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AB 537

This page has a pdf flyer on AB 537 and video of testimony on June 21 in the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee against the bill.

Update on AB 537

Yesterday (June 21, 2021) the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications met and heard AB 537. Although the end result was predictable, a vote in favor and referral to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, there were a couple of positives.

One was that the Chair, Sen. Ben Hueso (who was the author of SB 649 back in 2017) said that the bill needed a couple of amendments.  The two amendments Sen. Hueso said AB 537 needs today, as I understood him, are:

1.  There should be an opportunity for judicial review before construction can begin.
2.  Local governments should be allowed to enforce all of their safety regulations.

They voted to approve it based on the promise of future amendments, which they always do.  It is such bull.  Anyway if he amends it then it will have to go back over to the Assembly and I believe it will go through the 2 policy committees again.

The 2nd pleasant surprise was about the “me too” comments in opposition.  As you may know the Chair always says he wants to hear the speaker’s name, affiliation, and position (such as “opposed”) only.  Hueso said that again today.  But every Chair has a different way of enforcing that rule.  Inevitably the people opposed to the bill have more than they want to say (after all telecommunications policy is complicated!) and sometimes they try to say it.  The brave, courageous ones who are aware that this is possible, not all of them.

Several speakers, thinking outside the box, used our limited time efficiently to educate and inform the Committee members of something they need to know about telecommunications policy and this bill.

Meanwhile here is our flyer on AB 537. Feel free to download and use it. Scroll down for the pdf file.

The first 4 bullet points explain the current cell antenna permitting system and the last 3 explain how AB 537 would change it.

Keep Cell Antennas Away: A grassroots campaign

P.O. Box 1823, Elk Grove, California 95759 (Mark@)

California legislators – please vote NO on AB-537!

The cell antenna permitting system is presently working.  Currently wireless carriers are able to apply for and receive cell antenna permits in every California city and county.  It takes months at most, not years, and respects local zoning codes. This bill would override local zoning authority over cell antennas under the false pretense that the system is not working.

  • Under Federal law cities and counties may not “effectively prohibit” the provision of personal wireless services. 1 Federal law provides time limits, 60 or 90 days in most cases, for local government to approve or deny a cell antenna permit application, known as “shot clocks.” 2

  • When the local government fails to approve or deny an application in that time federal law gives the applicant recourse to a U.S. District Court 3 , where the court shall hear and decide such action on an expedited basis. 4 Construction requires a permit.

  • The FCC “. . . expect[s] that our decision here will result in localities addressing applications within the applicable shot clocks in a far greater number of cases.” 5
  • There is no federal law, code, rule, regulation, or order that contains a “deemed approved” or permit “deemed issued” provision as AB 537 does. Contrary to the author’s claim (Asm. Quirk) this bill would not align California law with federal law.
  • Under AB 537 if a city or county misses the shot clock the “application will be deemed approved and all necessary permits shall be deemed issued and the applicant may begin construction,” 6 The City has 30 days to sue over this “deemed issued”.

  • This bill would cause the automatic approval of cell antenna applications that do not comply with applicable local zoning codes or where the local planning department does not have time to respond to certain applications. The bill would allow carriers to file 100 applications on one day for the purpose of overwhelming local planners.

  • This bill would prohibit a city or county from denying permits for known or yet-to-be discovered technologies, such as facial recognition, that residents may not want in their community for privacy and other reasons. 7

1 Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. sections 253(a) and 332(c)

2 FCC Order 18 – 133, DECLARATORY RULING AND THIRD REPORT AND ORDER, September, 2018, §105

3 FCC Order 18 – 133, supra, §116 – 131.

4 Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. section 332(c)(7)(B)(v)

5 FCC Order 18 – 133, supra, §129

6 California Government Code, proposed in AB 537, Section 65964.1 (a)

7(g) A city or county shall not prohibit or unreasonably discriminate in favor of, or against, any particular technology.” California Government Code, proposed in AB 537, Section 65964.1 (g)

April 27, 2021 


This action is for everyone in California.  Feel free to share with your California friends and family.

