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How can the City of Palo Alto's ordinance be improved? The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that municipalities take an active role in enforcing the provisions of the Act that relate to tower placement. Other cities, like Glendale, exercise their rights under the Act directly in their ordinances for wireless communication facilities. Specific improvements to improve Palo Alto's wireless communication facilities ordinance include:
  • Expand the purpose: Palo Alto's only stated purpose is "minimizing visual impact," other communities have a clear, stated purpose to deal with all aspects of wireless communication facilities:
    • "...intended to protect residents from those potential adverse impacts of wireless telecommunications facilities that the city may legally consider, evaluate, and mitigate." (Glendale, section 38.40.010).
    • "...to regulate the placement and design of antennas and wireless communications facilities so as to protect property values and scenic, historic, natural or cultural resources of the City; to assure land use compatibility with properties adjacent to such facilities; to minimize negative visual, noise and aesthetic impacts; and to protect the general safety, welfare, and quality of life of the community. Establish development standards that are consistent with federal law related to the development of wireless communications facilities. Allow antennas to provide for the closure of a significant gap in wireless coverage using the least intrusive means available to close that gap;... Encourage but not restrict placement of antennas on publicly-used or owned sites, and in commercial and industrial zones." (Richmond, section 15.04.890.010)
  • Require Findings of Fact: Palo Alto's ordinance does not clearly state to an applicant that they are required to prove that the proposed tower is necessary and that alternative locations have been considered. Others have this to say:
    • See Glendale, section 30.48.040
    • See Richmond, section 15.04.890.060
  • Require independent analysis: Palo Alto's ordinance does not clearly exercise the City's right to have a permit applicant pay for independent analysis of their submission. Others have this to say:
    • At the Planning Director’s sole discretion, a qualified independent radio frequency engineer, selected by and under contract to the city, may be retained to review said certifications for compliance with FCC regulations. All costs associated with the city's review of these certifications shall be the responsibility of the permittee, which shall promptly reimburse city for the cost of the review. (Glendale, section 30.48.050)
    • Where the Planning and Building Services Director finds that such demonstration has not been made, the Director may require an independent, third-party review, at the expense of the applicant, to identify the obstacles to co-location or building placement, to confirm the electromagnetic frequency needs of the project applicant, and to identify alternative solutions. (Richmond, section 15.04.890.050)
  • Keep track of who owns the towers: Palo Alto's existing wireless ordinance requires that permit holders remove abandoned equipment, but the City does not maintain any sort of information about permit holders, and the Planning Department and Code Enforcement each think the other is responsible for enforcing that provision of the ordinance. Others have this to say:
    • "Upon assignment or transfer of an authorization to operate a wireless telecommunications facility or any of the rights under said authorization, the owner or operator shall, within thirty (30) days, provide written notice to the planning director of the date of transfer and the identity of the transferee." (Glendale, section 30.48.100)
    • "Each owner or operator of a wireless communications facility shall provide signage identifying the name, site number or other unique identifier, and local or toll-free phone number of a party to contact at any time regarding the facility." (Richmond, section 15.04.890.070)
  • Control noise: Palo Alto's ordinance does not recognize that noise is a component of wireless communication facilities that must be controlled. Others have this to say:
    • See Glendale, section 30.48.070
    • Except for emergency repairs, testing and maintenance, activities that will be audible beyond the property line shall only occur between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday, excluding legal holidays. Backup power generators shall only be operated during periods of power outages or for testing. At no time shall equipment noise from any source exceed the standards specified in Section 15.04.840 of this Code. (Richmond, section 15.04.890.050)
Many more examples exist of municipalities exercising their rights under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.