Wireless Communication Facilities

Wireless Communication Facilities (WCFs) are the antennas, support structures and other equipment or apparatus necessary for providing personal wireless services and information services. While these are an important part of communications infrastructure and networks, they are the most visible. Careful planning of WCF is essential to ensuring aesthetic compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods.

Background

The City of Palo Alto received many new applications for WCF in recent years. Examples of WCF include wireless carrier antenna and equipment installations on top of private building rooftops or on freestanding poles located in private parking lots. These sites are usually called macrosite wireless facilities. Some WCF are installed on wood utility poles or streetlights in the public right-of-way and are commonly referred to as small cell wireless facilities. WCF applications are reviewed according to the regulations of the City, but it is also necessary to process applications in accordance with the evolving regulations in State and Federal law. To be consistent with these changes, the City needs to regularly update local regulations and has created this webpage to inform the public of these update efforts. 

Current News

The City has embarked upon a work plan to return to City Council with proposed updates to the Wireless Communications Facilities ordinance (Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 18.42.110) and an accompanying Resolution for the City's Wireless Aesthetic Design Standards.

Ordinance Updates

Currently, Palo Alto Municipal Code (PAMC) Section 18.42.110 contains the local regulations for Wireless Communications Facilities (WCF). Any proposed amendments to PAMC Section 18.42.110 must receive the Planning & Transportation Commission (PTC)’s review and recommendation prior to City Council adoption.

  • On April 15, 2019, City Council considered a first reading of updates to the Wireless Communications Facilities ordinance. 
  • On May 13, 2019, City Council heard a second reading of the updates to the ordinance. The updates are now in effect and can be found online in Palo Alto Municipal Code Section 18.42.110. At that time, the Council requested an update on the ordinance within a year.
  • On February 12, 2020, the PTC discussed proposed draft amendments. 
  • On January 12, 2022, after analyzing PTC and other feedback from February 2020, staff returned to the PTC. 

Aesthetic Design Standards Updates

Cities were required to adopt reasonable and objective aesthetic administrative standards for small wireless facilities under the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s September 2018 Order. These aesthetic standards are contained in a stand-alone Resolution that supplements the wireless ordinance. The Council can update the standards in by adopting a replacement Resolution.

  • On April 15, 2019, the City Council discussed and adopted Resolution No. 9825 to create these objective aesthetic wireless administrative standards.
  • On June 3, 2019, City Council rescheduled updates to these standards for the June 17, 2019 agenda. The updates were discussed and City Council adopted Resolution No. 9847 on June 17, 2019.
  • On August 12, 2019, City Council updated these standards by adopting Resolution No. 9855 via action on the consent calendar.
  • On December 16, 2019, City Council discussed and updated these standards by adopting Resolution No. 9873. This is consistent with Council's April 15, 2019 motion to return within one year. Resolution No. 9873(PDF, 1MB) is the current version of the City's Objective Aesthetic Wireless Administrative Standards (Objective Standards). 
  • On August 12, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit entered its decision on five consolidated cases challenging the FCC Orders preempting many aspects of local government regulation of small wireless facilities. Among other notable items, the decision reversed the FCC's order requiring aesthetic standards to be objective and no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments, but upheld FCC requirements that localities adopt reasonable (feasible) aesthetic criteria and publish them in advance.
  • Currently, these aesthetic design standards are being updated as part of the overall update to the WCF Ordinance project.

 

 

Additional Information

Visit our Intergovernmental Affairs webpage to find City of Palo Alto letters pertaining to state and federal Wireless Communications Facilities policies. For example, the City sent an opposition letter regarding SB 556 related to wireless broadband infrastructure deployment.

Visit our Planning & Development Services Department Pending Wireless Communication Facility (WCF) Permit Applications webpage to learn more about WCF applications that are under review by staff.

Visit our Planning & Development Services Department Forms and Applications webpage to find the application forms and checklists utilized in the submittal of Wireless Communication Facility (WCF) Permit applications.