Council OKs small-cell wireless permit with hope of revisiting aesthetic regulations

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas (middle row-right) makes a point during Tuesday’s meeting.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved a master permit for Cingular Wireless to install small-cell wireless facilities in the city, but also asked to take another look at a council-approved ordinance from 2019 governing the asethetics of such structures.

In other action, the council agreed to add Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city employees, starting in 2022. And it rejected an attempt by some councilmembers to have the council reconsider its 4-3 vote last week to abolish the city’s citizen salary commission, which sets compensation for councilmembers and the mayor.

On the issue of wireless facilities, New Cingular’s current plans do call for the small cells to house 4G technology, but that equipment will eventually be replaced by 5G. New Cingular is the first to request permission to place small-cell facilities in the city, but other carriers are expected to submit their own master permit applications.

The master permit is the general authority that the city grants a telecommunications provider to place facilities in the city’s right of way. The permit approved Tuesday night will be used as the template for master permits sought by other carriers.

In April 2019, the city council unanimously approved an ordinance governing the aesthetics of small cell wireless facilities in the city’s right of way; however, federal regulations don’t allow local or state governments to prohibit their installation altogether. The City of Portland, along with dozens of other local governments, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding local governments’ ability to regulate 5G facilities, and that matter is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The topic of asthetics was raised again Tuesday night, with some councilmembers expressing worries about potential visual pollution that could result from a proliferation of small-cell wireless facilities over time.

Small cells don’t require as much power as full-sized towers, and perform best when clustered together to create more of a mesh network than a point-to-point signal. This requires a lot of hardware and it all has to be attached somewhere.

Here’s a graphic explaining how they can be deployed:

On Tuesday night, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked Jeff Taraday and Angela Tinker of Lighthouse Law Group — which serves as the city attorney and has been working on the master permit language — whether it would be possible to mitigate the likely increase in the number of poles citywide that various carriers would be installing for their respective cells.

Tinker noted that federal regulations don’t allow the city to prevent carriers from either “densifying a network” or “improving their services.” The city council measure passed in 2019 was designed to address aesthetics issues, and the council could amend that ordinance to include additional requirements, Tinker said. And under the master permit, the carriers would have to comply with any future amendments to the aesthetics, she added.

City Attorney Taraday told Buckshnis “there are things that we could theoretically do in our aesthetic regulations to encourage the co-locating of multiple antennas for multiple providers in the same spot.” However, that would likely require an increase in the height limit of the poles, “so there’s a trade-off,” Taraday added.

“By increasing the height allowed for poles, you might indirectly encourage co-locating within the same pole,” Taraday said. But he stressed that the city can’t require such co-location, as it could be viewed as a prohibition if a carrier wanted to put a facility somewhere else.

Tinker also went through several other questions submitted by councilmembers, including what would happen if the council voted against the master permit. Tinker pointed out that even with a no vote, the city would still get small-cell wireless facilities and it would not have the financial protections included in the master permit agreement, such as comprehensive indemnity insurance and the ability to assess monetary penalties.

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a motion that the council review aesthetic requirements for small cell facilities at a future date, including issues such as co-locating, minimum spacing and undergrounding. Johnson cited the many concerns voiced by councilmembers and the public “and that’s an area where we do have some control.”

Council President Susan Paine asked whether the city could adjust the aesthetics given past federal deadlines requiring the city to take swift action on small-cell wireless decisions. Taraday replied that the question would require further research.

“This is a new council and I believe a majority of you were not on the council at the time that those (aesthetic) regulations were adopted,” Taraday said. “I don’t want to commit to how much we could change those, but I think certainly with respect to something simple like increasing the allowance on pole height, I doubt that we would get any pushback.”

Paine and other councilmembers expressed support for revisiting the aesthetics, and it was approved unanimously.

When it came time to the vote on the master permit, Councilmember Laura Johnson said she felt the council was “backed into a corner on this one. I can protest with a no vote or abstaining but the city’s at risk for a lawsuit and we risk not having the financial protection,” she said. “We’re stuck. I feel like I’m under duress with this one and it stinks.”

Paine moved to approve the master permit and it was approved by 6-1 vote with Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas voting no.

