Nevada City Council advances 5G ordinance to third reading
Nevada City is moving forward with an ordinance that would allow and regulate the installation of 5G wireless facilities.
Despite backlash from members of the public that wanted to delay or outright ban the onset of the technology, the Nevada City Council on Wednesday approved the second reading of the ordinance with a compromise — they plan to hold a public workshop to allow more community input before the next council meeting.
A third reading of the ordinance will occur before a final vote of the council. No date has been set for the public workshop.
Although the public was squarely against the ordinance — no public speakers voiced support — the council is federally mandated to allow 5G by the Federal Communications Commission and without some sort of regulations the city would be forced to allow the facilities without any further say in the matter.
The meeting was attended by close to 100 community members and some from outside the county who wanted to take a stand, citing concerns of negative health effects from 5G technology, the possibility that it would harm tourism and business, its potential to hurt the environment and fearing government overreach.
Several public commenters complained that they had only just heard about the issue after the first public hearing on the ordinance was adopted earlier this month, despite the council working on early incarnations of the ordinance for over a year. Mayor Reinette Senum said not enough was done to include feedback from the public.
“What was not followed through on, which was a promise, was public input,” Senum said. “Now we’re being told just put this forward as is and the public is not allowed, nor am I or other experts, to give input. We’re told we’ll get to it later, which I heard a year and a half ago.”
Senum also accused others in the council of ignoring her input. At the last City Council meeting the mayor introduced suggestions that she said would strengthen the ordinance. However, city staff did not follow through in directing the outside counsel to thoroughly consider her additions.
According to City Manager Catrina Olsen, she felt she did not have full authorization from the council to continue spending money on the lawyer reviewing the suggestions.
“We told, not asked, staff to look at the suggestions, to look at what neighboring counties are doing without putting citizens at risk,” Councilman Duane Strawser said. “If we were to find out that was being ignored, that’s not OK and we will address that.”
While the public wants stricter controls to regulate 5G, according to the city’s outside legal counsel Baron Bettenhausen, that just isn’t possible.
“The ordinance gives you as much ability to regulate and control within the window of authority that you do have,” Bettenhausen said. “It’s true the federal government has removed some authority when it comes to wireless facilities, but you do have some authority left: You can deal with the aesthetics and have some leeway over mounted locations.”
According to Bettenhausen, any attempt to regulate based on health or environmental concerns would immediately invalidate the restrictions meant to keep the facilities in check.
Several members of the public provided court rulings and case law that would seem to suggest cities have more power to regulate the facilities than previously believed, but Bettenhausen said those state decisions do not supercede federal regulations.
After several members of the public questioned the attorney’s credentials and loyalty and conflict of interest, he clarified that his role is to ensure the ordinance is legally sound — not morally correct.
Senum said she would consider going against the advice of the attorney, reasoning that although the ordinance would protect the city from a lawsuit in the short term, the city could be liable for a larger class action lawsuit stemming from potential negative health effects of 5G technology.
“It’s in the tiny little details that we have the power and that’s really laborious and boring, but those things are extraordinarily important and the devil is in the details,” Senum said.
Following accusations that council members would benefit financially from the decision and should recuse themselves, Strawser pushed back, pointing to the years of work the council has put it to oppose 5G rolling out in Nevada City.
“I don’t even know how to respond to some of this,” Strawser said. “Ninety-nine percent of you out there are sincerely passionate, and I appreciate that, but to some of the others that have choreographed misstatements — shame on you.”
Contact Staff Writer John Orona at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4229.
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