council provided direction to staff on how to better refine amendments to city code Tuesday. Rule changes would bring the city into compliance with a 2018 mandate by the Federal Communications Commission.
The Laguna Beach City Council is seeking to address concerns from residents regarding 5G technology before moving forward with municipal code amendments aimed at bringing the city into compliance with a 2018 mandate from the Federal Communications Commission.
(File Photo)

During a nearly three-hour hearing on possible municipal code amendments aimed at bringing Laguna Beach into compliance with federal rules, residents made one thing clear to the City Council — they don’t want 5G in their town.

Council members heard that message loud and clear and directed city staff Tuesday to examine and address residents’ concerns, which included possible issues with noise, mandatory testing, warning signs, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said her primary concern was fire safety and that she felt the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s categorization of much of the city as a very high fire hazard severity zone could help control deployment of cell towers.

Mayor Bob Whalen said the city also should push as “aggressively as we can to require maximum spacing and minimum number of deployments.”

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“We’re trying to put in place a better ordinance,” he said. “We’re not trying to create a system where we’re saying, ‘Everyone bring in your 5G and put it on every street corner.’”

Council members also directed staff to look into regulations that would restrict how close cell towers can be to school and daycare sites, parks and medical facilities.

“The City Council is not advocating 5G,” Whalen said. “We’ve got a current regulatory system that is not as robust as it could be.”

The city’s new rules, he continued, will take into account “a lot of the concerns that we all have regarding aesthetics, regarding placement, regarding construction, regarding modification of facilities.”

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The Laguna Beach city council will be considering amendments to the city’s municipal code to come into compliance with federal orders for telecommunications and changes to state building and fire codes.

Tuesday’s discussion was prompted by regulations the Federal Communications Commission established in September 2018 to streamline introduction of 5G wireless technology, which is intended to increase internet speeds and provide more reliable connections.

Those rules removed regulatory barriers imposed by state and local governments that “would unlawfully inhibit the deployment of infrastructure necessary to support these new [5G] services” — a move federal officials said was to ensure “the United States wins the global race to 5G to the benefit of all Americans.”

The 5G push has not been without controversy, however. Some residents in Laguna and other cities throughout Orange County and the state have expressed concerns with the technology, which activists feel could endanger public health because of the use of higher-frequency radio waves.

Several Laguna residents referred Tuesday to litigation filed by other jurisdictions that alleges the FCC overstepped its regulatory boundaries. That matter is currently pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Whalen said he hopes that the courts will side with local control but added that the city “can’t sit by and do nothing” and needs to take steps to deal with the effects of the federal mandate.

“I think there’s a lot of things we can do currently here in our code to make it better off for us here in Laguna Beach,” he said.

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