Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TRPA Pathways meetings in October

For Release Immediately October 14, 2008


Lake Tahoe, Stateline , NV – Two community workshops have been scheduled this month to bring the public up to speed on the emerging Lake Tahoe Regional Plan Update, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency announced today.

The workshops, fashioned after Place-Based Planning visioning sessions held in 2006 and 2007, are an opportunity for residents to see how their input has been incorporated into the Update, which will be the master planning document for the Tahoe Basin over the next two decades.

The final document, scheduled for adoption next year, will serve as a blueprint for accelerating the attainment of environmental thresholds in the Tahoe Basin while also addressing how to revitalize communities without compromising their unique character.

“These workshops are an opportunity for those who have committed time and energy to this process to see how their vision is being transformed into an action plan for Lake Tahoe ,” said John Singlaub, TRPA Executive Director. “We are looking forward to reengaging the public and showing them their fingerprints on this plan, which is so important to the Lake and the communities that surround it.”

The first workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, October 28, at The Chateau, 955 Fairway Blvd. , Incline Village , NV . The second will be held 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, October 29, at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency offices, 128 Market Street , Stateline NV . To give community members from around the Tahoe Basin the best opportunity to participate, the agenda for both workshops is identical.

Participants will be given the latest details about the Plan Update and alternatives to be considered as part of an environmental review that will culminate in final consideration next year.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency cooperatively leads the effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region now and in the future. For additional information, call Dennis Oliver at 775-589-5235 , or email .

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Health issues in South Tahoe

unpublished oct. tahoe mt. news article

By Kathryn Reed

Silent witnesses. They are the victims of domestic violence.
Last October, ten life-size figures filled the front lawn of the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center. They represent the women killed in domestic violence incidents between Placerville and Reno.
This year figures will move throughout South Lake Tahoe in order to reach more people. Another silent witness will join the women; a little figure to symbolize the 2-year-old Shingle Spring toddler who was killed in the last year.
The point of the figures is to look at the empty space of the outlined “person” to realize domestic violence won and humanity lost. Plaques explain who the person was. In essence, it is giving them a voice even though the heinous crime silenced them.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.
In other health related news:
El Dorado County Health Department employees will be at South Tahoe Middle School this month to administer a slew of vaccinations to sixth-graders. Seventh- or eighth-grader who missed out in past years can join in. Parental permission is necessary for all grades.
The department will be at STHS two days a week this school year – mostly focusing on drug and alcohol education.
Sixth-graders will also participate in Kids’ Day this month. Much of the emphasis is on self-esteem, bullying and setting boundaries. “That’s a putdown” can be heard in the halls this year when someone says something offensive – an indication of lessons learned last year in how to deal with unwanted comments.
Lake Tahoe Unified’s Health Committee is trying to figure out what New Conservatory Theater production to bring to town for middle and high school students. “Outspoken” – a play about many aspects of teen life – was nixed because it would interfere with year-end standardized testing.
The Health Committee needs members. Call (530) 541-2850, ext. 254 for info.
Choices for Children is offering subsidized child care to qualifying parents. Details are at (530) 541-5848.
Choices for Children, First 5 El Dorado and Lake Tahoe Collaborative are bringing back Day of the Young Child, which has not occurred for the past two years. Interested in participating? Then call (530) 541-5848.
Adult volunteers are needed for Challenge Day – Nov. 19 for STHS and Nov. 20 for STMS. Email for details. From a Tahoe Mountain News story earlier this year about Challenge Day, “It showed everyone that individually each person has the power to change – to change how they treat others and how they are treated.”

Raccoons in South Lake

sept unedited tahoe mt news story

By Kathryn Reed

Pumpkin is alive and well.
That’s the baby raccoon Ellan Scofield befriended after its mother scampered off with her other offspring and left the scrawny critter behind.
It is now with 19 other raccoons that Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is caring for. They are all expected to be released next month outside of the basin.
Raccoons have made a comeback in Tahoe after a rash of deaths about ten years ago. Rehab center officials release raccoons where there is water, crawdads and other food sources.
Scofield wasn’t too happy her little wild raccoon baby was taken from her. She said she never intended to keep it forever. She boasts of having a natural touch when it comes to caring for wildlife.
A friend of hers called LTWC earlier this summer asking how to get rid of raccoons.
“We aren’t going to trap the mama. You need to harass the mama and get her to move the babies,” said Cheryl Millham, LTWC executive director.
Scofield said it worked to a point. One baby stayed behind. Millham said she never heard back from Scofield or her friend. But Millham did get word that Scofield was caring for the baby.
That’s a no-no. Under state law a person must have a permit from the California Department of Fish & Game to care for a wild animal. Scofield doesn’t have a permit. LTWC does.
DFG got wind of what was going on and showed up at Scofield’s door and took the animal. The animal was delivered to LTWC.
But it didn’t end there.
“About a month and a half later I was charged with possession of a raccoon. They were under the impression I went out and captured a wild one, which would not be too smart,” Scofield said.
When Scofield went to El Dorado County Superior Court the charges were dropped after she and the assistant district attorney talked.

