Imagine Kobe Bryant is the Los Angeles County Government dribbling down the basketball court. The shot clock is ticking down, 3…2…1…
The Clippers’ Blake Griffen, symbolizing the Federal Communications Commission, steps up to block Kobe’s drive to the basket. Bryant readjusts but before he can shoot a jumper the buzzer sounds.
Now imagine, Supervisor Michael Antonovich playing the role of Laker Head Coach Mike Brown. From the bench Antonovich calls time and cries foul.
“This power grab by the FCC further erodes the land use authority of counties and cities and limits the public’s ability to protect the character of their community by rushing through projects before they are studied and mitigated,” said Antonovich.
No, this isn’t about basketball, but it is about shot clocks. And wireless towers.
“The FCC shot clock is actually an interpretation of the Congressional Act the Telecom Act of ’96, which sets time limits for processing of wireless site applications,” said Jonathan Kramer, Principal Attorney Kramer Telecom Law Firm (photo at left).
The original Telecom Act of 1996 stated that local governments had a reasonable amount of time to make a decision on a cell tower application. Wireless companies considered those decisions to be taking too long.
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“At the request of the wireless industry the FCC stepped in and actually defined what Congress meant by reasonable time to mean 90 days in the case of a collocation, which means there’s an existing site and somebody else wants to get on there, they have 90 days, the local government has 90 days to review the project and come to a determination about it and for new projects it’s 150 days,” said Kramer.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FCC’s decision.
Edel Vizcarra, Antonovich’s Planning Deputy, echos the Fifth District Supervisor that this is a power grab by the Federal government.
“Aside from the overall idea that now the Feds and the FCC can regulate land use, which has been a local zoning issue — has always been left to the local municipalities –we think that is a big problem,” said Vizcarra.
Although the FCC ruling only sets the parameters of a timeline for approval, Vizcarra sees this as a continuation of the Federal government taking more and more control of local issues. He says planning commissions are already told what they can or cannot use as a basis for denying a cell phone tower installation.
“For example, we can base our denial on aesthetic reasons but we can’t base it on health impacts. So if we have a group of community members who are upset because a new cell tower is coming to their neighborhood, you have to figure out a way if you want to deny it, why it’s going to impact the neighborhood visually even if you have concerns with the radio frequencies,” said Vizcarra.
Kramer says there’s “a natural tension” that’s caused by the introduction of new wireless projects and the FCC did not take in the countervailing arguments from the local governments when they established the relatively short “Shot Clocks.”
“The FCC has set some very difficult time limits for a lot of governments to process applications, because governments get in applications not just for wireless projects, but for swimming pools, new homes, construction of shopping centers, and the FCC’s move pushes all those wireless projects way ahead in the queue,” said Kramer.
The County is expecting to appeal the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to representing local governments on shot clock issues, site project reviews for technical and safety compliance, Kramer also tries to address the aesthetics of cell tower contruction (faux cactus cell tower at right).
Kramer has over 1,500 photographs detailing the Good, the Bad and the Silly when it comes to cell tower design. National Geographic chose some of his favorites and you can view them by clicking here.
For Kramer’s discussion of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, click here.