Proposed laws in Beverly Hills and Culver City that would control the size, location and screening of satellite dish antennas would effectively prohibit some consumers from owning the space-age television receivers, according to retailers and industry representatives.
The fiberglass or wire saucers, which measure 4 to 12 feet in diameter and cost from $1,000 to more than $4,000, improve reception and provide access to more than 100 stations around the world.
About 100 dish antennas were in residential use six years ago, compared to about 1.3 million across the country today, according to a spokesman for the Society for Private and Commercial Earth Stations.
Cities such as Beverly Hills and Culver City have just begun to respond to the new technology that city officials say can be unsightly.
The Beverly Hills ordinance, which is scheduled for a Planning Commission study session later this month, is the more restrictive of the two.
In neighborhoods with single-family homes, the ordinance would:
- Prohibit dishes mounted in front yards or on roofs.
- Permit a maximum height of seven feet, equal to perimeter fences in the city.
- Require that dishes be screened from public view.
The proposal not only applies to new dishes but also calls for those previously installed to meet the requirements within two years. Owners of dishes mounted on roofs or in front yards would have to relocate the devices by the end of that time.
"I'm not happy about that," said Rita Blau, who would have to move her roof-mounted dish. "It's critical that they be placed in certain positions to achieve proper reception. There ought to be some controls so they are not eyesores. But the ordinance now sounds like it is too restrictive."
In February the City Council of Culver City banned all dish installations to give it time to write an ordinance.
A draft ordinance presented to the Planning Commission this week would:
- Limit the diameter of dishes to 10 feet.
- Prohibit most roof-mounted dishes.
- Require screening.
Both the Culver City and Beverly Hills laws would allow consumers to apply for exemptions if they believe their ability to receive satellite signals is impaired.
But Dennis Bellavia, owner of Satellite Television Technology in Westwood, said the laws will raise the cost of installations, limit possible locations and thus prevent some consumers from buying the dishes.
"It's really surprising to me when I hear about all these restrictions," Bellavia said. "Without question it could hurt business."
Bellavia said the Beverly Hills proposal to limit dishes to seven feet in height could be the most damaging, forcing installers to dig large trenches so that 10- and 12-foot dishes do not exceed the limit.
Would-be consumers, Bellavia said, might have to pay for permits and a structural engineer if they want to have a dish installed under the new ordinance.
Retailers such as Bellavia may get relief from the Federal Communications Commission. In April, the commission proposed a rule that would override local zoning regulations that "discriminate against satellite receive-only antennas."
The proposed FCC rule says that local controls should employ the "least restrictive method available" to accomplish aesthetic goals. "This action was taken in light of evidence . . . that local regulations may be interfering with federal objectives in providing for growth of nationwide satellite-delivered communications services," a commission report stated.
Final adoption of the rule is expected this fall. Satellite dish dealers could use the regulation to fight local laws in court, according to an FCC spokesman.
Industry representatives have also campaigned against restrictive local ordinances. Lawyers for the Society for Private and Commercial Earth Stations sent the Beverly Hills City Council a letter this spring urging it to temper its proposed ordinance.
Ordinances that unnecessarily restrict size, height or location may effectively prevent many residents from installing dish antennas, the letter said.
The Alexandria, Va.-based society represents 1,100 manufacturers, distributors and dealers of satellite dishes. Society spokesman Chuck Hewitt said that the First Amendment "right to communication," should take precedence over aesthetic standards set by cities.
'It's About Time'
Hewitt said the Beverly Hills ordinance amounts to a ban on dish antennas and would be struck down in court. He said retailers have made a concerted effort to properly install the antennas so that they do not blight neighborhoods.
But Joe Kennedy, who used to install the devices himself, disagrees.
Kennedy owns West Los Angeles-based Geostar Communications, a communications consulting company.
"If some of these places are proposing ordinances it is about time," Kennedy said. "The dealers pretty much brought it upon themselves. There was a lot of abuse.
"Most of the dealers have the attitude of 'Just give me the check.' They'll pretty much put it anywhere you want it. They don't care what it looks like or what happens to it the day after they leave."