City of San Mateo Public Works Department

Small Cell Infrastructure Update

The Public Works Department has received inquiries regarding applications from the telecommunications industry to install small cell antennas in San Mateo. Staff would like to provide detailed information about the review process. Like other cities, San Mateo is bound by federal and state laws while responding to the industry’s request to install small cell infrastructure in the public-right-of-way.

Starting in October 2017, staff worked with the former Public Works Commission to draft a Small Cell Infrastructure ordinance -- which included a number of public hearings as late as May 30, 2018 -- before recommending it to San Mateo City Council. Council approved the new ordinance on July 16, 2018, and it took effect on August 16, 2018.

Why are the Modus/Verizon applications not being processed in accordance with the City’s wireless telecommunications ordinance?

The City received applications from Modus (on behalf of Verizon) in late February, prior to the effective date of the City’s ordinance. The City cannot require these applications to be subject to regulations that came into effect after they applied.

Staff has denied 13 applications from Modus/Verizon. Modus/Verizon has appealed those denials and the appeals are scheduled to be heard during the November 14, 2018 Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission meeting. In the interim, Modus/Verizon is working with City staff to determine if there are other locations that would be less visually intrusive. If that is the case, Modus/Verizon would submit new applications in accordance with the City’s ordinance. Modus/Verizon will notify nearby residents prior to construction of approved sites, and a full list of potential locations is available on the City’s Small Cell Infrastructure webpage.


On October 10, staff will update the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission (the updated Public Works Commission) on the status of applications received to date. Staff will also seek input from the Commission on a proposed master license agreement template. The template agreement -- that requires applicants abide by City regulations -- would be used for installations on City-owned streetlights, which are often less visually intrusive than the PG&E poles. Currently, the telecom companies are incentivized to use PG&E poles and not City-owned poles, because they already have a right to use the PG&E poles.   

Why can’t residents appeal these Modus/Verizon applications?

Because the Modus/Verizon application pre-dates the new ordinance, the applicants must be processed under the City’s standard encroachment permit regulations. The City’s encroachment permit ordinance, which governs encroachments in City public right-of-way, provides for applicant appeals only.

Why can’t we ban small cell applications?
State and federal law authorizes telecom companies to place installations in public right-of-way. The City retains the right to regulate the time, place, and manner of those installations, which the courts have held to include the right to regulate based on aesthetics.
Some applications have been denied. Why?
The City has denied a number of applications on the grounds that the proposed installations do not meet the City’s design standards and are not in the least visually intrusive locations.
For a comprehensive overview, including an extensive FAQ list, please visit our Small Cell Infrastructure webpage.
The September 21, 2018 email sent by the City incorrectly stated that the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission would be approving designs and locations at the October 10 meeting. Since the Modus/Verizon applications pre-date the Small Cell Infrastructure ordinance, the Public Works Department will follow the encroachment permit process to consider the application. Applicant appeals of the City denials are currently scheduled for the Commission’s November 14, 2018 meeting.

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