City Council Passes Resolution on 5G Small Cell Facilities

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    An appreciative audience applauded the Orinda City Council last month when it unanimously adopted a resolution regulating the aesthetics of small wireless facilities and other infrastructure necessary for 5G technology.
    The technology, made mandatory by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has raised controversy across the United States as residents show concern for possible health risks associated with the higher radio frequency radiation. A number of law suits have been filed but, while the courts decide, the deployment of 5G will continue.
    This next generation of mobile data relies on a bandwidth with a relatively short range but that provides an exponential jump in data speeds (up to 10 gigabytes per second). Referred to as “small cells,” the 5G antennae services hundreds of feet compared to the traditional microcell sites now used which cover square miles. Due to the limited coverage, more small cells are necessary, putting them in close proximity to homes, businesses and schools.
    In January, the FCC started its “shot clock” giving local entities until April 15 to pass resolutions/ordinances regarding the aesthetics of the small wireless facilities and other infrastructure deployments in the public rights-of-way.
    “Unfortunately, we are not allowed by law to say no to this technology,” said Vice Mayor Darlene Gee. “But it’s important that we take action with this resolution to give us what protection we can.”
    More than 30 people spoke at the April 9 City Council meeting with the vast majority opposed to the new technology being installed in Orinda. Not only were residents concerned about the health risks, they also noted the possible lowering of home values. Jennifer Kamae added, “If property values and taxes go down, then cities will get a smaller percentage of property tax revenue.”
    A few speakers said they welcomed the technology. One of them was Dante Williams from Horizon Wireless who said, “There is a silent majority out there who want this technology. People now have an expectation for service, and 5G will ensure they get it and allow police and fire personnel to quickly pull up the latest data they need to do their jobs.”
    Since its Feb. 19 meeting, the City Council, city staff and Telecom Law Firm, which specializes in telecommunications infrastructure and land use, have been looking at what control the city can exert and crafting that into a resolution before the FCC deadline. The result, Resolution 16-19, aims to protect Orinda’s visual character while complying with the FCC Order.
    “The resolution is meant as an interim measure to protect the city’s authority,” says Planning Director Drummond Buckley. “It will allow the city to modify and adapt the policy in response to rapidly changing law and technology related to small 
cells.”
    Resolution 16-19 ranks preferences for locations and support structures for small cell facilities with downtown commercial or office districts on principal arterial roads as most preferred and residential districts and school route roads as one of the least preferred. Design standards include the exterior finish be in flat, nonreflective hues with lights shielded so illumination effects are directed downwards and confined within the public rights-of-way. Noise, trees, landscaping and overall height are also addressed.
    To read the staff report and Resolution 16-19, go to www.cityoforinda.org.

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