Small Cell Wireless Facilities

Small Cell Wireless Communication Facilities, also called "5G", are a type of wireless infrastructure. Existing wireless facilities are large antennas placed high above the ground that service a wide area (referred to as "macrocells"). The 5G antennae (also referred to as "small cells") provide spot coverage to a relatively small area - each small cell antenna services hundreds of feet whereas traditional macrocell sites cover square miles.

Because of the very limited coverage areas associated with small cells, many more antennae are necessary and need to be relatively closer to the ground (compared to macrocells) in close proximity to homes and businesses. The industry plans to install the vast majority of these antennae in public rights-of-way, affixed to existing pole infrastructure (street lights, traffic signals, and utility poles), or on new purpose-built small cell poles.

FCC Order

On September 26, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Declaratory Ruling and a Third Report and Order, referred to as the "FCC Order". The FCC Order implements industry demands to remove barriers and accelerate the transition to 5G deployment, accelerating the United States' transition to 5G cellular networks. 

Existing Ordinance

The City of Orinda's existing wireless facilities ordinance (§17.34) was established nearly 20 years ago consistent with the Wireless Communications Act of 1996. At that time, wireless communications carriers were rolling out a major expansion that resulted in the large antennas we have today. The existing ordinance is not structured to deal with small cell infrastructure because:

  • The regulations encourage co-location on the same towers, preferably on PG&E high voltage transmission towers, a solution that works for the older macrocell technology but not for small cells with their shorter range;
  • The regulations do not provide guidance regarding how to best conceal equipment that in the public right-of-way and attached to existing poles.

On February 19, 2019, a report was presented to the City Council and a presentation was provided by Telecom Law Firm, P.C. No action was taken by the Council at this meeting, but staff was directed to prepare an urgency ordinance and draft aesthetic standards as soon as possible.

What have other cities done?

A number of cities across California have either amended their existing ordinance or adopted an urgency ordinance in response to the FCC Order. Staff reports and ordinances for the cities mentioned below can be found here

  • Pre-FCC Order. These cities took the following action before the FCC Order was issued: 
    • Town of Danville - Amended their existing wireless facilities ordinance.
    • City of Petaluma - Amended their existing wireless facilities ordinance.
    • City of Mill Valley - Adopted an urgency ordinance.
    • Town of Ross - Amended their existing wireless facilities ordinance.
  • Post-FCC Order. These cities took the following action after the FCC Order was issued:
    • City of San Rafael - Adopted an urgency ordinance.
    • City of Hillsborough - Adopted an urgency ordinance.
    • Town of Fairfax - Adopted an urgency ordinance.
    • City of Culver City - Amended their existing wireless facilities ordinance.