For information regarding moratoriums of small cell installations, please review the City Attorney’s memorandum to Public Works dated April 6, 2018 as presented to the Public Works Commission on April 11, 2018.
Show All Answers
A small cell is a single small antenna placed on existing utility poles or street lights along with small pole-mounted radios and other accessory equipment. Small cells on utility poles will typically consist of one 4-foot tall by 14-inch diameter antenna mounted on top of the pole and a number of small boxes consisting of radios, electric meter, a disconnect switch and a fiber box. Small cells on street light will typically consist of an antenna, similar to that of utility poles, mounted on top of the pole. Two small radio boxes may be placed on the pole further down, or within the base of the pole. Other equipment may also be placed within the base of the pole. Small cell facilities will help wireless service providers in meeting the continuously increasing demand for wireless services. The increased use of smart phones, tablets, health monitors and other wireless devices in every-day life relies on a robust wireless network. A small cell network will add capacity and improve in-building coverage in San Mateo neighborhoods. Also, small cell networks will improve voice quality, reliability and data speeds for San Mateo residents, businesses, first responders and visitors using the wireless networks.
A typical wireless facility on a pole consists of one or more antennas and one or more equipment boxes. To meet CPUC requirements, the antennas will be mounted either at the top of the pole. The equipment boxes will be attached to the pole, or in the case of new steel streetlight installations, potentially in the base of the pole itself. While every system varies, the equipment boxes typically include an electric meter, a disconnect switch, and computers to control the antennas. Some wireless facilities may also feature an equipment box, on the same pole or in a box near the pole, that contains batteries used to provide temporary emergency power to the facility in case of a power outage.
Public right of way refers to a strip of land, which is used as a roadbed, either for a street or railway. The land is set aside as an easement or in fee, either by agreement or condemnation. May also be used to describe the right itself to pass the land of another. The public right of way general consists of the roadway, sidewalks and a strip of land behind the sidewalk (which varies by neighborhood).
A number of factors dictate the range of small cells, including objects that can potentially block the signals such as trees or buildings. On average, these systems have an approximate range of 150 to 500 feet, due to their low mounting height and low power output (either 66, 100, or 174 watts). For comparison purposes, a typical “macro” facility, with higher power usage (e.g. 10,000+ watts), and a higher mounting location; can have a range of a mile or two.
No. Under State law, telecommunications carriers have a right to install wireless facilities in the public right-of-way. The City, however, can regulate certain aspects of the design, location, and placement of those facilities.
No. The City's preference is for wireless carriers to install wireless telecommunications facilities on street light poles because they are generally less visually intrusive than wood pole-mounted facilities.
5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication networks. Most consumers now use 3G or 4G/LTE networks, which were introduced to the public in 2001 and 2009, respectively. AT&T shuttered its 2G system in early 2017. Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint have said they’ll continue to operate their 2G networks through 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively. It is anticipated that 5G systems will use existing cell towers and installation of additional small cells.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in consultation with numerous other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has developed safety standards. The FCC explains that its standards “incorporate prudent margins of safety.” It explains further that “radio frequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits.” The FCC provides information about the safety of RF emissions from wireless telecommunications facilities on its website.
The FCC provides information on its safety standards and determinations on its website.
Questions regarding potential RF hazards from FCC-regulated transmitters can be directed to the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau:
455 12th Street SWWashington DC, 20554Phone: 1-888-225-5322 (1-888-CALL-FCC)Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 contained provisions relating federal jurisdiction to regulate human exposure to RF emissions from certain transmitting devices. In particular, Section 704 of the Act states that, “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emission.” Further information on FCC policy with respect to facilities siting is available from the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and in the Local Government Official’s Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety (PDF).
Yes. The Department of Public Works (DPW) issues permits for the installation of wireless facilities in the public right-of-way.
The Department of Public Works engages with each applicant for a wireless facility permit to consider a design that is appropriate for the proposed location and meets our Design and Engineering Standards. In addition, City staff continually engages with wireless carriers and equipment manufacturers to seek designs that are less visually intrusive.
