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Bay Area City Requires Transparency for 5G Applications

The Novato City Council discussion came after the city received four applications this year from AT&T to build 5G sites. City staff deemed the applications incomplete, though AT&T can resubmit them.

The Novato City Council is seeking to improve public transparency on wireless network projects as it works to craft permanent rules to oversee the technology.

The City Council voted last week to require all new and resubmitted applications for 4G and 5G wireless facilities to be posted on the city’s website.

The city adopted emergency rules on the technology in October 2019 as more companies began rolling it out. The city’s ordinance does not require project applications to be posted on the website and requires 10 days of public notice to residents within 600 feet of a project site before the city can decide on the application.

The council also voted to plan a discussion on whether it can delay new 4G and 5G project applications until it adopts longer-term rules later this year.

Councilwoman Pat Eklund, who raised the issue at the council meeting, said 10 days of notice does not provide adequate time for the public to weigh in on projects, especially with ongoing postal service delays.

“We have always been transparent and open. This is not transparency,” Eklund said during the meeting. “It is not being open to the public, especially when notices are only sent out 10 days before an action.”

Some on the council raised concerns about the amount of staff time additional requirements would take away from other city priorities.

Novato was one of several Marin County jurisdictions to adopt regulations on where the wireless technology could be located as it began to expand at the end of the decade. Federal regulations have set time limits for how quickly local jurisdictions must act on project applications.

The 5G networks provide faster wireless Internet connections compared to their 4G and 3G hardware predecessors. County residents have raised concerns about the potential health effects of 5G hardware, which emit significantly higher radio frequencies than previous generations. Agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and World Health Organization have not found links between wireless technology and illnesses such as cancer.

The council’s discussion came after the city received four applications this year from AT&T to build 5G sites. City staff deemed the applications incomplete, though AT&T can resubmit them.

Several Novato residents have been attending recent City Council meetings to oppose the new 5G sites. They said the city is not enforcing its noticing requirements and questioned whether the city has studied whether the additional 5G coverage is needed.

Novato resident Steve Glanz called for the city to force AT&T and other companies to reapply for their 5G projects under a stricter checklist of requirements.

“We have provided evidence that California cities retain their local zoning control over the placement, construction and operations of WTFs (wireless transmission facilities) of any size of any ‘G,’ despite industry propaganda to the contrary,” Glanz wrote in a letter to the city.

Novato resident Craig Knowlton, also writing to the city, said informing the public about applications will be good, but that “adding red tape to delay those applications on purpose is not appropriate.”

“We need more cell tower coverage throughout Marin, especially in Northern Marin and the city of Novato,” Knowlton wrote. “Reliable, redundant communications during earthquakes, wildfires and other natural disasters are critical to ensure residents have the most up-to-date information possible to save lives.”

(c)2022 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.