The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved amendments to the L.A. County code to establish regulations for the review and permitting of wireless facilities in the unincorporated areas of the county, including its highways.
According to the agenda, the purpose of these amendments is to establish procedures and standards for the installation and modification of small cell facilities and for eligible facilities requests located on highways.
“The county didn’t have a wireless ordinance. We didn’t even have ‘wireless’ in our list of land uses,” said Supervising Regional Planner Bruce Durbin. “We have been operating off a memo that was last updated in 2010.”
According to Durbin, the county had been working off that policy memo and Federal Communications Commission regulations. These amendments to county code were needed because wireless technology has changed so much since 2010, Durbin added.
“The department recognized the need for a wireless ordinance,” Durbin said. “We really needed something on the books to be able to process these applications correctly.”
Previously, since 2010, the Department of Regional Planning was responsible for the processing of applications for all types of wireless facilities, including small cell facilities. The new amendments to county code provided an updated framework, standards and review of SCFs, and any requests of wireless communication facilities, according to county officials.
Small cell facilities, SCF, are a subset of wireless facilities comprised of smaller equipment that are typically installed on streetlight and utility poles and other structures, according to county officials.
“Essentially, the county was treating wireless facilities exactly the same as they treat radio and television towers. We know those two things are very different, so we needed a new ordinance that would facilitate processing these applications,” Durbin said.
In addition, the Department of Regional Planning typically isn’t involved in approvals in the right-of-way, Durbin added. When small cell technology came, these requests began popping up in the right-of-way on street lights, power poles, etc.
The Department of Regional Planning partnered with Public Works to create a new framework that would streamline permitting for wireless facilities, including SCFs.
“What we did with this proposal is we streamlined the small cell in the right-of-way to go directly to Public Works. It’s an administerial process, and they are more than prepared to approve those through their existing procedures,” Durbin said.
L.A. County has unique geography and topography such as mountains or beach canyon roads, and sometimes the only place to put a wireless communication facility is right there.
“In that case, we do have quite a few macro facilities. In order to ensure that there are consistent designs with scenic highways or its existing environment, Regional Planning will continue to be involved in the process of those macro sites in the right-of-way,” Durbin said.
Lastly, part of the amendments will establish an incentive for owners of wireless communications facilities to reassess their designs of older facilities that were built in the 1990s or the first decade of the 2000s.
“A lot of them look like mechanical robots, and there’s no sense of camouflaging or design,” Durbin said. “This ordinance creates those development standards on height, how far the arms can protrude from the pole, on the types of camouflaging that are appropriate for the context of their environment.”
“That’s one of the major elements, that this is to try to get better designs from first-generation facilities,” he added.