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Telecommunications moratorium still on table for Nevada City

Nevada City’s city council put the brakes on Wednesday, but did not dismiss the possibility of enacting a moratorium while they work to craft a telecommunications ordinance.

The ordinance was proposed by council member Reinette Senum in the wake of a successful fight against Verizon’s proposal to install a wireless array in downtown Nevada City. After Verizon’s application was denied in 2015, the company filed an appeal, then formally withdrew its application this July.

But Verizon, in effect, fired a warning shot across the bows, telling Nevada City in a letter it wants to install “small cell facilities” on existing power or telephone poles downtown.

Senum, concerned with a possible lack of control over these microwave radiation antennas, has asked the council to consider a six-month moratorium while staff crafts an ordinance to regulate the installation of telecommunications infrastructure.

In late July, the council asked city staff to conduct some research into potential language for a moratorium.

City Manager Catrina Olson told the council members that she was referred to an attorney associated with the city’s contracted law firm who has extensive experience in developing these types of ordinances. Olson and City Attorney Hal DeGraw talked to the attorney, Scott Porter, about drafting an ordinance that would preserve the aesthetics of Nevada City and especially the Historical District.

The proposed ordinance would include limitations on co-location of small cell facilities on PG&E poles and other utility-company owned structures and set reasonable limits on output to protect public health, safety and welfare, Olson said, with an estimated cost of at least $5,000.

Senum, however, had a different direction in mind. Senum said she had been in contact with the Center for Municipal Solutions, an organization that assists local municipalities in their dealings with telecommunications service providers and applicants. According to Senum, the cost of the ordinance can be charged to the telecommunication companies.

DeGraw said he would be uncomfortable with having the council approve an ordinance that had not been reviewed by its contracted law firm, since he is not well-versed in telecommunications law.

“I think an ordinance is imperative,” Mayor David Parker said. “At the same time, it’s an ordinance that we need to do absolutely right. We should look at our options.”

Council woman Valerie Moberg also stressed taking some time, saying, “We definitely need to approach this cautiously and not just rush into it,” adding she didn’t see another application getting pushed through in the next six months. “We need to err on the side of being conservative and take a really good look at what other cities have done.”

Senum, while agreeing that Nevada City should take its time in crafting the ordinance, continued to push for a moratorium in the meantime.

After more discussion, it was agreed that Senum would provide a possible draft of an ordinance and a moratorium to Olson for review by Porter and DeGraw, in order to get the ball rolling.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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