To regulate the installation of small cell wireless facilities by wireless communication companies
consistent with recently adopted federal regulations, the City of San Bruno has drafted a new
municipal code ordinance and related resolution regulating these facilities in the City’s right-of-way
and easements in public and private properties. “Small cells” are low-powered wireless antennas
that have a range of approximately 150 to 500 feet. The City will apply new regulations including
Design and Siting Guidelines, Engineering Design Standards, and Standard Conditions of Approval
in a new permitting process for a wireless facility permit through the City Public Works Department.
Cities are bound by State and Federal laws to allow small cell installations, thus San Bruno’s local
regulations must abide by these laws when regulating them at a local level. California Public Utilities
Code Section 7901 authorizes telephone companies to use the public right-of-way for the purpose of
providing telephone service. Public Utilities Code Section 7901.1 authorizes cities to regulate the
“time, place, and manner” of telecommunications installations in the right-of-way. The Federal
Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47 United States Code section 332) also permits cities to regulate
the use of public right-of-way so long as those local regulations do not: 1) effectively prohibit the
provision of telecommunications service or 2) unreasonably discriminate between carriers.
Pursuant to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, the City retains the ability to regulate
installations for aesthetic purposes so long as its regulations do not effectively prohibit the provision
of telecommunications service. However, cities cannot regulate wireless installations based on concerns
regarding radio frequency (“RF”) emissions. Regulation of RF emissions is preemptively regulated by
the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”). Cities can require applicants to meet the FCC
standards, but cannot require lower radio frequency emission. The City typically requires a peer
review by a City-hired independent consultant to review the RF reports submitted by applicants.
These new City regulations are a response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at the
urging of the cellular network industry, passed a declaratory ruling known as the “Accelerating Wireless
Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment” in September 2018. The
FCC ruling clarifies and more specifically restricts the authority of state and local governments to
regulate small wireless facilities in the public right-of-way and public utility easements. The FCC Order
defines small wireless facility, provides for the expedited processing of small wireless facility permit
applications, limits the fees that can be assessed by municipalities on the review of these applications,
and places new limitations on discretionary aesthetic criteria cities can apply to these facilities. The new
application review “shot clock” for small wireless facilities is 60 days for placement on an existing
structure and 90 days for installation of a new structure.
In response to the FCC order, the City took two major steps. The City joined a coalition of communities
that appealed the FCC order and sought a stay request from the FCC pending resolution of the litigation;
and the City began reviewing its wireless facility regulations and permit processes in anticipation of the
FCC Order going into effect. On December 10, 2018, the FCC refused to grant a stay of the order but ruled
that to the extent agencies chose to impose aesthetic requirements, they would not go into effect until
April 15, 2019, allowing agencies an additional 90 days to establish and publish aesthetic standards. The
City published draft Guidelines on its website for use in the interim period. The coalition is continuing to
litigate the case on behalf of the member cities, including San Bruno.