Court Ruling Could Limit Cell Tower Permit Review Period

Should the federal government be able to limit the review time for wireless tower projects to three months? County officials are against a court ruling that would give the Federal Communications Commission that power.

A lawsuit brought by local governments across the country hit a snag last week when a federal appeals court rejected a challenge to a court ruling limiting the review period for telecommunications companies looking to build cell towers and other wireless equipment.

If the ruling stands, the FCC could put into place guidelines that would force governments to make a ruling on right-of-way telecommunications equipment within 90 days for equipment co-located on existing infrastructure.  For new cell towers and other stand-alone equipment jurisdictions would have 150 days to make a ruling.

By comparison, a took 17 months from the application date until the final decision was made, according to county records.  An AT & T representative that it is typical for the process to take around 18 months in Los Angeles County.

Los Angeles County was one of the plaintiffs in the earlier stages of the lawsuit and the County Board of Supervisors will consider whether to file an appeal to the ruling or not, according to Edel Vizcarra of County Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office.

Antonovich called the ruling a "power grab" in a press release and wrote that it  "limits the public's ability to protect the character of their community by rushing through projects before they are studied and mitigated."  He wrote that an appeal to the Supreme Court is a possibility.

Impact on Altadena

The rules could have a big impact, and depending on one's perspective could be either very good or bad for Altadena.  On the one hand, a 150 day limit in the recent Loma Alta case would have meant that AT & T would now likely be a year closer to an alternate tower proposal, a good thing for proponents of the last proposal.

On the other hand, hurrying the process could also mean that a proposal gets passed without local residents knowing about it: several opponents in the Loma Alta case said they were not even aware of the proposal when the Town Council discussed in April of 2010, almost three months after the project was introduced. 

So what do you think readers?  Is it always best to have local control, or does the process take so long to complete that having new federal guidelines would be helpful?  Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Steve Lamb February 07, 2012 at 03:53 PM
The Court ruling is re-enforcing the Telecommunications Act. When I was on the ATC I pointed out to the County that a clear reading of the act stripped all local authorities of power to review these towers and make any demands on the companies. While I think the law is wrong and immoral, it is the law. They should have worked to change it rather than disobey it. This result was inevitable. But the law was always morally wrong and a usurpation of local and States rights by special interests, a bought and paid for Congress and a corrupt Presidential (Bill Clinton) administration.
Laura Monteros February 07, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I've been covering the appeal of a cell phone radome at California & Grand Ave. in Pasadena. It went on for 8-10 months. It's my understanding that after 3 months, the company could have said, "We're done" and the installation would have gone in, but the company allowed the appeal to go forward. I don't know why, but I suspect it was because the company knew it would win in the end, and allowing the appellants time to exhaust all the possibilities was better PR than forcing their way in.


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