Installation of small cell facilities on existing street light poles are categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Sections 15302 and 15303 of the Guidelines for CEQA.
Streetlight poles are owned and maintained by the City of San Mateo. The majority of wooden poles are operated by the Northern California Joint Pole Association (NCJPA). Utility poles may have several owners on a joint pole, including electric, telephone, and cable providers.
The technology today does not operate efficiently with two small cell antennas on a single pole. It is unlikely at this time that, for example, both Verizon and AT&T would share a pole. Also, the City limits the volume of all equipment to 9 CF for a Minor Permit, making it difficult for telecoms to share a pole. If an applicant wishes to exceed 9 CF, approval from the Sustainable & Infrastructure Commission is required.
Generally, the installation of the antennas and equipment on the pole, and painting (if needed to match equipment to the pole) can be accomplished in a few days. Additional work may be required at sidewalk level to connect power and fiber-optic cables (used to transmit signals) to the pole-mounted equipment and antennas.
Wireless carriers have proposed similar networks in cities throughout the Bay Area.
We are not aware of any cities, including those mentioned, with an outright prohibition on installations in residential zones. In fact, to do so would violate the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The recommended practice is to require carriers to demonstrate that no other more-preferred locations are technically feasible. If a carrier cannot make that demonstration, cities can reject applications for installations proposed for residential zones. Each of the cities mentioned, including the City of San Mateo, have rejected proposed installations on the grounds that more preferred locations are available. The City of San Mateo’s ordinance provides that residential zones are the “least preferred” location. (San Mateo Municipal Code Section 17.10.090.)
If the current draft of the ordinance is adopted, the San Mateo Public Works Department will have the ability to approve small installations of antennas, pole-mounted equipment, and underground equipment. Residents within 500 feet of such an installation will be notified of the department’s pending approval and will be able submit a written protest requesting a hearing to the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission. The Commission will render a decision on both protests of department decisions and applications for larger installations as well as installations of ground-mounted equipment. Decisions of the Commission could be appealed to the San Mateo City Council.
Please refer to the City’s “Wireless Communications Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way” ordinance Section 17.10.070 for the appeal process.
By order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), The City is allowed to recover costs for review and issuance of a telecom permit, as well as $270 annually per City-owned streetlight pole.
The San Mateo Public Works Department applies the City’s adopted Design and Engineering Standards.
Per state and federal law, the City must allow telecommunication companies to use public right-of-way, which includes islands. However, the City design standard has indicated residential zones, schools and parks are least preferred.
Improvements will vary depending on location and carrier. If you are interested in additional information please contact your service provider.
The City limits telecommunications infrastructure to 9 cubic feet per pole, which generally means no more than one (1) small cell will fit on each pole.
If PG&E has an easement authorizing telephone service, it has a property right to allow the installation, but the installation is still subject to review by the City’s Planning Division.
If a small cell is proposed near your home, the first step is to request and attend a neighborhood meeting hosted by the telecom. Residents have the right to appeal approved application per the City’s “Wireless Communications Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way” ordinance Section 17.10.070 for the appeal process.
Information on all cell towers in San Mateo can be found at:
Information on all antennas registered with the FCC can be found at:
Information on existing small cells in the City can be found at:
No locations have been approved near 401 Occidental. Typically, if a telecom must move a location, it will be nearby due to design constraints.
The City has received one (1) application in the San Mateo Park neighborhood for a small cell (not a tower) and it was denied on July 25, 2018. As of November 2018, no other applications at that location have been received.
The San Mateo Public Works Department is responsible for reviewing Small Cells in the public right-of-way within the City. Citizens and interested parties should go to the Small Cell Infrastructure webpage for updates and a list of proposed sites located at: https://www.cityofsanmateo.org/3865/Small-Cell-Infrastructure.
Residents are encouraged to sign up for notifications of changes to the small cell web page to stay up to date. The Small Cell Infrastructure notify me list can be found here: https://www.cityofsanmateo.org/list.aspx.