The vote to include Juneteenth — June 19 — as a paid holiday for city staff next year was approved by a 6-0 vote with Councilmember Kristiana Johnson abstaining. Johnson said that while she supported the holiday, she disagreed with the process the city administration followed to bring it to council, noting it had not gone through the council’s Public Safety, Planning and Personnel Committee for discussion. She also mentioned the idea — supported by Councilmember Vivian Olson — of providing city staff with some additional floating holidays that could be used by those who celebrate other occasions not included in current city holidays.

The state wlll recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees next year.

Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery in the Confederacy, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. However, not all Black people were immediately free in Texas, as the state was still under Confederate control at the time of the signing. On June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), about 2,000 Union troops marched into Texas, officially liberating all Black people from slavery.

Edmonds resident Donnie Griffin speaks to the council about Juneteenth activities in Snohomish County.

Earlier in the meeting, the council had recognized Juneteenth during a city proclamation. Donnie Griffin, founder of the Edmonds-based Lift Every Voice Legacy (LEVL) and a member of the city’s Diversity Commission, thanked the council for the proclamation, adding “it’s my greatest hope that Juneteeth will be a holiday celebrated by all Washingtonians, embraced as day of emancipation, a day of liberation, a day of freedom like July 4th. A holiday that brings us all together — unites us in fellowship under the common value of justice and freedom for all.”

He also reminded those watching that they can find a complete Juneteenth calendar of events at

The Juneteenth proclamation was followed by a recognition of June as Pride month in the Edmonds, with residents Oshuma Ona and Sarah Mixson appearing virtually to thank the council for highlighting Pride.  “I just want to say how much it means for a city to recognize the LGBTQ+ community,” Mixson said. “It’s a huge step. A lot of us carry the scars for being in communities where that was not a possibility, and this is part of our healing to have a city that acknowledges us.”

In the discussion about the salary commission — which was on the council’s consent agenda for final approval Tuesday night — Councilmember Olson made the case that the council should take another look at the proposal — approved by a 4-3 vote last week — to disband it. The council had agreed to eliminate the commission so that the city could instead focus on equity issues — something they said the commisison wasn’t authorized to do — to ensure that council pay would encourage more community members to run for office. The salary commission could always be reinstated later if necessary, councilmembers noted.

However, Olson cited a June 14 letter to the editor from current Salary Commission Chair Jay Grant,  who said the current commission had indeed looked at equity issues as part of its work.

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who led the movement last week to disband the commission and opposed Olson’s motion, emphasized Tuesday night that her intent was not only to focus on equity in terms of salaries, but also take a look at other issues that might prevent community members from running for office. One example she cited was the prevalence of daytime meetings that could discourage those with daytime jobs or other commitments from seeking a council position.

In the end, Olson’s proposal failed on a 3-4 vote, with Councilmembers Fraley-Monillas, Laura Johnson, Susan Paine and Luke Distelhorst opposed.

The council also:

  • Heard an annual report from the city’s youth commission, and also recognized the three graduating seniors on the commission: Jacob Sawyer and Hunter DeLeon from Edmonds-Woodway High School and Grace Kamila from Shorewood High School.
  • Listened in an overview of an update to the city compensation policy. This item was abbreviated due to the lateness of the hour but will be discussed at next week’s council meeting.

You can watch the complete video of the council meeting at this link.

— By Teresa Wippel




  1. The issue with these cell towers is NOT how they look! The issue is the EMFs that will be bombarding everyone in the vicinity of the thing.
    This ‘city’ is being run by a cluster of ignorant, greedy, self serving people that could not care less about the us, the residents. I cannot recall one thing that has been done in recent years that has been beneficial to the People of Edmonds. I remember years ago when Edmonds was called ‘Deadmonds’. That is what it is again.

    1. Just an FYI that councilmembers have expressed concerns about the RF standards in the past. But the federal government does not allow the city to reject small-cell facilities for that reason. From our previous story: (City Attorney) Angela Tinker did note, however, that the council can’t deny permits based on health concerns, including those related to radio frequency emissions. Only the federal government has that authority. “Local officials’ hands are largely tied in this area,” she said.

      Over the years, she said, the FCC has adopted radio frequency standards that limit the amount of radiation that can be emitted from wireless transmitters and has created a framework to ensure compliance with those limits. On Dec. 4, 2019, the FCC issued a new RF Order stating that existing RF exposure limits should remain unchanged.

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