Thank you to all who emailed your city, county, and state representatives and the Committees that will hear these telecom bills after my newsletter last week.  There is still time.  We still need all of them to oppose these bills, especially SB 556 and AB 537. I encourage you to contact your representatives if you haven’t yet. 

Stopping AB 537 (Quirk)

This newsletter provides the name, phone number and email addresses of the Members of the Assembly Communications and Conveyance Committee, scheduled to hear AB 537 tomorrow, and a sample script / letter you can read and email to them.  Please call and email today or ASAP!

You can also call in during the meeting on Wednesday, April 28 to oppose the bill. (instructions below)

Script for your phone calls

Hello, my name is [your name] and I am calling from [your city] to leave a comment about Assembly Bill 537.  This bill assumes that the digital divide is a technological issue.  (Pause while they write.)  The solution in this bill is a technological one.  (Pause.)  The digital divide is primarily a financial issue.  (Pause.)  Because of that this bill will not close the digital divide.  (Pause.)  I oppose AB 537. 

Assembly member Miguel Santiago (916) 319-2053
Assembly member Jim Patterson (916) 319-2023
Assembly member Tasha Boerner Horvath (760) 434-7605
Assembly member Laurie Davies (916) 319-2073
Assembly member Eduardo Garcia (916) 319-2056
Assembly member Chris R. Holden (916) 319-2041
Assembly member Sharon Quirk-Silva (916) 319-2065
Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez (916) 319-2052
Assembly member Suzette Martinez Valladares (916) 319-2038

Email addresses: (copy this all as one block),,,,,,,,,

Sample message to send.  (Feel free to shorten this.) 

Dear Members of the Assembly Committee on Communications and Conveyance,

In order to solve any problem you first have to identify it. The California Legislature has failed to identify the nature of the so called “digital divide.”

[Say something about who you are, such as your background, to personalize your letter.]

The digital divide is primarily financial, not technological

AB 537 (Quirk), like the other telecom bills currently in the Legislature, assumes that the digital divide is a technological issue.  The solution in AB 537 is a technological one – more cell antennas in residential neighborhoods.  The digital divide is primarily a financial issueTherefore the solution in AB 537 is not going to close or solve the digital divide.

For a student using “distance learning”, studying and doing his homework, he or she will have to have a desktop or laptop computer and a residential Internet connection. See for example “CONNECTED CITIES AND INCLUSIVE GROWTH (CCIG), Policy Brief #5, April 2020, COVID-19 and the Distance Learning Gap” by USC Annenberg. (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California)

The USC Annenberg policy brief found that:

“Not surprisingly, there is a strong association between wealth and technology resources at home. Only about half of the families in the bottom 20% of the household income distribution have a desktop or laptop computer and subscribe to residential broadband. This compares to about 90% of families in the top income quintile, as shown in Figure 1”

Therefore, allowing the telecoms to place cell antennas on city street light poles, utility poles, and traffic signals without ANY design or location or aesthetic standards or requirements by local governments – even assuming that the telecoms do that in poor communities – will not solve the problem. It will not change the digital divide, which is an underlying financial problem. People will still be unable to afford a desktop or laptop computer and a residential Internet connection.

The solution is also financial

The solution is for the State to recognize and treat internet access as a public utility and regulate it accordingly, requiring the telecoms to provide service at fair and reasonable rates. And to provide funding for the purchase of a desktop or laptop computer to qualifying (low income) persons.

The State could use some of the billions of dollars it will receive or has recently received from the Federal government through the latest covid stimulus / bailout / infrastructure bill that is earmarked for providing high speed internet access for such a program.

Fiber optic cables to the home and office are the best way

The best way to bring high speed internet to everyone is through wires and fiber optic cables that go all the way to the home or office. Fiber optic cables to the home or office are safer, faster, and more reliable than wireless.  This bill fails to provide for that.

I ask you to vote NO on AB 537. 
What is your opinion of this, Assembly Member?
[Your name and city or address]

[End of sample letter.]

