California city loses tower-siting case
Erecting wireless infrastructure in public rights-of-way may have become easier for wireless operators after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month ruled that a California city could not block construction of tower sites perceived to be eyesores.
Sprint PCS filed the case after the city of La Canada Flintridge, Calif., prevented it from using two proposed base-station sites under an interim ordinance no longer used in the city. A district court in October 2004 upheld the city’s action on aesthetics grounds, which Sprint appealed. The appeals court unanimously ruled that a California statute giving companies broad authority to use public rights-of-way trumped the city ordinance.
Wireless carriers often have expressed frustration that they are unable to build networks as efficiently as they want because so much time and money is spent getting tower sites approved in a given city.
“We think it’s a very positive decision,” said Joe Farren, a spokesman for CTIA. “It’s a decision that will allow us to more quickly build towers, make the wireless network more robust and it all benefits the consumer.”
Although the case only is applicable to California, Farren said the fact that the court held that state law superseded the municipal ordinance was important, noting that it would be simpler for the wireless industry to deal with 50 state laws instead of thousands of municipal ordinances. However, a Sprint spokesman said the carrier will not ignore the wishes of cities.
“We’re continuing to work with communities on proper placement of wireless sites,” he said. “We want to continue to take community input into consideration, but we want to make sure it’s in coordination with California law.”
But, in this case, Sprint decided not to refile its tower application after La Canada Flintridge adopted its permanent ordinance regarding wireless sites, said Scott Grossberg, the attorney representing the city.
“From the beginning, Sprint’s people told me they wanted a test case,” Grossberg said.
La Canada Flintridge City Manager Mark Alexander said the city council has decided to ask the appeals court for a rehearing. If further rebuffed, the city will try to appeal the case to the California Supreme Court because the ruling focused on a state law, he said.
Meanwhile, the case has captured the attention of cities throughout California, which are wondering whether the court’s aesthetics interpretation could affect planning issues beyond telecommunications, Alexander said.
“The implications of this decision do seem to be far-reaching,” he said. “The extent of that reach, we don’t know. The decision didn’t really define how far the telecommunications companies could go or how far the cities could go when it comes to this aesthetics issue. So, we’re left with some confusion at this point.”