The passage of Section 6409(a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act –– pre-empting local control of collocations –– has left many local jurisdictions in California, as well as across the country, out of compliance with their wireless ordinances, Natasha Ernst, newly minted special regulatory counsel to Channel Law Group, told AGL Bulletin.
“Section 6409(a) is a game changer for local jurisdictions across the country. Conversations [on its impact on local wireless ordinances] are just getting started,” Ernst said. “One of the CalWa regulatory committee’s goals this year is to work on regulatory issues more closely with local municipalities, in particular, to be a resource for them as they update their wireless ordinances.”
Ernst is leading the efforts in several local jurisdictions in California to assist in updating wireless ordinances, including the City of Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz County and San Jose, on behalf of CalWa and also for the Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s Wireless Communications Initiative, where she sits on the steering committee.
“In particular, we know there are ways to revise and update Santa Cruz’s ordinance to bring it more in line with federal and state laws,” Ernst said. “We will be talking about [the wording in Section 6409(a), but particularly with regards to the definitions the FCC is beginning to fill in with its recent public notice, such as what constitutes ‘substantially changing the physical dimensions’ of a tower or base station, what should be considered as a wireless tower or a base station, and whether a state or local government may require an application for an action covered under Section 6409(a).”
It is familiar territory for Ernst, who is a native of Northern California with deep roots in the Silicon Valley area. She has done similar work in the area for Crown Castle and ExteNet. Knowing the local milieu is as critical to the success of working with municipalities as knowing the law, according to Ernst.
“I have worked with cities across the country, but California cities require an instant level of knowledge, oftentimes, in order to have very productive relationships,” she said. “When you are dealing with something contentious like wireless, the more you understand the culture of the residents and the goals of the city, the more productive your relationship will be.”
Three years ago, Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s Wireless Communications Initiative targeted San Jose to maintain relationships with city officials and has been meeting with them regularly to discuss wireless initiatives ever since.
“It has been going pretty well. One of the milestones has been a DAS built out in the city by Crown Castle, which went very smoothly,” Ernst said. “Whenever there is a long period where infrastructure is being built and nothing ends up in litigation, I consider that to be a win.”
When Ernst joined Long Beach-based Channel Law a month ago, she opened a northern California office for the firm. Previously, she served as director of government relations and government relations counsel for Crown Castle.
“[Joining Channel Law Group] creates a good synergy. I brought a broad level of expertise in the counties and cities that surround the Bay Area,” she said.