City council denies appeal; Cell tower possibly coming to South Lake Tahoe
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — After a four-plus hour public hearing, the city decided it wants a cell tower, ending a half year battle in the community.
South Lake Tahoe City Council at Tuesday’s packed house meeting voted to deny local resident Monica Eisenstecken’s appeal of a 113-foot cell tower scheduled to be constructed at Ski Run Blvd and Needle Peak Rd.
Eisenstecken appealed the planning commission’s decision to grant a permit to Verizon Wireless to place a cell tower in the neighborhood across from her home.
In her reason for appeal, Eisenstecken said, “Residential neighborhood family oriented, aesthetically does not fit. Relocate to different areas and some other reasons.”
Since the appeal was filed, many South Lake Tahoe residents have spoken out against the cell tower in city council meetings, citing health concerns and property value loss as the main reasons for being against the tower.
Council chambers were packed and chairs were set up in the Lake Tahoe Airport lobby to accommodate all the people who came for the hearing.
Mayor Jason Collin started it off by reminding the crowd to be respectful and not to clap or jeer, something he would have to say multiple times throughout the hearing.
Eisenstecken’s legal representative, Paul McGhan, brought giant signs saying “true or lie” that he had a member of the public hold up throughout the full hearing.
One of McGhan’s main concerns was a lack of truthful information given to council by Verizon, especially in regards to how much radio frequency waves there would be and whether or not there is actually a gap in cell coverage in the area.
Planning Manager for the city, John Hitchock, was given 10 minutes to give a statement from the planning commission. Paul Albritton, attorney for Verizon, also gave a 10-minute statement.
During Albritton’s statement, the crowd loudly laughed and jeered.
Councilmember Cody Bass questioned Albritton about whether this cell tower will actually solve the issue, mentioning the lack of fiber infrastructure in Tahoe. Without increasing fiber, Bass is concerned a new cell tower won’t increase reliability or bandwidth.
After council questioned Albritton, the public was given time to comment which took over an hour. The majority of the comments were passionately against the cell towers but some business owners spoke in support of the towers, especially the Tahoe Prosperity Center that has been openly in support of the tower.
One comment from local realtor Mark Salmon sparked a lot of discussion. Salmon said that in his professional opinion, the cell tower would decrease property values, confirming residents’ fears.
Once the council began discussion, passions flared. Bass spoke in favor of granting the appeal, saying the council should have Verizon reapply after the city puts an ordinance in place.
Bass said he believed Salmon presented enough evidence about property values to reasonably grant the appeal.
Councilmember Devin Middlebrook said he didn’t think there was enough evidence, leading many in the crowd to shout at Middlebrook. Many accused Middlebrook of being biased because he serves on the Tahoe Prosperity Center board.
“I was appointed to the board on behalf of the city council, I don’t get paid so there is no conflict of interest,” Middlebrook said.
Collin called a recess after having to silence the crowd multiple times saying he expected better behavior when the recess ended.
After the recess, Middlebrook again tried to speak, but was greeted with shouts from the crowd.
In the end, the council voted 3-2 to deny the appeal. Bass and Councilmember Brooke Laine voted against the motion.
“They didn’t look at the substantial evidence in the record,” Eisenstecken said. She added that she will be pursuing future actions but doesn’t know yet what that action will be.
“Overall, people behaved very well,” Collin said. “It’s an emotional topic and I appreciate everyone’s input and participation.”
The planning commission will hold a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16, to discuss an ordinance for future cell towers.