Meyers Landfill update

unedited sept tahoe mt. news

By Kathryn Reed

For the past two years the bulk of mediation discussions between the U.S. Forest Service and multiple defendants, primarily El Dorado County, has centered on transferring the old Meyers Landfill to the county.
Everyone agrees the dump site off Pioneer Trail is contaminated. How to remedy the situation, who should own the land and what it should be used for in the future come with multiple answers.
“We should have been able to resolve this case through mediation. But for mediation to succeed, you need the decision-makers in the room and with the Forest Service we don’t have the decision-makers in the room,” said Tom Bruen, special counsel representing the county and the South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority, which includes South Lake Tahoe, and El Dorado and Douglas counties. “We are trying to change the Forest Service’s decision on the transfer. If we cannot, then we need to figure out where we go next. We have not made that determination.”
In mediation the Forest Service is represented by Department of Justice lawyers who are there to just talk about remediation at the dump site. But defendants want the land transfer to be part of the overall discussions and see the issues intertwined.
“Essentially, we aren’t pursuing anymore (discussion) of transfer of land to the county because the EPA informed us because the groundwater plume would be on U.S. Forest Service land we would retain significant oversight responsibility and cost even if the main landfill mass were transferred,” said Cheva Heck, USFS spokeswoman.
Asked why not transfer all acreage affected by the dump, Heck said the decision not to do this is because affected land has value to the federal agency.
The county could ask Congress to overrule the Forest Service. El Dorado Supervisor Norma Santiago said she has talked to people working for California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. Details of those discussions were unavailable.
The Meyers Landfill was used from 1947-71. Twenty years later the feds sued a slew of entities for cleanup costs. Vinyl chloride, a carcinogen produced when household waste breaks down, is the main contaminant under the sealed 26-acre plot, although methane and other gases pose problems. The Environmental Protection Agency has deemed it a Superfund site.

LTUSD test scores

unedited sept tahoe mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

Academic gains are being met throughout much of Lake Tahoe Unified. The problem is the bar is so high district administrators don’t think they or most districts will ever reach the goals outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
With the Sept. 4 release of the Academic Performance Index and Adequate Yearly Progress reports, LTUSD is doing OK. Every school but South Tahoe Middle School met its API goal – a state requirement. STMS was off by 10 points this year, but had gained 60 points the prior year.
Statewide, 53 percent of the schools made API growth targets in English language arts and math.
LTUSD’s goal is to have students at grade level, especially as fifth-graders transition to the middle school and when eighth-graders move to the high school.
“Where we are really positive is this year our full day kindergarten kids are in second grade and they are performing at grade level. That extra time in kindergarten and preppie K made a big difference,” Superintendent Jim Tarwater said.
The API index ranges from 200 to 1,000, with 800 being the goal. Districtwide, LTUSD went from 736 to 741. The district met the state’s goal of a five point gain.
AYP is the federal component of the standardized tests that are taken each spring. Those goals are a bit more unattainable because of including English learners and special education students in the total mix. NCLB says by 2014 most students should be performing at proficient or advanced.
Tarwater said it’s an unrealistic goal.
“Giving kids impossible goals to make is not what we do. And you should not do it to educators,” he said.
Bijou and STMS are now in their fifth year of being program improvement schools. PI means a school is not hitting the federal mark. Tahoe Valley and Sierra House elementary schools are in their first year. The district is in its second year.
Even though the schools and district could be taken over by the state if the performance continues this way, Tarwater doubts that will happen when nearly 1,000 schools are in the same boat. He predicts most of the state will end up PI.
Nonetheless, teachers and administrators have been a road of academic rigor for several years. The Quality Education Investment Act that brings money to Bijou pays for smaller class sizes in grades four and five.
Also at that school is a governance team consisting of Tarwater, Principal Karen Tinlin and teachers.
At the middle school, Read 180 and other programs have been instituted. Kids who are behind two grade levels or more are getting intensive extra hands-on attention.
Tarwater points to the API improvements as proof that the district is faring well academically.
“To me the API is the best that California uses. We are starting to move (forward),” Tarwater said. “The feds with the AYP is ridiculous.”

LTUSD administrators change positions

unedited sept tahoe mt. news:

By Kathryn Reed

It’s Sept. 2 and someone new, yet oh, so familiar is greeting middle school students this first day of school.
Beth Delacour has always been about kids.
“I love being with the kids. It’s what my sole needed,” Delacour said.
Her nearly eight-year stint in the district office as director of Human Resources is over. (It was only supposed to be three months.) She replaced Jackie Nelson at principal of South Tahoe Middle School. She took an $11,000 a year pay cut to return to a campus.
Her old job has been redefined. Jim Watson, who was approved at the Sept. 9 board meeting to be HR director, will also handle staff development. This will be an easier transition for the Sierra House Elementary principal because he has been doing the staff development piece for the past few years.
Almost 20 people had applied for the position. On Sept. 10, Watson’s principalship was posted. It will be listed for 15 days. Like Delacour, Watson will do two jobs until someone replaces him.
Delacour said a number of people in the district have administrative credentials, so it’s possible the next principal will be a familiar name. She also said even though school has started, vice principals outside the area are apt to apply.
Superintendent Jim Tarwater said changing the job description of what is now Watson’s job is natural. As the district intensifies professional development, the HR manager has familiarity with the 200-plus teachers in Lake Tahoe Unified.
Watson won’t take on Delacour’s other job -- being co-principal of the Environmental Magnet school with Tarwater. Tarwater handled the bulk of the load. Now he has sole ownership of principal at the Meyers school. He starts most days there before going to the district office.
“We are trying to figure out how to work things out ... if we need to jockey people around. That is a work in progress,” board President Sue Novasel said of the magnet school staffing situation. She believes it’s been good to have the district’s leader out there, but knows this just adds to his workload.
Tarwater isn’t eager to give up that aspect of his job description. He likes the interaction with kids, parents, teachers and staff.
The state monitors the administrator to teacher ratio. LTUSD has 13 administrators, but could have 18. This saves the district about $500,000 a year.
While Tarwater seems to have more to do without Delacour, it won’t come with more pay. The superintendent had his annual review this summer. It came with a one-year extension to his contract, so it expires in 2011. It’s routine to keep adding a year so the contract stays at three years. No raise was given.
“Overall, we gave him a very satisfactory review. There’s always little tweaks to in the system to work on,” Novasel said. “Mostly we are making sure he keeps the lines of communication open. He tends to try to work too hard and take on too many assignments. We’d like him to delegate more.”
Retirement isn’t a word Tarwater is ready to entertain, though he said maybe in five years. But he doesn’t think he would make a good retiree.
“I would love to be able to walk away from this with good facilities and good programs and know each kid is getting the best that they can, especially for this community and these kids,” Tarwater said. “They have a lot tougher road. There is more poverty than people think and a lot of influences with drugs.”
He admits when he came here he didn’t realize the nuances of the town or the struggles within the district. Tarwater said passing Measure G in November will go a long way to putting the district where he wants it and it needs to be.

Tahoe's Li'l Smokey recovering

unedited sept tahoe mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

A dismal real estate market is forcing Kirkwood Mountain Resort to examine how it’s going to pay for future on mountain improvements.
The plan for years was that real estate sales would fund the resort improvements. Approval last year of the resort’s master plan was the last hurdle to adding lifts, lodges and other amenities. Or so management and owners thought.
Real estate sales at Kirkwood have tumbled and therefore created an unexpected financing hurdle. To overcome that obstacle the resort is looking to generate cash.
Mountain Springs Kirkwood is the umbrella corporation that operates Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Realty, Mountain Utilities and Kirkwood Development.
With public hearings under way for Kirkwood Mountain Utility District to acquire Mountain Utilities, it was a logical time to look at other aspects of the company.
“If you are going to play with certain pieces of the portfolio, it has other impacts on the portfolio,” said David Likens, CEO of Mountain Springs Kirkwood. “There are always options to ski resort operations. Nobody in our area is thinking about taking over another local ski resort. Right now we are still having discussions. We are exploring all of our opportunities. We are constantly looking at the right way to structure our equity and debt capital.”
Both Tim Cohee, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Mountain Springs Kirkwood, and Likens say the resort is not for sale. But the structure may be different in the near future. Cohee said before the ski season and maybe as soon as Halloween the financing changes will be in place.
“One of the options we are looking at is the option where the company creates a financing relationship where the resort becomes a management company,” Cohee said. “The way it worked at Booth Creek (owners of Northstar and Sierra-at-Tahoe) is they sold the resorts so they could be leased back to the current management. That would not affect the other businesses like Mountain Utilities and the real estate company.”
When the changes took place at Booth Creek a couple years ago guests did not notice any difference in how things were operated. If something like this occurs at Kirkwood, Cohee said the current management team will stay in place.
Even though the resort is looking at all of its options, a household name is not expected to be the final player in the financing deal.
“The beauty of it is this positive financing would allow us to move forward. We would be in a terrific position when we see the real estate business rebound,” Cohee said.
Cohee is now splitting his time between real estate and marketing the ski resort. Allon Cohne, who had been head of marketing, left earlier this year for the East Coast.
Other news at Kirkwood – season pass sales are up 200 percent over last year; the Tri-county Technical Advisory Committee had a meeting Sept. 5 (too late for deadline) about permitting the propone fired micro plant in Amador County.

Kirkwood Mountain's ownership issues

unedited sept. mt news article:
By Kathryn Reed

A dismal real estate market is forcing Kirkwood Mountain Resort to examine how it’s going to pay for future on mountain improvements.
The plan for years was that real estate sales would fund the resort improvements. Approval last year of the resort’s master plan was the last hurdle to adding lifts, lodges and other amenities. Or so management and owners thought.
Real estate sales at Kirkwood have tumbled and therefore created an unexpected financing hurdle. To overcome that obstacle the resort is looking to generate cash.
Mountain Springs Kirkwood is the umbrella corporation that operates Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Realty, Mountain Utilities and Kirkwood Development.
With public hearings under way for Kirkwood Mountain Utility District to acquire Mountain Utilities, it was a logical time to look at other aspects of the company.
“If you are going to play with certain pieces of the portfolio, it has other impacts on the portfolio,” said David Likens, CEO of Mountain Springs Kirkwood. “There are always options to ski resort operations. Nobody in our area is thinking about taking over another local ski resort. Right now we are still having discussions. We are exploring all of our opportunities. We are constantly looking at the right way to structure our equity and debt capital.”
Both Tim Cohee, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Mountain Springs Kirkwood, and Likens say the resort is not for sale. But the structure may be different in the near future. Cohee said before the ski season and maybe as soon as Halloween the financing changes will be in place.
“One of the options we are looking at is the option where the company creates a financing relationship where the resort becomes a management company,” Cohee said. “The way it worked at Booth Creek (owners of Northstar and Sierra-at-Tahoe) is they sold the resorts so they could be leased back to the current management. That would not affect the other businesses like Mountain Utilities and the real estate company.”
When the changes took place at Booth Creek a couple years ago guests did not notice any difference in how things were operated. If something like this occurs at Kirkwood, Cohee said the current management team will stay in place.
Even though the resort is looking at all of its options, a household name is not expected to be the final player in the financing deal.
“The beauty of it is this positive financing would allow us to move forward. We would be in a terrific position when we see the real estate business rebound,” Cohee said.
Cohee is now splitting his time between real estate and marketing the ski resort. Allon Cohne, who had been head of marketing, left earlier this year for the East Coast.
Other news at Kirkwood – season pass sales are up 200 percent over last year; the Tri-county Technical Advisory Committee had a meeting Sept. 5 (too late for deadline) about permitting the propone fired micro plant in Amador County.

Lake Tahoe environmental summit

unedited sept. tahoe mt. news article:

By Kathryn Reed

“The fire danger in the Forest is higher than it was when the 16,000-acre Power and 8,000-acre Fred’s fires started in 2004. It’s higher than 2001 when the 16,000-acre Star Fire started, and it’s higher than 1992 when the 24,500-acre Cleveland fire started.”
Those are the prophetic words of Bob Patson with the Eldorado National Forest as written in the Aug. 31 San Francisco Chronicle.
That day Sorensen’s Resort was threatened by fire and evacuated for the first time in its history. About 200 acres were consumed near highways 88 and 89. It was dubbed the Burnside Fire because of the name of the road where the blaze started.
With no measurable rain this summer, wicked winds over Labor Day and sporadic red flag warning days, fire is an increasing risk throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin even as summer fades to fall.
At the annual environmental summit on Aug. 16 more money was allocated to help deal with the lingering issue of overgrown forests in the basin. It, more than Lake clarity, was the focus of the pundits.
Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne that day allocated $140 million for wildfire protection, conservation, restoration and capital improvement. The bulk of the funds goes to Nevada because the money is from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act.
Where does the Lake Tahoe money go?
• $6.6 million for hazardous fuels reduction projects at Lake Tahoe and $4.4 million for the Carson Range in Nevada;
• $24 million for Lake Tahoe restoration projects includes $19 million for watershed and habitat improvement, $270,000 for air quality and transportation, more than $500,000 for recreation and scenic, and $3.75 million for science and research;
• $30 million to ensure that the full $300 million federal funding commitment will be met for the Environmental Improvement Program.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to be at Valhalla for the 12th annual festivities. Instead, he had surgery on his meniscus in Los Angeles. Hostess Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hobbled to the stage and had to be carted off via car because she had fallen the day before at Meeks Bay. It turned out she had broken her ankle. Even though she made it to the summit, the injury kept her from going to the Democratic National Convention later that month.

Dog park opens in S. Lake Tahoe

unedited sept. tahoe mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

A Hollywood movie director could not have scripted a better opening act for the Bijou Dog Park. As if on command, one of the four legged stars barked just after South Lake Tahoe City Manager Dave Jinkens said, “I know we are all enthusiasts.”
On the first play day, big dogs, small dogs, skinny dogs, well groomed dogs, mixed breeds, pure breeds, retired show dogs and puppies showed up to test the South Shore’s only dog park.
Pit pulls, Labrador and Golden retrievers, Schnauzers, Dachshunds, various terriers, a Finnish Spitz, a Doberman pinscher, shepherd mixes and a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which just got accepted into the American Kennel Club in 2003, all scampered about the park.
The $35,000 dog park takes up nearly 1 acre. It’s sectioned off for big and small dogs, with the big guys having a bit more space to run. It will be open year-round from dawn to dusk.
Sean and Georgette Riley have a big dog of sorts and therefore had Jersey Girl on that side of the fence. Even though other dogs wanted to play, this 10-week-old black Lab preferred to stay close to mom.
“You are looking at all these wood chips as chew heaven,” Georgette Riley said to her puppy.
Grass, wood chips and drinking fountains are in both enclosures. The Lake Tahoe Humane Society donated the fountains. City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell and husband Lt. Les Lovell of El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department donated one of the benches in the memory of their sheriff’s K-9 Jake.
The city rec department would love to expand the grass area, plant an aspen grove, add more seating and put in other upgrades. Donations are being accepted.
Lennie and Judy Schwartz were on hand for the official opening Aug. 18, this despite having to put their 14-year-old yellow Lab down last October.
“It’s great to have a place for dogs,” Lennie Schwartz said as his wife was busy with duties as a Humane Society board member.
Kenji, a Shiba Inu, patrolled the fence line of the small dog area while his human Ken Parker watched.
“I call him and he won’t come. But he can’t get out here,” Parker said.
On the big dog side, the canines seem oblivious to their people. It’s all about their four legged friends – chasing, running, sniffing and sometimes tackling.
It gives new meaning to the dog days of summer.