Phone calls during the hearing on April 28

The Committee only wants to hear your name, affiliation (if any) and your position (opposed or in favor) BUT you can usually get in a sentence or 2 beyond that.  Don’t say the word “oppose” until after you educate them because as soon as the moderator hears you say, “oppose” they cut you off. 

OPPOSE AB-537 Call in during Hearing on Wednesday April 28 1:30: Committee on Communications and Conveyance.

Hearing call-in information:

Should be posted by Tuesday at link above.  It’s not there yet but check again.
Earth Day at the capitol

On Thursday April 22 I testified in the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance against SB 556. 

Although the Chairman, Sen. Mike McGuire, voted against the bill it passed by a vote of 4-1.  The Senators really seemed oblivious to all the objections and arguments by those opposed to the bill, including mine.  My 2 main arguments were health effects and local zoning authority.
It also seems that the Legislators and the industry have fundamentally made a mistake about identifying the nature of the so called “digital divide.”  They say that the reason people in poor neighborhoods do not have high speed internet access is that technological; in other words, the problem is that there are not enough cell antennas on city streets.  However I believe the problem is financial in nature: people can’t afford both the computer of fancy smart phone plus the monthly internet access or cell phone plan. 

Who do you know, in Elk Grove or anywhere in California, that might want to read this newsletter?   Please forward this to them and tell them we need their input now!  Encourage them to subscribe by emailing me.


Mark Graham
Executive Director
Keep Cell Antennas Away

P.S.  Information on each of these telecom bills.

SB 556 (Dodd) “Street light poles, traffic signal poles, utility poles, and support structures: attachments.” would specifically authorize the telecoms to place cell antennas on “street light poles, traffic signal poles, utility poles,  and support structures” and would “supersede[] all conflicting local laws . . . .”

AB 537 (Quirk) Communications: wireless telecommunications and broadband facilities.” says, “The Legislature finds and declares that a wireless telecommunications facility has a significant economic impact in California and is not a municipal affair as that term is used in Section 5 of Article XI of the California Constitution, but is a matter of statewide concern.” (Section 1d)

SB-378 (Gonzalez) “Local government: broadband infrastructure development project permit processing: microtrenching permit processing ordinance.” would allow the provider to determine the method of installation of fiber, including microtrenching, and the local agency would have no say in the matter. Every county has its own way of managing the public right of way and the providers should have to fit in. The telecoms are just trying to install fiber optics in the cheapest way.

SB-28 (Caballero) Rural Broadband and Digital Infrastructure Video Competition Reform Act of 2021. would require the State to lease or license state-owned resources to telecoms providing video service at the household address using any technology, other than direct-to-home satellite service, providing two-way broadband Internet internet capability and video programming. (emphasis added)

The League has not yet taken a position on the other 3 bills, AB 537 or SB 378 or SB 28.  However it should and probably will. 

P.P.S.  Email and pre-meeting other talking points you might want to say:

Among the problems with AB 537, aside from the fact that it won’t close the digital divide, are:

  • Local Governments are responsible for the health, safety and well being of residents and this bill eliminates the essential permitting processes by local governments.
  • Local governments must make sure antennas comply with state and federal rules
  • Antennas may not comply with ADA and Fair Housing rules. People who are EMF- disabled can be discriminated against by antenna placement and blocked from the right of way, their homes and essential services.
  • FCC rules already require cites to meet time deadlines for approving telecom permits. Yet this bill goes much farther – it makes the shortest timeline a state law and gives “deemed” approved all permits that have been submitted regardless of whether they are complete. The FCC did not include “deemed” approval because they realized that local governments are charged with safety and approving an incomplete and unexamined permit is a great risk.
  • Antennas reduce property value and tax revenue
  • Cities are not protected from fire and other safety risks,  Telecom Carriers have no insurance for injuries caused by exposure to cell antenna microwave radiation. 
  • You can’t easily unbuild telecom towers and antennas.

Legislature’s web page on this bill.