Will the third time be the charm for code additions to cell facilities design guidelines in Costa Mesa?
The city Planning Commission voted Monday night to continue discussion of a code amendment for the second time, scheduling it for its next meeting Jan. 13.
The item, already continued from Nov. 25, is a resolution to recommend that the City Council give first reading to an amendment for design plans of cell facilities within the public right of way. It details application requirements, review criteria and standard conditions.
“[The City Council’s] direction to us is pretty clear that it is to develop a streamlined ministerial process for moving these applications forward,” said commission Chairman Byron de Arakal. “It isn’t about banning cell sites. It isn’t about banning 5G. It’s nothing like that.”
At the heart of many residents’ concerns is the potential upgrade to 5G technology, a mostly uncharted territory that many activists feel could endanger public health because of the use of higher-frequency radio waves.
Complaints about wireless infrastructure continued as residents spoke about health worries at Monday’s meeting. Some audience members applauded and commented during the commissioners’ discussion, causing de Arakal to warn that he would shut down the meeting for 10 minutes if the interjections continued.
In late 2017, Costa Mesa received its first application for small cell facilities — boxes containing wireless technology placed on light poles to provide cell coverage around the city.
Though federal law prohibits local governments from regulating construction of wireless telecommunications facilities based on perceived health effects, it doesn’t prohibit the review of small cell facilities’ aesthetics and locations.
The council approved design guidelines in 2018 and additional changes in October, asking staff to add code amendments. The three-year process is similar to those in other Southern California cities that created design guidelines, juggling federal laws and residents’ concerns.
The Planning Commission will focus on reviewing a letter from AT&T and a presentation from Alison Burchette, a representative of the Costa Mesa Advocacy Group.
Two hours before the meeting, commissioners received the AT&T letter, which suggests that requirements to obtain permits and other regulatory approvals violate Federal Communications Commission standards.
During her presentation, Burchette echoed concerns about health but also provided a slide listing what the city can lawfully and feasibly control — location, aesthetics and administrative matters such as notification requirements, automatic time limits for permits and annual recertification fees.
Commissioner Jon Zich said he wants to understand the legal standpoint of the AT&T letter and the presentation. “That way I’ll feel much more comfortable taking this framework to the City Council, knowing that we have done our due diligence,” he said.