What is an Above Ground Facility (AGF)?
Answer: The AGF shall be defined as all structures, cabinets, electric meters, and any other appurtenance installed for telecommunication or utility purposes above the surrounding grade in the public rights-of-way. For purposes of reviewing allowable AGF applications, all structures, cabinets, electric meters, and any other appurtenances that share a common structural foundation shall be defined as one AGF. (LAMC 62.08.I)
What is the procedure for notifying homeowners/residents about a proposed AGF installation(s) in their neighborhood?
Answer: For each proposed AGF installation, the applicant shall notify the lot(s) adjacent to the installation (defined as the adjoining lot), the abutting lots (defined as those lots on either side of the adjoining lot(s) as long as they are not separated from the adjoining lot by a public rights-of-way such as a street or alley), those lots directly across the street from the adjoining and abutting lots, relevant Council District Offices, neighborhood councils, and homeowner associations. (LAMC 62.08.VIII.D)
The notification must be sent by either registered or certified mail and shall identify whether or not the applicant is requesting a variance (AGF equipment that is taller than 5.5 feet or greater in volume than 36 cubic feet) or a hardship waiver (waiver from an undergrounding requirement that certain City zones have). The notification shall include information regarding the specific AGF location, installation design, and a contact name and phone number for the applicant.
A second notification is mailed out by the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) to the same homeowners/residents and other groups once the applicant completes the application process. This notification letter let’s the homeowners/residents know that the telecommunication or utility company has completed the application process and give them a fourteen day window to ask questions of BOE or appeal the AGF application.
On what basis can a telecommunication or utility company be granted a variance or hardship waiver?
Answer: There are two reasons given in the AGF Ordinance for granting a variance or hardship waiver request. The Board of Public Works may waive the height limitation, volume limitation or below grade requirement if these restrictions are technically or financially infeasible and all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. One example would be cellular antennas. They are line-of-sight technology. They do not work when placed underground. (LAMC 62.08.II.B and LAMC 62.08.V.B)
Are Telecommunication or Utility Companies allowed to trespass on private property when building these installations?
Answer: The answer is NO. The companies must obtain a temporary Right-of-Entry permission from the owner of the private property before starting construction when that construction will cross over from the public rights-of-way on to private property. (BOE Policy, Street Design Manual, Section E 144.22)
Is there any time that an AGF installation is exempt from the AGF Ordinance?
Answer: Yes. The City of Los Angeles when drafting the AGF Ordinance, wanted to give incentives to the telecommunication and utility companies to underground their equipment and to limit the construction of new poles in the public rights-of-way. To this end, the AGF Ordinance grants exemptions in two cases: 1) AGF facilities that do not have a structure, cabinet, electric meter, or other appurtenance above the existing surrounding grade shall be exempt. 2) If the AGF facilities such as cabinets and cellular antennas are co-located on utility or street light poles, then they are exempt from the AGF Ordinance. (LAMC 62.08.IX)
Can a telecommunication or utility company replace an existing utility pole with a taller pole and still be exempt from the AGF Ordinance.
Answer: Yes. Neither the AGF Ordinance nor the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering regulates the installation or removal of utility poles. The replacing of an existing utility pole for a taller one is handled under the authority of the Joint Pole Authority (JPA). The JPA is an association of utility and telecommunication companies in California. (LAMC 62.08.IX)
Can an AGF application be denied due to radio frequency emissions?
Answer: No. According to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section 704. (a).IV, no State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless services facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions. For additional information, please reference the June 2000 FCC Local Government Officials Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emissions Safety.
Can the City of Los Angeles deny an AGF application for any other reasons?
Answer: As a rule no. The telecommunication and utility companies are franchised to use the public rights-of-way by the State of California Public Utility Commission. According to the California Public Utility Code Section 7901, “Telegraph or telephone corporations may construct lines of telegraph or telephone lines along and upon any public road or highway, along or across any of the waters or lands within the State, and may erect poles, posts, priers, or other necessary fixtures of their lines, in such a manner and at such points as not to incommode the public use of the road or highway or interrupt the navigation of the waters.”
Section 7901.1.(a) further states, “It is the intent of the Legislature, consistent with Section 7901, that municipalities shall have the right to exercise reasonable control as to time, place, and manner in which roads, highways, and waterways are accessed. (b) The control, to be reasonable, shall, at a minimum, be applied to all entities in an equivalent manner.”
This basically means, we do not have the right to say no. We have the right within limits to determine time, manner, and place in dealing with these AGF applications.
Do home owners/residents have the right to appeal these AGF applications?
Answer: Yes. Any homeowner/resident that is in the notification pattern mentioned in the AGF Ordinance has the right to appeal an AGF application before the Board of Public Works. In order to appeal, you must right a letter of appeal to the Bureau of Engineering AGF Section and include a check for $100.00 made out to the City of Los Angeles.
The process for appealing an AGF application is given in a notification letter mailed out by the Bureau of Engineering (BOE) to the same homeowners/residents and other groups originally notified by the applicant once the applicant completes the application process. This notification letter let’s the homeowners/residents know that the telecommunication or utility company has completed the application process and give them a fourteen day window to ask questions of BOE and/or appeal the AGF application.
The AGF Ordinance does not give the right of appeal to homeowners/residents outside of the notification pattern in the AGF Ordinance, Council District Offices, neighborhood council, or homeowner associations. (LAMC 62.10)
If the City cannot say no to an AGF application, then what good is the right to appeal?
Answer: The State of California Public Utilities Commission gave municipalities the right to regulate AGF applications by time, place or manner. That means we have a limited ability to ask them to move their proposed location and/or require certain aesthetic changes such as landscaping to help minimize the visual impact.
How do property owners benefit from the AGF Ordinance?
Answer: Here is a partial list of how property owners benefit from the AGF Ordinance:
- It stops the telecommunication and utility companies from placing their AGF installations anywhere they want. The California Public Utility Commission gave municipalities the right of Time, Place, and Manner over these AGF installations. An example of this is, prior to the passing of the City’s AGF Ordinance in January of 2003, some telecommunications companies use to place their AGF cabinets right next to driveways which caused visibility problems backing out of driveways. The AGF Ordinance does not allow them to do this anymore.
- The AGF Ordinance limits the size of the AGF cabinets to 36 cubic feet. If the cabinets are larger than this, the AGF Ordinance gives the City the power in many instances to force the telecommunication companies to place them underground.
- The AGF Ordinance has a landscaping requirement that helps to hide the AGF installations and make them blend in with their surroundings.
- It gives homeowners/residents the right to appeal the location of the proposed installations. Prior to the AGF Ordinance, property owners had no choice.
Are these AGF installations subject to inspections sign offs by other City Departments?
Answer: Yes. Proposed AGF installations are looked at by the Cultural affairs Department for design aesthetics. If they are located in certain areas of the City, they must be reviewed by the City Planning Department. While they are being constructed after the AGF permit is issued, Bureau of Contract Administration Inspectors inspect the construction site to make sure they are being built according to building codes. (LAMC 62.08.III.C)