At its Sept. 6 meeting to discuss 5G and potential regulations for its implementation in Mill Valley, the Council faced an outpouring from members of the EMF Safety Network. The group that advocates limiting cell phone towers for fear of exposure to electromagnetic fields that they believe can exacerbate symptoms like fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, heart problems, learning and memory disorders, ringing in the ears and increased cancer risk, according to the EMF Safety Network website. A Fairfax activist said 5G would add “another cloud to what we refer to as ‘electromagnetic smog,’ … just say no to 5G.”
Facing those concerns and that of others around the aesthetic impact of new cell phone towers within residential neighborhoods, the Council unanimously backed an urgency ordinance that strengthened its existing regulations around wireless telecom facilities in Mill Valley, “utilizing existing locations in our commercial districts, and other locations when it can be shown that there is a gap in service coverage in a specific area.”
The ordinance would require the provider to apply for a Conditional Use Permit that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission for any new wireless facility and the Zoning Administrator “for smaller amendments to existing Conditional Use Permits.” It also requires annual EMF readings to determine that the wireless facility is within compliance of federal and state laws.
The Council directed staff to bring back a more comprehensive ordinance on the issue by mid-2019.
“The Council is not against high speed technology at all,” Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peter said at the MV Chamber’s State of the City on Sept. 11. “We did discuss the health concerns but there are also aesthetic and community character concerns, as well as the City’s interest in maintaining its jurisdiction. We want to see a thoughtful deployment of equipment.”
“Many cities have limited equipment to existing locations, and there’s no reason why we can’t use that as a starting point and work with them to do studies on where there are gaps in service coverage if they are limited to existing facilities,” she added. “That’s the thoughtful way to look at deployment.”
Mill Valley’s ability to regulate 5G deployment was already limited. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions are pre-empted by federal and state laws as long as the infrastructure complies with Federal Communications Commission regulations; certain modifications to existing wireless telecommunications facilities; and the installation of wireless telecommunications facilities on existing utility poles in the public rights of way, among other restrictions.
On top of that, the FCC’s four commissioners unanimously voted to require cities to quickly approve or deny wireless carriers’ requests to deploy 5G cell installations, constraining the time cities have to review deployment requests, while also limiting them from taking into account issues like whether the installation will take place at a historical landmark.
In addition to Mill Valley, San Anselmo and Ross have adopted similar ordinances, and Fairfax’s Planning Commission considers the issue on Oct. 18. The Marin County Board of Supervisors discussed the subject at its Sept. 20th meeting and agreed to form a subcommittee to study it further.
Speak up: If you’d like to weigh in on this issue, send an email to Danielle Staude, a senior city planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org.