Update and Overview of the City’s CG5 “Small Cell Ordinance”
By: Will Cullen
In January of 2018 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to deregulate laws covering wireless CG5 installations in public right of way (ROW) areas. These federally mandated changes currently apply to all residential neighborhoods in the United States and allow for the unlimited installation of wireless CG5 cell towers by commercial providers. They are to be attached to existing utility poles (like street lights) and in some instances new poles may be installed. In accordance with this new federal regulation, municipalities (Cities) were allowed the option of creating additional guidelines and policy regarding these installations, within limits set forth by the FCC.
In response to this new federal regulation, in March of 2018 the City of Long Beach developed and later passed an ordinance that created additional standards and procedures for the regulation and installation of these small cell CG5 antennas. The City is now seeing the results of this new ordinance with the incoming installation of hundreds of new small cell CG5 antennas throughout all areas of Long Beach.
In regard to the actual cell towers, the ordinance defines four basic components that address: 1) the location of the installations, 2) the size of the cells, 3) the aesthetics of the cell towers, and 4) the intensity, or amount of power, the cell towers can transmit.
The Ordinance also covers things like the administration and permit process used by the various providers who are installing the cell towers. Additionally it provides a protocol for informing residents of potential new installations along with a process for appealing a specific installation that is within a protected location.
The installation locations are determined by the needs of the individual providers (companies) that are selling wireless service to residents. The number or volume of these installations are market driven, determined by the needs of residents purchasing this service. There is no limit on the number of installations that can occur. Once a provider establishes a need at a specific location they start the approval process by filing for a permit with specific plans for the placement of the cell tower. Currently there are 3 companies that are providing wireless service to Long Beach. All companies work independently of each other and do not share wireless installations.
Cell tower Installations can go on light poles, wooden poles (as a last resort), and in situations where no utility poles are available, a new pole can be installed by the provider. If the installation requires a new pole, the pole must conform to the existing style and aesthetics present in the neighborhood. Installations are allowed in all areas of the City including coastal zones, parks, historic districts and near schools.
A typical small cell tower consists of a single, small omni-directional antenna, or it can have up to three small panel antennas concealed behind a shroud at the top of a pole. Antennas can also be placed inside the pole or in an underground vault located at the base of the pole. In general, the panel antennas are about the size of a handbag, and single-antennas cannot surpass a height of 10 feet above the pole.
The permit process and location approval are overseen by the Department of Development Services, and divides potential installation sites into two categories: Tier 1 and Tier 2. A Tier 1 application is for use in non-protected areas and must demonstrate that the proposed installation would not significantly detract from any of the defining characteristics of the neighborhood. Tier 2 applications address protected areas and require a formal finding that shows the proposed installation does not significantly detract from any of the defining characteristics of the proposed location. Protected locations include Planning Protected Locations, Coastal Zone Protection Locations, and Zoning Protected Locations, as defined in the City’s General Plan.
Currently, the notification process for a Tier 2 installation requires that only the residents with properties directly in front of or across the street from the new installation be notified by mail. In addition, flyers will be posted on the block that is being considered prior to the approval of the installation.
At this time, residents can only appeal location decisions in Tier 2 “protected locations” which includes historic districts. Formal appeals will be heard and decided by an independent arbitrator and the costs of the arbitration must be paid by the appellant or persons making the appeal.
If you would like to read additional information, City documents or the revised final ordinance, all 140 pages are available online by going to: