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Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone: (310) 458-8721
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E-mail: sm.engineering@smgov.net

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Santa Monica, CA 90401
Phone: (310) 458-8737
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Wireless Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way


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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) but cannot impose an outright ban on wireless facility in the public right-of-way.

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 Wireless Application Policy and Guidelines document to supplement the regulations set forth in Chapter 7.70.

The City is currently working on an emergency ordinance to replace the existing Chapter 7.70. The new legislation will:

  1. Align more closely with the restrictions set under federal and state law;
  2. Strengthen the City's regulatory authority to the extent allowed under federal and state law; and
  3. Clarify and expand on the requirements for obtaining a permit to install a wireless facility in the public right-of-way.

Public Info Session on Wireless

The City is hosting a public info session regarding wireless facilities in the public right-of-way. The meeting will provide the public the opportunity to learn about regulations concerning wireless facilities and the restrictions the federal government places on local authority.

WHEN: 7 PM to 9 PM, Monday, October 28, 2018
WHERE: Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium, Santa Monica Main Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401

The presentation will be provided in both English and Spanish.

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?

Small cell sites are a type of wireless facility that carriers are proposing to install in the public right-of-way. They broadcast radio frequency waves to provide cellular service, which enables a cell phone to send and receive phone calls, texts, and data. They are called "small cell sites" to distinguish them from larger "macro cell sites." When compared to macro cell sites, small cell sites are more compact, use less energy, and can often be installed on existing infrastructure. Because they are smaller, small cell sites have a shorter coverage area than larger macro cell sites.

Where are small cell sites being installed?

Small cell sites are currently being installed on streetlights and traffic signals as well as wooden utility poles owned by companies like Southern California Edison and Frontier. When a small cell site is installed on a streetlight, the streetlight often must be replaced with a new streetlight that can accommodate the small cell site. The City prefers that carriers install small cell sites at locations where there is existing infrastructure like a streetlight pole.

The Public Works Department maintains a GIS map of small cell sites. 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 and traffic signals that are eligible for a small cell site but no application has been submitted for that location. White dots do not represent every eligible installation location in the City.

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, Civil Engineering Division at (310) 458-8737.

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

There are many steps involved to receive a permit to install a new wireless facility, which are explained below:

  1. Application: The carrier submits an application to the City to install a wireless facility.
  2. Noticing: The City directs the applicant to mail a public notice to all residents, owners, and businesses within a 500 foot radius of the proposed installation location. The City approves the content of the public notice.
  3. Public Comment Period: Public comments regarding an application are accepted for 14 days after the public notice is mailed.
  4. Completeness 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.
  5. Applicant Corrections: If the City tells an applicant that the application is incomplete, the applicant must provide the requested information/corrections to the City.
  6. Final Review: Once the City has a complete application and the public comment window has closed, 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.
  7. 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, emailed to the applicant, and sent to any commenters that requested to be informed of the City's decision regarding the application.
  8. Appeal Period: Within 14 calendar days after the STOA is published on the City's website, anyone may appeal the City's decision. Appeals must be submitted on the City's website
  9. Appeal Hearing: If an appeal is submitted, City staff will schedule an appeal hearing before the City Council. Appeal notices containing the date, time, and location of the appeal hearing will be sent to all residents, owners, and businesses within a 500 foot radius of the proposed installation location. 

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, Civil Engineering Division, at (310) 458-8737.

Updated October 15, 2018

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