DCSC board of ed candidates

unedited sept. tahoe mt. news story:
By Kathryn Reed

Douglas County School District’s board of education has two contested seats on the November ballot – one in the valley, the other at the Lake.
Lake representative Cindy Trigg, 54, is going after a second term. Greg Felton, 44, wants to unseat her in his first quest for elected office.
Both are Stateline residents. Trigg’s son graduated this year from UNR after having gone through the Lake schools. Felton has three children in Lake schools and a fourth if his Chilean exchange student counts. Both have good things to say about Whittell High School and Principal Sue Shannon. Both support the bond initiative on November’s ballot. Both agree healing needs to continue to smooth over discontent from the last few years over strife caused by consolidation and radon.

The new guy

“I’m running because I think our kids deserve fundamentally sound schools. They deserve the opportunity to find their potential,” Felton said. “I will study the issues carefully. I will consider a wide range of solutions to problems. I believe I am pretty rational. I don’t believe in several aspects the incumbent is satisfying these areas.”
Felton believes he is more of an independent thinker than his opponent. He says being called a one issue candidate is false. Although radon first drew him to attend school board meetings, Felton says his interest in schools and the district go beyond radon.
“I think the really good teachers are not paid enough and I think others are not doing a quality job and they are overpaid,” Felton said. He would like to institute a more merit based pay scale for teachers.
With state budget cuts impacting all schools in Nevada, Felton wants to be more aggressive with seeking alternative funding sources like private foundations.
He wants the district’s side of issues to be told in a clearer manner.
“I’m afraid the perception is funds are not managed well. Some of it may be PR. I don’t think the school district has done a very good job of conveying the fundamentals of where money comes from and where it goes,” Felton said.
It’s his perception that too often decisions are made prior to the meeting and that comments from the public are just “tolerated.”
He is satisfied Zephyr Cove’s radon levels have been reduced, but questions why more is not being done at Whittell and why the valley schools are not being tested.
Felton is not completely satisfied with how Superintendent Carol Lark is running the district. During her evaluation process he offered his assessment. He stopped short of having it incorporated into public record.
“I commented on staff and how she managed them,” Felton said.
When Felton isn’t campaigning, his day job is working for a private company investigating aircraft accidents.

The incumbent

Trigg is running on her record – one she is proud of. She points to student achievement through critical content, common assessments, requiring all students in AP classes to take the AP test, and collaboration between teachers at various grade levels, as goals she and the board have achieved.
“Another accomplishment was the hiring of the new superintendent and the bridge we are building between the valley and the Lake schools,” Trigg said. That bridge is something she wants to reinforce in her next term.
Trigg took a lot of heat in the last year from parents who believed she, the board and staff were ignoring their concerns about radon.
“While I agree we didn’t do everything right, we learned a lot and we accomplished what we needed to. The school opened on time,” Trigg said of radon and Zephyr Cove. “The issue was made more difficult. It was confused with consolidation.”
Declining dollars, Trigg said, will continue to be an issue in the next four years. She said the district is saving money through energy efficiency and has eliminated jobs through attrition.
“I think our students deserve for us to be paying attention to their education needs. If we have to make cuts, we need to pay attention to student achievement,” Trigg said. “I feel I am very ethical, have a lot of integrity and I have been very honest.”
Although the school board in nonpartisan, Trigg is an ardent Democrat who is spending much of her non-DCSD time campaigning for Jill Derby, who is running for Congress.

SLT, EDC budgets

unpublished mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

Gridlock in Sacramento – the state set a record for the most number of days without a budget when it didn’t have one on the first of the month – and an economic downturn in nearly every sector is depleting the coffers of cities and counties.
South Lake Tahoe’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, though the budget probably won’t come up for a vote until Oct. 7. A budget workshop will be conducted Sept. 16.
El Dorado County’s fiscal year began July 1, just like the state. A balanced budget has been approved, but the final budget is not expected to be adopted until Sept. 30. At an Aug. 25 workshop the projected $15 million deficit for 2009-10 was reduced to $6 million. More workshops are scheduled for the week of Sept. 15.

South Lake Tahoe

At an Aug. 18 city budget workshop only four members of the public attended and two of them are running for City Council. Neither of the city’s budget committee members -- Jerry Birdwell and Mike Weber – was there.
The “Budget 101” video was shown. It’s also available at Questions and comments pertained to reserves, a proposed city hall that is still being called a joint use facility, the need for sidewalks, and how to do business with few discretionary dollars.
The city is keeping its eyes on are tax revenue sources. Twenty-one percent of the $33.4 million 2007-08 general fund comes from property taxes, 18 percent from transient occupancy tax, 14 percent from sales tax and 6 percent from the 911 surcharge.
Only 22 cents of each property tax dollar comes back to the city. South Lake is making more in property tax off the hole in the ground for the wannabe convention center than it was from the commercial entities that had been there.
The hotel tax is down in all areas of the city, not to mention the state. Because visitors make up a large percentage of the sales tax dollars collected here, with fewer people in town it means fewer TOT and sales tax dollars.
As of this writing the state budget was not a done deal, which means the city does not know what dollars may be available. To balance the state’s $15 billion deficit it is looking to take or borrow (word choice depends which side you’re on) money the city would use for transportation, road projects and redevelopment efforts.
This month’s workshops will give details about what each department wants to spend money on. Gene Palazzo, redevelopment director, didn’t want to divulge ahead of time what it will mean for his department if the governor goes through with the proposal to take away $350,000 from the Redevelopment Agency. It’s possible this could be permanent and the money would forever be gone.
Some discussion at last month’s meeting centered on the 25 percent reserves the city wants to maintain after having zero reserves six years ago.
It’s a court decision which may take $550,000 from the city. The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that Union City’s 911 surcharge is actually a tax and therefore needs to go before the voters. Because South Lake Tahoe is in the 3rd District and the court opinion was not published it is not certain if South Lake can or should continue with the surcharge. More clarity is expected before the council votes on the budget.
The city’s total dispatch budget is $850,000.
Salaries and health benefits account for 58 percent of the city’s expenditures. In the last seven years the city has averaged a 6 percent increase in overall health care expenses. The industry average is a 12-16 percent annual increase.
No longer do council members get to keep their benefits once they quit serving. However, one former council member and a spouse of a former council member receive health benefits because of when the policy change took effect.
Despite financial woes, the city usually has wriggle room each year for items beyond the mandated expenditures. The dog park is an example of this. It’s possible the position of public information officer could be resurrected – perhaps paid for with some of the marketing budget. Changing positions around could create a sustainability coordinator position.

