When it comes to the rollout of 5G technology, at least a few Arcata residents and some council members have concerns and would like to delay its development in the City as much as possible. During its Wednesday meeting, the Arcata City Council directed staff to take steps to regulate the development of 5G-enabling infrastructure.
However, due to several orders recently issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the City is very limited in its ability to regulate 5G technology. Arcata City Attorney Nancy Diamond provided the council with some background on these orders — recently upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — which prohibit the City from regulating the installation of 5G infrastructure on City rights-of-way and limit the amounts the city can charge for permits, among other things.
The FCC regulations do, however, allow the City some control over municipal property, and under the Small Cell Order the city does “retain the ability to regulate small cell installation for aesthetic purposes,” Diamond said.
Basically, although the city cannot do anything to outright prohibit the installation of small cell transmitters, it can regulate — to a certain extent — where they are installed and what they look like.
Several community members spoke during the Zoom meeting, voicing their concerns over the potential health and safety impacts of small cell transmitters and urging the council to do what it can to prevent it from coming to our community.
“Full 5G rollout will not allow citizens to opt out of this grand experiment,” resident Shannon Nye said to the council, “I do not consent to this. 5G is not being implemented for the good of the people.”
Another community member, R.D. Fiero, added that “5G is extremely controversial and is potentially dangerous to every life form.”
But under the FCC orders, cities don’t have the ability to regulate 5G technology based on health concerns, and both the FCC and the American Cancer Society say that there is no strong evidence that radiofrequency waves emitted by cell towers cause any noticeable health issues.
Frequent public commenter Kent Sawatzky spoke more specifically about the regulatory control the City does have and offered his suggestions on ways the council might be able to delay the installation of this technology.
“If you were to come up with a policy that any cell tower must aesthetically look exactly like a tree — even if there’s no trees around — I’m guessing it would increase their cost by quite a bit,” Sawatzky said to the council.
Vice Mayor Paul Pitino had his own concerns about how council will make decisions on regulating the aesthetics of small cell technology, when it does not yet know exactly what the installations would look like.
“The way I understand it, there are big boxes and there are little boxes,” Pitino said during the meeting. “This is all abstract. The only thing I know is that I want to have as much control I can get.”
Pitino also wanted more information about proposals to run fiber optic cables under Arcata streets and whether this includes any 5G infrastructure plans for Arcata. Recently the Outpost posted information on these fiber optic plans, which are seemingly connected to the Digital 299 project and plans to land offshore fiber optic cables on the Samoa Peninsula. But Arcata City staff has received limited information on the project.
“Somebody’s got to be planning this and I’d like it to be at least as transparent as that fish farm down on Samoa,” Pitino said.
City Manager Karen Diemer responded that city staff have some of the same questions and assured Pitino that staff is trying to uncover more information about the fiber optic plans and will share that information with the council and the public as soon as it is available.
Ultimately, the council agreed that it wants to develop some sort of regulation as quickly as possible that meets the confinements of the FCC orders. Council directed staff to begin drafting regulations on the look and placement of small cell transmitters.
“This [5G] is something I’ve been concerned about for maybe at least two years now,” Councilmember Brett Watson said, adding that he had previously brought the issue before the council. “I want maximum control. I want all the tools to restrict it in any way possible, wherever we feel like we need to restrict it.”
In other business, the council voted unanimously to endorse Measure F, which would raise a special tax property tax to fund the Arcata Fire District . The council also received an update on the Arcata Police Department’s Policy reform and on the financial forecast of the city’s budget.
You can view the full meeting here.