Veto of small cell expansion bill gets warm reception in West Marin

10/26/2017

In a win for West Marin activists concerned about exposure to electromagnetic frequencies, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 649, which would have expanded California’s wireless network capacity by allowing the expansion of so-called small cells in public rights-of-ways. His decision made earlier this month earned praise in Inverness. “It was stunning and exciting, because we were in this right down to the wire,” William Now, chair of the Inverness-based West Marin Wireless Radiation Action Group, said. “He signed it with two minutes to go before the deadline. People did not quit [fighting against the bill], even though it came down to a single signature vote.” The bill would have streamlined the permitting process for telecommunications companies to place two-way microwave radiation antennas known as “small cells” on utility poles, street lamps, traffic lights and street signs. That infrastructure would have helped companies as they prepare to leap from fourth-generation wireless to 5G to accommodate faster cell phones and driverless cars. In his veto statement, Governor Brown wrote: “There is something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently. Nevertheless, I believe that the interest which localities have in managing rights of way requires a more balanced solution than the one achieved in this bill.” The potential radiation from antennas placed throughout neighborhoods inspired West Marin activists to rally against S.B. 649. Bolinas resident Mary Beth Brangan, co-director of Ecological Options Network, held a presentation at the town commons last June, and Mr. Now both lobbied in Sacramento and created a website about the bill. For him, one silver lining, he said, was a renewed discussion about the potential health effects from electromagnetic exposure. “For people who are particularly sensitive to electromagnetic frequencies, they feel it right away, but for everyone else it can take some time,” he said. West Marin Wireless Radiation Action Group will now focus on advocating against two congressional bills: The Mobile Now Act, which seeks to streamline the process for implementing 5G wireless networks, and the DIGIT Act, which would create a working group aimed at removing barriers to that technology’s development. Both passed the Senate in August.