El Dorado County

El Dorado County has a total budget of $550,994,762 for 2008-09. It is balanced, as mandated by the state. Cuts in staff and programs in the last couple of years helped.
“When people think of the county they think of roads and public safety. Overall the public will not notice a difference in those large category services,” said Mike Applegarth, senior administrative analyst for the county. “The numbers today do not account for what the state could do to us. We cut the low hanging fruit and now we are hacking at the limbs.”
They county is concerned the state may continue to mandate programs but cut funding. No state money is not a reason a city or county can nix a state mandated program.
It is future budgets that may pose even more of a problem. A three tiered approach is being taken to whittle away the $6.2 million proposed deficit for 2009-10. Deficits are forecast into fiscal year 2013.
The first tier is looking at hard costs – layoffs and cuts in service. Tier two is looking at one time and other discretionary revenue sources as to how best to allocate them. The last tier is finding savings in retirements and not buying fixed assets.
The planning and building department has lost 14 positions – seven in layoffs, seven through attrition. Five positions were cut from the facilities and fleet department, the ag department cut its workforce.
The only department growing substantially is the sheriff’s department – it added 15 spots, mostly on the West Slope.
Forty percent of the $220 million general found comes from property taxes. About two-thirds of the county budget is pass-through money from the state.
“All local governments are still feeling the affects of property tax shifts that took affect over a decade ago,” Applegarth said.
He said the county’s policy after the Angora Fire destroyed 254 houses in 2007 will not be a significant financial strain on the county in terms of lost revenue from building fees and property taxes.

SLT council candidates

unedited sept. mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

Plenty of reasons abound for showing up to vote Nov. 4 or voting absentee earlier. For those living in South Lake Tahoe, the two council seats up for grabs add local relevance to this year’s election.
One candidate is an incumbent, another is a former elected council member, there’s a former appointed council member, a spouse of a council member, a ski resort marketing guru, and a minister-private investigator in the race.
No matter who is elected, the council will be without representation from the 20-, 30- and 40-year-old sectors as well as anyone who isn’t white.
A non-candidate, John Spinola, will appear on the ballot because he filled out all the paperwork before figuring out what it meant to be on the council, the work involved and time commitment. Please don’t vote for him, it just screws up the whole process.
For the most part, each candidate was asked the same questions. Their stories appear in the order they qualified for the ballot.

Jonnie Crawford

Jonnie Crawford will turn 74 between now and Election Day. She has lived in South Lake Tahoe with her husband, Bill, who is on the council, since 1967.
Yes, it’s legal for a husband and wife to be on the council.
“We’ve been married for an awful long time. (53 years) We agree and disagree. He’s not my rubber stamp and I’m not his. We are individuals,” Crawford said.
The tricky part is the Brown Act, the open meeting law that prevents council members from speaking with more than other member about a subject before it comes for a vote. Some believe if both Crawfords are on the council, this will stifle communication.
Crawford said she and her husband are well aware of the Brown Act. Even now council business is not the No. 1 topic in their household nor does she believe they will be inclined to want to solely discuss issues with each other if both are on the council.
Crawford believes her knowledge of city business through her experience as a longtime resident, being involved in issues and as current chair of the Recreation Commission qualifies her over others. She is a former president of the Cancer League, was a 4-H leader, served on the grand jury, worked for the Rec Department, taught cross country skiing to Special Olympians and has volunteered in other capacities.
Issues she sees facing the city include needing to be friendlier to businesses, which ties into needing to do something to improve the economy.
“Look around and you see empty spaces,” Crawford said. “I’m against the prohibition of sandwich boards. I don’t think they are an eyesore and they are not out all of the time. It may be a TRPA thing … then let the TRPA enforce it and not the city.”
Crawford would like the workforce to be able to afford to buy a house, but does not want the city to subsidize it.
She applauds the current council’s stance on vacation rentals.
“It is a commercial industry and I don’t think it should be in neighborhoods unless there are some rules,” Crawford said.
When it comes to the Y Community Plan, she said, “I think it was sort of hijacked by some on the City Council and I don’t think that’s right. You have to work with what the people in the area want and not what you think the big vision is of what you want.”
She thinks public works is doing a good job with snow removal. She believes the idea of a tax to fund equipment should come before the voters “every so often.”
Crawford says she would not have voted for the convention center project. She favors the old days when the Redevelopment Agency had a different chairperson than it being the mayor, and would like the agendas to be more separate so the work of the council and RDA do not appear to be one in the same as it seems today.
“I would not vote for any project that takes the city further into debt without the locals having a voice in it,” Crawford said.
(Editor’s note – The city is not incurring debt with the hole in the ground; just the developer. Locals had a chance to speak out at council and TRPA meetings.)
Crawford is all about locals coming first.
“I picketed with the firemen and policemen last year. If we don’t have a safe community, who would want to live here?” she asked. “We pay our employees first and then and only then if there is discretionary money left, does it go to some of these other places.”
She does not want city money going to Nevada – the chamber there or Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.
“I can’t think of any campaign they have going on right now that is enticing people to come here. People who can come here can afford it and will come regardless of what LTVA or the chamber says,” Crawford believes.
Crawford worked at Harrah’s for 17 years essentially as a gopher in the dressing room of the South Shore Room. She’s not ready to divulge all of her stories. But she does have a squash blossom necklace that was a gift from Perry Como, a jade ring from Ray Charles and a couple medallions that Sammy Davis Jr. gave her.
She calls herself a fanatical knitter. Her wares have been rewarded multiple times at the county fair where she has won best of show.
Crawford does not intend to take any campaign donations.

