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Small Cell Sites

Small Cell Sites

Wireless Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way

This website is intended to provide information regarding wireless facilities in the public right-of-way. Wireless facilities not in the public right-of-way, such as on a privately-owned building or a public library, are regulated by the City's Planning and Community Development Department.

Legal Authority of Wireless Carriers

Wireless carriers are public utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. As public utilities, wireless carriers possess special legal authority to install wireless facilities and wires, such as fiber optic lines, in the public right-of-way (PUC 7901). However, the City has the right to exercise reasonable control as to the time, place, and manner that the public right-of-way is accessed (PUC 7901.1) but cannot impose an outright ban on wireless facility in the public right-of-way.

In addition to state law, federal law grants local governments the authority to regulate the placement, construction, and modification of wireless facilities but sets specific limitations on that authority. Specifically, the City:

  • Shall not regulate the placement of wireless facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions if the site is FCC compliant;
  • Shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services; and
  • Shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless services.

  • Small cell sites are a type of wireless facility that carriers are proposing to install in the public right-of-way. They broadcast radio frequency waves to provide cellular service, which enables a cell phone to send and receive phone calls, texts, and data. They are called "small cell sites" to distinguish them from larger "macro cell sites." When compared to macro cell sites, small cell sites are more compact, use less energy, and can often be installed on existing infrastructure. Because they are smaller, small cell sites have a shorter coverage area than larger macro cell sites.

    Small Cell Site Installation

    Small cell sites are proposed to be installed on streetlights. When a small cell site is installed on a streetlight, the streetlight often must be replaced with a new streetlight that can accommodate the small cell site. The City prefers that carriers install small cell sites at locations where there is existing infrastructure like a streetlight pole.

    The City cannot prohibit wireless facilities. See “Legal Authority of Wireless Carriers” above. The City is expressly forbidden from regulating wireless facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions if the site meets the FCC’s requirements. An example of an environmental effect is concerns about health impacts or impacts to property value due to the perceived health impacts of living in close proximity to a wireless facility.

    Utility small cell site webpage