Cell antenna battle heads to council again

CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday is expected to authorize city officials to weigh in on a federal national broadband plan that could affect applications for cellular antennas in local neighborhoods, a process that ignited controversy earlier this year in North Glendale when T-Mobile tried to install a so-called micro-cell site in the city’s right-of-way.

The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of creating the national broadband plan as part of the Obama administration’s economic recovery plan and is gathering public input.

Glendale Organized Against Cell Towers — the residential group that formed over the winter to quash the T-Mobile antenna — recently petitioned the city to advocate for changes to the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which restricts local control over the placement of cellular antennas, according to a city report.

Mayor Frank Quintero expressed support for the resolution.

“I think the federal government has to refine its approach to building cell-phone towers in residential neighborhoods,” he said. “Over 10 years ago, I don’t think the government anticipated the intrusion on single-family living arrangements. It’s incredible.”

The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 has proved frustrating for local officials across Southern California as they try to respond to constituent concerns about the antennas. Cell-phone companies have argued that the new sites are in response to increased consumer demand, but a growing number of communities have opposed them for aesthetic and health concerns.

In January, Glendale Organized Against Cell Towers successfully opposed the building of a T-Mobile cellular antenna on the 500 block of Cumberland Road in northeast Glendale. Mass mobilization against the project — including lawn signs, T-shirts and petitions — resulted in T-Mobile eventually withdrawing its proposal in February. In January, the council voted to impose a 45-day moratorium on all wireless cellular antennas in residential neighborhoods in response to the neighborhood complaints, and hired two communication law firms to assist the city in potentially developing an ordinance to create a review process for future cellular antenna applications.

After remaining relatively quiet, the group requested on May 26 that the city condemn portions of the Telecommunications Act restricting local control of cellular antennas.

“We want the city to comment to the [Federal Communications Commission] that the federal government should return control of the built environment to local municipalities and return the right to reasonably discriminate in favor of less intrusive and more efficient technologies,” said Elise Kalfayan, a member of the community group.

Though only Congress has the authority to change the law, Glendale can still join the lobby in favor of local control, according to the report.

“Congress has to change the law, but the [Federal Communications Commission] can certainly forward these comments to Congress,” Kalfayan said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be reviewing a similar resolution Tuesday.

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