Companies wanting to install telecommunication facilities in Santa Barbara County will face more stringent requirements after a unanimous vote Tuesday from the Board of Supervisors.
Increased noticing to residents and more application requirements will face any new projects that may come the county’s way.
It’s likely to be good news to Montecito residents involved in the protracted and contentious battle with telecom company NextG that took place last September. The county was forced by law to approve eight of 10 permits for cell phone antennas, despite outcry from nearby residents, with the company saying it would withdraw applications for the two most controversial locations — on School House and Santa Rosa roads.
Early on, Montecito residents cited health concerns with the antennas. But the Federal Communications Act pre-empts the county from prohibiting the antennas based on health concerns, assuming the locations comply with the threshold deemed safe by the FCC. The agency also says that state and local governments can’t deny an application solely because the service is available from another provider.
As of Tuesday, additional noticing will be required of companies, allowing the public to request a hearing. All facilities being proposed in residential areas also would be reclassified and required to go before the Planning Commission for approval.
Companies also will have to demonstrate a need for service and provide coverage analysis in their applications. NextG declined to provide that information to the county as part of its application. According to former staff reports, local jurisdictions can’t prevent cell companies from filling significant gaps in coverage, but since the cell company didn’t provide any info, the county can’t decipher the gap in coverage.
In dramatic contrast to previous meetings on the subject, no one spoke during the public comment period on Tuesday. County planner Megan Lowery said that when the changes went before the Montecito Planning Commission, no one from the public attended.
“There’s nobody here,” county Supervisor Joni Gray said. “They usually turn out in droves on this.”
Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that many of the people in his district who were worried about the telecom issue are now focused on the smart meter issue, which prompts concerns about cost and privacy.
He said residents also understand that the county can do only so much legally to craft stronger ordinances to restrict telecom companies in the future.
“This is as strong as it’s going to get,” Carbajal said.