UPDATE: Real Fight Begins Over SB 649 in California Assembly - Small Cell Bill Curtails Local Discretionary Review and Rates

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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Best Best & Krieger LLP

As drafted, Senate Bill 649 would give wireless providers a significant advantage over local government in negotiating the placement of small cells in the public right of way and on public property. Cities that have an interest in “smart city” technologies, such as programmable street and traffic lights, should be particularly concerned.
 
In the Senate, the wireless industry was forced to take amendments to keep the bill moving, although the amendments address only a few of the concerns expressed by local governments. SB 649’s supporters managed to avoid tougher amendments by making verbal agreements to amend the bill, then claiming to have addressed the opposition’s concerns hours — and sometimes minutes — before a vote is taken. 

This is exactly what happened on the Senate floor on May 31, where several key Democrats and at least one Republican indicated they were ready to vote against the bill. On the last vote of the night, at 9 p.m., a “deal” was announced and the bill passed to the Assembly on a 32-1 vote (with seven members not voting).
 
In the Assembly, however, it will not be treated with such deference or latitude. The bill will likely be assigned to the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee first, and then the Local Government Committee. The chairs of both committees stated that the committees will be voting on the bill in print, and not on “handshake” deals. In other words, no more free passes. While the Communications and Conveyance Committee is seen as relatively friendly territory for the business interests, the Local Government Committee is expected to be more critical of the bill’s impacts to local governments.
 
SB 649 opponents received encouraging responses from the committee members and from Los Angeles County’s adopting a formal oppose position to the bill. In addition, some technology-related interests have taken notice of the bill and are preparing to raise new concerns about conflicting future uses for street lights in the public right of way. This is significant because the supporter’s claims of representing the tech industry have, so far, gone unchallenged. While the opponents have reason to be encouraged, there are still significant gaps in the list of large cities opposing the bill undercutting the campaign. Smaller and medium-size cities have stepped up with more than 115 cities opposed at last count, and the League of California Cities is hard at work trying to recruit more cities to oppose.
 
While SB 649 awaits assignment to its first committee in the Assembly, there is a short window of opportunity for further opposition efforts.
 
If your city or county is concerned about the impacts of this bill, you should contact your Assembly member and the committees.
 
Best Best & Krieger LLP formed a lobbying coalition, Protect Our Local Streets, to give local governments a better chance in the legislative process. This coalition is lobbying against SB 649 and is using the time to contact and organize tech and public safety interests that may not have reason to be aware of the bill. The BB&K lobbyist, after consulting with BB&K telecommunications attorneys, acts on behalf of the Coalition and is free to lobby as aggressively and as quickly as the industry lobbyists.
 
For more information on Protect Our Local Streets, please contact one of the authors of this Legislative Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Telecommunications or Government Relations practice groups, or your BB&K attorney.
 
Please feel free to share this Legislative Alert or subscribe by clicking here. Follow us on Facebook @BestBestKrieger or on Twitter @BBKlaw.

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