Two proposed cell phone antennas are the subject of an appeal before City Council next week.

Three residents have filed appeals over the sites on the 900 block of 18th Street and the 2200 block of 23rd Street following staff approval of the sites last year.

Major cell phone providers approached the City to install so-called “small cells” throughout Santa Monica in 2017. The Public Works department anticipates as many as 600 installations in the next few years. The small cells convert slow radio waves to fast light waves improving reception in the city but they have a much smaller range requiring more equipment placed closer together. The equipment is often installed on existing infrastructure such as light poles.

“Small cell sites are a relatively new wireless technology that enable wireless carriers to provide more reliable cellular service and faster data transmission rates,” said the staff report. “In contrast with older technologies such as macro cell sites, small cell sites are physically smaller, use less power, and are typically installed on existing streetlight, traffic signal, or utility poles. They have a notably shorter range than traditional cell towers and therefore must be installed within closer proximity to each other.”

The appeals have some common arguments. They all argue the technology has health impacts, that they should not be installed in residential locations and that the equipment is ugly. The appeals claim the installations will lower property values and are unnecessary.

Staff said federal law specifically prohibits denial of cell towers based on environmental effects of radio waves if the proposal complies with existing FCC rules. Staff said the installation is unlikely to have aesthetic impacts because it will be on top of an existing pole (not at ground level) and will have camouflage elements to match the existing infrastructure. Staff also said the installation sites have been chosen based on specific cell phone coverage maps.

One appeal also claims the company will be able to expand the site in the future without approval but staff said no work can be done on the site without city approval.

Additional concerns include allegations of work without permits (staff said all necessary permits have been issued for work completed so far), criticism of the approval process (according to staff the process was conducted in accordance with all relevant laws) and inaccurate information within the application (staff said the questioned items have been verified).

Staff recommends that Council deny the appeals and uphold the Public Works Department’s approval.

According to the staff report, each site permit has a 10-year lease with the city for approximately $26,848 per site.

Council will meet on Tuesday, August 28 in City Hall, 1685 Main Street. Closed session begins at 5:30 p.m. and open session will not begin before 6:30 p.m.

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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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