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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). 

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services; and
  3. Shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless services.

Local Regulations

To exercise the limited control granted under state and federal law, the City has adopted Santa Monica Municipal Code Chapter 7.70. The Municipal Code also authorizes the Public Works Director to develop and publish a Public Right-of-Way Personal Wireless Service Facility Standards and Regulations document to supplement the regulations set forth in Chapter 7.70. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding wireless facilities in the public right-of-way.

What is a "small cell site"?

As wireless carriers move to modernize their networks, they are turning to a new form of technology deployment known commonly referred to as a "small cell site." They are called small cell sites to distinguish them from larger macro cell sites.  Macro cell sites are large structures with many cables, antennae, and supporting equipment. You have probably seen one while driving along a freeway, possibly disguised as a palm tree. Sometimes, macro cell sites are mounted on top of buildings and hidden behind a parapet.

Small cell sites are more compact and use less energy than macro cell sites. They can often be installed on existing infrastructure, such as streetlight poles and wooden utility poles. Because they are smaller, small cell sites have a shorter coverage area than larger macro cell sites and may need to be installed more close to one another to provide a desired coverage level.

Where are small cell sites being installed?

Small cell sites are currently being installed on streetlights, traffic signals, and wooden utility poles. In certain cases, the structure on which the small cell site will be installed must be replaced with a stronger structure that can accommodate the new facility. The City prefers that carriers install small cell sites at locations where infrastructure already exists, such as a streetlight.

The Public Works Department maintains a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) map of small cell sites. The map shows all locations where a small cell site has been approved or where one is being proposed. To access the map:

  1. Visit the Santa Monica Public Works Map.
  2. Click the "Layers" icon at the bottom left of the map (the icon looks like three diamonds on top of each other).
  3. Check the box next to "Wireless Sites". Dots will appear on the map. Click on any colored dot to get more information about the installation.
    Note: White dots are City streetlight poles that may be eligible for a wireless facility, but no application has been submitted to the City for that location.

Why are small cell sites being installed?

Small cell sites are being deployed to address carrier network coverage and capacity issues in the City. Definitions of each type of issue are provided below.

Network coverage issue: A network problem in which a carrier does not have adequate signal coverage in an area. These are areas where cell phones receive no coverage or very little coverage. Small cell sites help add coverage to the network.

Network capacity issue: A network problem in which a carrier has wireless coverage in an area, but the number of network users (e.g., people with cell phones) overwhelm the existing cell sites covering that area. Small cell sites help add more capacity to the network.

Who do small cell sites serve, and what companies operate them?

Small cell sites are generally installed to serve the subscribers of the major four carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. The carriers may contract companies to install small cell sites on their behalf. For this reason, you may see different names on wireless facility applications and equipment such as “Crown Castle” or “Mobilitie.”

Can the City prohibit wireless facilities?

No. Please see the "Legal Authority of Wireless Carriers" section toward the top of this page.

Has Santa Monica adopted any regulations regarding wireless facilities?

Yes. Please see the "Local Regulations" section toward the top of this page.

What types of regulations exist regarding radio frequency safety?

The FCC has developed regulations regarding human exposure to radio frequency emissions. The City will not permit a wireless facility that does not comply with the FCC’s regulations.

Can the City adopt radio frequency safety regulations that are stricter than the FCC’s regulations?

No. 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.

Are the carriers required to get a permit from the City to install a wireless facility?

Yes. If you observe unpermitted work being performed related to a wireless facility in the public right-of-way, contact the Public Works Department, Engineering and Street Services Division at

How does a carrier get a permit to install a new wireless facility?

The following steps are generally involved to obtain a Wireless Facility Permit to install a new wireless facility in the public right-of-way:

  1. Application: The carrier submits an application to the City to install a wireless facility.
  2. Review: The City reviews the application to ensure that it is complete. If the application is incomplete, the City informs the applicant what information/corrections are required to make the application complete.
  3. Applicant Corrections: If the City tells an applicant that the application is incomplete, the applicant must provide the requested information/corrections to the City.
  4. Final Review: Once the City has a complete application, the City makes a decision that either approves or denies the application. The approval or denial is written in a document called a "Statement of Official Action," or STOA.
  5. Publish Determination: Once the City makes a decision regarding an application, the STOA (the document that contains the determination) is published on the City's website.

Can a wireless company come and work on a wireless facility at any time?

No. Except in emergencies, work on a wireless facility can only occur Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM and Saturdays from 9 AM to 5 PM.

I have more questions. Who should I contact?

Please contact the Public Works Department, Engineering and Street Services Division, at

Updated June 29, 2020

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