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Wireless ordinance gets go-ahead from Costa Mesa Planning Commission

5G protest at Costa Mesa City Hall 11.5.19
Members of the Costa Mesa Advocacy Group, which opposes infrastructure allowing for 5G technology near homes and schools, protest at a City Council meeting in November.
(Courtesy of Alison Burchette)

Bit by bit, Costa Mesa is moving ahead with plans for updating its wireless infrastructure.

The city Planning Commission unanimously passed an updated ordinance Monday that, despite the protests of some who believe that eventual 5G technology could have health risks, will now move to the City Council for consideration.

For the record:
11:15 AM, Jan. 15, 2020 This article originally stated that the ordinance deals with plans to update Costa Mesa’s wireless infrastructure capacity for 5G technology. Though it deals with the process to consider and approve small cell facilities in the public right of way, it doesn’t address 5G specifically.

5G is a fifth-generation wireless network that is intended to increase internet speeds and provide more-reliable connections.

Many guidelines for the infrastructure of wireless communication facilities — small boxes affixed to street and light poles — are federally mandated, though cities have a little leeway in regulating their aesthetics.

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Federal law, for instance, prohibits local governments from regulating construction of wireless telecommunications facilities based on perceived health effects.

The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday approved a set of changes to the designs of wireless technology boxes, despite a barrage of complaints from protesters concerned about 5G technology.

Some planning commissioners reflected on the difficult position they were in to deliver on a federally mandated policy while also trying to cater to the concerns of Costa Mesa residents.

“We are roped and tied and very limited with what we can do,” said commission Chairman Byron de Arakal. “The best thing we can do is put into place a regulatory regime within the constructs of federal law that creates a fairly rigorous set of hoops that these folks have to jump through to get their permits — and I think this does it about as best we can.”

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The guidelines the commission approved resemble previous drafts, with some tweaks. For example, the rules advanced Monday stipulate that residents receive notice if a wireless communication box is proposed to be erected outside their home.

Under the ordinance, a business requesting a permit for a wireless communication facility also would have to provide evidence that the structure it has chosen for a proposed location is the best one.

Residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting urged the commission to take more direct action to tighten regulations. Their main concern was the possible health risks posed by higher-frequency radio waves, which would be transmitted via the small boxes to a variety of devices, from smartphones to self-driving cars.

Costa Mesa resident Alison Burchette, who said she is electromagnetically sensitive and could experience health risks from high-frequency emissions, asked that the city limit the number of cell facilities near schools. Burchette is part of the Costa Mesa Advocacy Group, which she said is a nearly 600-member organization fighting the city on the wireless regulations.

Resident Ted Flittner, a 20-year veteran of the information technology field, said he’s concerned about the potential for widespread 5G technology and its higher frequencies.

“I am not someone who’s tech-averse; I’ve got my cellphone right here,” he said. “But I’m also someone who understands the technology. I understand the health implications of it. I understand that 5G is not the same as 4G. It’s nothing like it in terms of the frequency.”

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Updates:
12:51 PM, Jan. 14, 2020: This article was originally published at 11:39 a.m. and has been updated with additional information.

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