Warren Kessler

Warren Kessler is a 77-year-old wedding minister who moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1983. He came from the Los Angeles-Orange County area where he was doing private investigative work. The PI work is sporadic these days.
But it is his PI experience – the ability to analyze a situation – that he thinks will be advantageous to the council. Kessler is about putting locals first. But he realizes this is a tourism based economy. He’d like to see the wedding business promoted more.
“I know we need tourists and there is nothing wrong with having the tourists come. I think a lot of decisions are more for tourists than the locals,” Kessler said.
As a council member he would strive to bring more people here. He is not impressed with everything the LTVA has done to market the area.
“I might get into giving them money, but I don’t think they need the kind of money they’ve been getting. I would try to cut it down to a bare minimum,” Kessler said of the city giving LTVA money.
He is not a fan of the chamber that shares offices with LTVA.
He is worried about the city jumping into major redevelopment projects.
“I have a big problem with the big hole in the ground, with putting up the whole Marriott complex and no parking and then the city had to put up the garage,” Kessler said.
(Editor’s note: The Timber Lodge has underground parking. The city garage is for people shopping at Heavenly Village and was a requirement by TRPA to get project permits.)
Kessler has misgivings about the convention center, whether people will even use it once it is built.
Kessler believes by not being on any boards or in volunteer organizations this will keep him be more independent and not beholden to anyone.
He is not familiar enough with the Y Community Plan to comment on it.
He wants to make sure any new snow removal equipment is justified. He believes the snow removal is efficient; it’s the driveway berms that get him going.
Kessler believes staffing at the police and fire departments is fine.
The IRS had a tax lien against Kessler related to self-employment taxes that were not paid. Kessler said he paid those off in August.
Kessler will not take donations from anyone. He saved the $300 it costs to have a candidate’s statement in the voter pamphlet to spend on other campaign items.

Ted Long

Ted Long will turn 70 this fall. He has owned a house here since 1965, but owns no commercial property. He has lived in South Lake full time since 1998, but lived here in the ’70s and ’80s.
As the retired attorney and businessman completes his first term on the council, he points to what he calls the smalls things as some of his biggest accomplishments. They include working on rent relief for seniors, creating parking solutions at St. Theresa’s, having the senior center parking lot paved, code enforcement, better bus routes and bringing food closets to town.
Long points to the budget being sound and having healthy reserves as accomplishments.
(Editors note: The goal for 25 percent reserves was initiated before Long was first elected. He voted no on the 2005-06 budget.)
He believes his business experience of running multi-million dollar businesses and having hired and fire people make him more qualified than other candidates. Besides the council, Long is on the board of the El Dorado County Food Bank, Art League and calls bingo at the senior center.
Going forward he wants to work on obtaining workforce housing that would have deed restrictions. He would like to see Lake Tahoe Community College property be developed in this manner.
He believes the economy, housing and transportation are the three most important issues facing South Lake Tahoe.
Long is not 100 percent committed to funding entities like the chamber and LTVA, like he has been in the past.
“I think I am in a transition on it. We need to support the tourist economy to be competitive in a huge market,” Long said. “At the same time, the lodging BID made an incredible impact. I do think we need to support LTVA. How that is I don’t know.”
He wants any entity that receives city dollars to prove the return on investment. He is for supporting special events – LTVA’s or someone else’s.
As for the Y Plan, he said there are too many options.
“I don’t know what to do (to get it moving). I think we need to do something at the Y,” Long said. “If I’m re-elected, the first thing to do is reconvene everyone involved.”
He praises the people doing the maintenance on the city vehicles. Long would like to create a fund for deferred maintenance to handle snow removal equipment upkeep.
When it comes to the convention center, he would vote for it again. He is passionate when he says it’s time to stop complaining and have the average citizen start coming up with solutions to get the project moving.
(Editor’s note: The convention center is in a private developer’s hands and the city and its citizens have no power to get it moving.)
“We need to change the conversation from making fun of the idea to providing input as a community,” Long said. “I would like people to start by having the attitude by seeing it as worthwhile for the community instead of taking pot shots.”
He did not provide any solutions of his own.
Long supports a “committed revenue stream” for law enforcement.
During the campaign Long said he is going to bring a person to town to talk to service clubs about being able to diversify the economy. He believes tech firms just need to be lured here. Even though he says he knows Larry Ellison from Oracle and Steve Jobs from Apple, he could not explain why he has not reached out to them.
In 2004, Long said he would give up his city health benefits. When interviewed by the Tahoe Mountain News four years later, he still had not done so. He said he thought he had to have them. The city attorney says they are optional.
Long ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor shortly after being elected to his first term to council. He’s not closing the door to pursuing other offices, but said he believes he’ll call political life quits after another term on the council.
As for the rumor that he is part owner of the West Slop paper the Executive Hillbilly, he said that is not true. He has merely submitted articles to that paper.
When it comes to campaign donations, Long said, “I would take contributions from people who want to build the airport or the economy. I wouldn’t be surprised if people who I have helped (contribute), but it’s not a requirement.”

