Notes from Wednesday Glendale Planning Commission Hearing on Wireless Ordinance 2

Glendale residents and telecom industry representatives were surprised twice at yesterday’s Planning Commission meeting, but not by the commission’s final approval of the ordinance.

First, the commission chair switched the agenda items, so an affordable housing project variance request (requiring 2 1/2 hours of testimony, public comment, questions, staff and applicant responses, and commissioner comments) was heard before the wireless ordinance. Because of the switch, consultant Rodney Khan, the development team, and the owner didn’t have to wait through a scheduled agenda item. (See the next post for notes on that case discussion).

Second, when the wireless ordinance did come up, staff only discussed Title 30 (zoning) changes to the Glendale Municipal Code, skipping Title 12 changes, which were of primary concern to residents and industry (and which were listed on the agenda for discussion!). Public Works Counsel Christina Sansone explained later that the Planning Commission only deals with Title 30 issues in Glendale, only City Council can approve changes to Title 12, but the commissioners needed to see Title 12 amendments for context.

Title 12 deals with the public right-of-way (PROW), and a wireless permit approval for a PROW installation was what caused the controversy over cell sites to erupt in Glendale. Although the commission couldn’t approve any Title 12 amendments, it served as a sounding board on PROW issues and seemed receptive to the idea of public hearings for all types of installations.

Notes from the meeting:

Glendale has a wireless telecommunications section within its Information Services Department, and its director has agreed to be an in-house resource for reviewing wireless permit applications.

Richard Roche of AT&T said that demand for wireless service has reached an all-time high and the company’s network engineers are scrambling to meet demand. He said the ordinance would increase the cost of doing business in Glendale, and thanked staff for “properly resisting setback requests” for PROW installations.

A Verizon representative said the new ordinance was beginning to resemble the health care bill, calling it “extensive” and “difficult”. She asked for uniformity in noticing requirements, not allowing staff discretion to expand notification for some permit applications.

A California Wireless Industry Association representative said people demand service the most in residential areas, usage has quadrupled, and wireless carriers need more capacity: “Hampering wireless services is not a laudable goal.” He predicted that many installations will have to be in sensitive areas such as residential zones.

Glendale’s legal counsel Jeff Melching said that Glendale staff considered a setback requirement for the PROW, but “came to the conclusion that we had generic tools available to address those situations. It is possible to put a presumptive requirement but then you’d have to create an exception if the carrier couldn’t provide coverage.”

Commissioner Stephanie Landregan commented toward the end: “I’m challenging the industry that there are better ways to do things and that you’ll do them.”

Chair William Kane commented that citizen calls for restrictions result from telecoms and federal and state authorities imposing too many restrictions at the local level – this is the inevitable push back. He also suggested that a simple rendering of any proposed site on a notification sign is a good idea.

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