Council contracts with 5 Bars Communities to avoid negative SB-649 impacts

To avoid the detrimental effect of Senate Bill 649, the City of Clovis recently signed an agreement with 5 Bars Communities, a company that will work as the liaison between the city and wireless companies. (Photo by Daniel Leon/Clovis Roundup)

As a means to rapidly bring 5G wireless cellular service to areas across the state, the state legislature recently put forth Senate Bill 649, a bill intended to streamline the process by making it much easier for companies to install equipment in public right-of-way areas.

While the bill bodes well for wireless companies and for those in the community who desire faster 5G speeds, many cities including Clovis are in opposition to it as it excludes the city and public’s input and requires the city to lease out the public’s property while also capping how the city can lease space out for, eliminating the ability of the council to negotiate public benefits.

City Manager Luke Serpa said if signed into law, the main concern with SB 649 is it would allow companies full reign in public right-of-way areas, meaning the city wouldn’t be able to have a say in the location or design of 5G wireless boxes.

“The bad side of it is it would take away the city’s discretionary ability to determine where equipment can be placed within the right-of-way to meet certain criteria,” Serpa said. “In an ideal situation, you would have just a little box on a power pole, but what the bill does is allow companies to put equipment anywhere they want without city approval so they can literally put something in front of someone’s home without any city permitting. Some of the installations don’t look nice, and with this bill we’d have no say over the design or aesthetics of it. While we fully support the roll out of 5G, this really takes away local control and it comes down to local control issue.”

To avoid this detrimental effect of SB 649, the city recently signed an agreement with 5 Bars Communities, a company that would work as the liaison between the city and wireless companies. The agreement protects the city by essentially grandfathering them into an agreement, as any agreements or contracts made prior to the bill becoming law would supersede the new law.

“This agreement makes 5 Bars the exclusive agent for the city to negotiate with the carriers on the installation and the contracts clause would protect that agreement if it is already in place prior to the passage. So, some of the limitations the city manager spoke about that we oppose about SB-649 we wouldn’t have to worry about because we would be grandfathered in,” said Clovis Public Utilities Director Scott Redelfs. “We’re really doing this to try and get ahead of a potential issue.”

The agreement is a 75/25 split that gives the city 75 percent of the licensing revenues on all infrastructure the 5G units would be attached to, while the other 25 percent of revenue would offset 5 Bars Communities costs.

Other cities that have made similar agreements with 5 Bars Communities for the same reason are Fresno, Tulare, Merced, Huron and Sacramento.