CA Supreme Court Upholds Ordinance Protecting Scenic Views from Ugly Telecom Infrastructure

By B.N. Frank

Californians have a long history fighting cell tower and antenna installation – and for good reason.  Besides being ugly, reducing property value, catching fire and collapsing, they emit harmful radiation.

California firefighters actually fought for an ordinance exempting their stations from being used as base stations for installation due to health risks.

Scenic views as well as health and safety concerns led to this latest court decision.  Way to go, San Francisco!

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco and other cities can protect their scenic views by prohibiting wireless telephone companies from installing antennas on utility poles, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The justices unanimously upheld a 2011 San Francisco ordinance requiring telecommunications companies to obtain a city permit before installing large antennas and related equipment on roadside poles.

The ordinance said permit applications would be reviewed more closely in certain scenic and historic areas.

“San Francisco is widely recognized to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities” the Board of Supervisors said at the time. The regulation, the board said, would prevent installations whose appearance or location would “diminish the city’s beauty.”

City officials have said companies apparently adjusted to the ordinance, generally seeking permits for installations that fit their surroundings.

As of 2018, the city had received 1,243 application for permits and denied only eight of them, John Coté, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said Thursday. He said many other cities in California also regulate wireless installations, some with aesthetic standards like San Francisco’s.

But the telecoms, led by T-Mobile, argued that the ordinance violates state law, which allows phone companies to install roadside equipment as long as it does not “incommode the public use of the road.”

The court, however, said the city has the authority to decide whether unsightly installations “incommode,” or disturb, the use of its streets.

“The power to regulate the location and manner of line installation is generally a matter left to local regulation,” Justice Carol Corrigan said in the 7-0 ruling, upholding lower-court decisions in the city’s favor.


She noted that phone lines or equipment might generate noise or raise health and safety concerns that could “disturb (the) quiet enjoyment” of a road. And she said a city’s power to regulate use of its land “includes the authority to establish aesthetic conditions for land use.”


The court also rejected, as overly speculative, the companies’ argument that San Francisco’s restrictions would slow the development of advanced telecommunications. Herrera called the argument a “red herring” in a statement responding to the ruling.


The case is T-Mobile West vs. San Francisco, S238001.

Thanks to for more insight on this decision.

For more information about biological and environmental risks associated with cell towers and antennas, visit the following websites:

Image credit: Pixabay

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