Group to attempt recall of city council members over cell vote

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A group of unhappy residents wants two city council members recalled for their recent votes approving cell tower installation in South Lake Tahoe.

The group filed legal notices recently in the Tribune stating its intention to circulate recall petitions for council members Devin Middlebrook and Tamara Wallace and to have them replaced in the next election.

The petitioners clearly feel frustrated as shown by the wording in their legals and both council members feel retaliated against for doing their jobs.

The grounds for recalling Middlebrook according to the notice is that he failed to uphold his office with the maturity required and voted with “blatant disregard for the will of the people and material facts.”

The legal goes on to say that Middlebrook is “incapable of setting aside ideology and self interest” and doesn’t recuse himself where there are obvious conflicts of interests by being an employee of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a board member for the Tahoe Prosperity Center and a member of council.

The group says Middlebrook “abused his power and lacked the discretion of (a) reasonable legislator during his quasi-judicial hearing pertaining to a 112-foot cell tower to find his preferred outcome.”

Middlebrook said he took his vote seriously, there are no conflicts and the city has his full loyalty. He said the city is functioning better than it has in years and the recall attempt is a distraction from the real issues.

“This recall petition is a thinly veiled attempt to retaliate against me for doing my job,” Middlebrook said in a statement. “Sometimes we are required to make difficult decisions and must take into account all sides of an issue. Council’s decision to approve the cell tower on Ski Run was a 3-2 vote. I took my vote very seriously after considering the evidence and our legal authority. We had to consider this application under existing rules, but we are working on new rules regulating cell towers to address community concerns.”

As far as conflicts go, he said the Fair Political Practices Commission confirmed his job at TRPA does not create a conflict and he was appointed by council to the TPC board where he receives no compensation.

The legal states the grounds for recalling Wallace was that she broke faith with voters during the appeal hearing when she voted in favor of “Verizon’s unsightly 112-foot, 160,000 watt cell tower placement at Hansen’s Resort on Ski Run Blvd, a tower that will loom over a children’s sledding hill.”

The group also says Wallace ignored data documenting a variety of threats including surrounding views and health risks among other things and that she seemed more worried about provoking Verizon executives than protecting Tahoe residents.

Wallace said in a statement that reasonable minds should be able to disagree and to recall council members on a winning side is petty and a distraction at a time when the community has other priorities.

She said she can also sympathize with resident’s health concerns. One of her sons lost his leg from an unexplained cancer.

“I understand and sympathize that some citizens are concerned about possible health effects, however, both in-house and outside legal experts advised us that our hands were tied by federal and state laws that kept us from considering health effects,” Wallace said in a statement. “I obeyed the law, but I am also determined to change our city ordinance to gain local control in the future. I trust that the voters and citizens of this community will give me an opportunity to prove that I am on their side always, even though there are different sides to every issue.”

For the petition to succeed, the group must gather signatures from 20% of the registered voters.

City Clerk Sue Blankenship said Monday there are 11,229 voters as of Feb. 19 and the group will need 2,246 verified signatures.

Once Blankenship approves the recall draft, the group will have 120 days to collect signatures. The clock has not yet started.

The group plans on collecting signatures after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts the shelter in place order and feels there will be adequate time to make that happen.

“We will collect signatures approximately when there is unanimous consensus it is legally permissive to do so,” the group said in an emailed statement.

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