Austin Sass

Austin Sass turns 56 this month. He’s also getting married. He first bought a house here in 1975, but didn’t sell it in the mid-1980s when work took him elsewhere. Since 2002 he has been director of resort sales at Heavenly Mountain Resort. He has two children at South Tahoe High School.
Sass has already heard the scuttlebutt on the street that he is a shill for Heavenly and the casinos, a former employer of his. He says otherwise. He says he is his own man. He doesn’t want to be pigeon holed because of who his employer is.
It’s the direction the city is headed that led him to run for office. The economy has him worried.
“The overriding issue is we are a tourism based economy. A lot of components go into it to be successful,” Sass said.
Employee retention is at the top of the list. He talks about managers who come here but don’t stay because housing is so much. Sass would like deed restricted housing and to get TRPA to change its regulations to make this feasible.
The environment is another issue for Sass. Beyond the air, water and forest, he wants to address what he calls the visual environment. He doesn’t like how South Lake looks, especially the Y.
He wants to see a plan there that is pedestrian friendly and has “authentic Tahoe stores.”
“We have great crafts fairs, but not many stores with local crafts,” Sass said.
Focusing on locals is on his platform. He doesn’t understand why it costs $7.99 for a pound of ham here and $3.99 off the hill.
He said many tourist towns have programs in place to give locals a discount so the money stays in town. He would like to institute such a program here.
Sass said he doesn’t believe people understand how the up and down nature of tourism had a direct affect on everything else – that small business owners are likely to increase the price of a hair cut or gallon of gas when fewer people come to town.
“If I’m on the City Council, I’m going to press for hard facts,” Sass said. “We don’t have the numbers we need to understand our economy.”
As for funding any chamber or the LTVA, he wants the recipient to prove the money would be well spent.
He thinks the city should do a better job of promoting itself.
“Why does the city of South Lake Tahoe not have a (public information officer)?” Sass asked.
Sass believes his 25 years of senior management business experience will be a plus for the council.
During his tenure in Tahoe he has not been involved in any volunteer organizations. In previous towns he has coached Little League, worked with Special Olympics, Scouts and schools.
Sass realizes people don’t want more taxes, so he would do what he could to keep the existing snow removal fleet operating.
Because he has not seen the contract with the developer, Sass does not know if he would have voted for the convention center project. He does believe an upscale hotel is what this town needs. As someone in the sales business, he is privy to what people are looking for. He said people want luxury – the $800 a night room that doesn’t exist here.
Sass isn’t ready to give up on the drive-up market, but instead says the South Shore can cater to those people as well as be a destination resort.
He would support diversifying the economy into something like software, but questions whether people would be able to afford to live here.
He wants to make sure public safety is funded so people feel safe.
Something not everyone knows about Sass is that he climbed Mount Rainier in 1995. He was born in Brooklyn, but considers himself a mountain guy.
Sass does not intend to take sizeable donations from anyone, especially if someone is expecting something in return.

Bruce Grego

Bruce Grego turned 56 earlier this month. He has lived in South Lake since 1967. He has been married since 1997, has a stepdaughter and three grandchildren. He has practiced law here for 27 years.
Grego was appointed to the council in the late 1980s for nine months. He ran unsuccessfully after that stint and again four years ago.
“I’m still moved by the issues that concern me. I feel compelled to try again,” Grego said.
His statements have not changed much since 2004. Grego still points to being instrumental in getting the city clerk and city treasure positions elected. He was on the 20-20 Committee in the 1970s that helped plot the future of the town. In the 1980s he was on the Planning Commission for eight years. He is on the board of the Lakeside Park Association water district near Stateline.
One of his main desires if he were elected to the council is to change how TRPA board members get selected. He wants them to be elected. Now they are appointed, though several of the positions are held by people elected from the jurisdictions inside the basin.
“They have public hearings all the time at TRPA, but the board is not accountable to the public,” Grego said. “We can’t change those people on the TRPA board. In my mind, that lacks due process.”
Redevelopment is another concern of his. He has watched multiple projects in town stall and leave big holes sitting there for years.
He believes with the convention center at a standstill it is impacting other businesses in the area. He is also concerned about the use of eminent domain.
“If I’m on the council and another redevelopment proposal (comes forth), I will make sure all the financing is in place and demand performance bonds,” Grego said.
Being a civil law attorney is something Grego thinks would be an asset to the council.
“My understanding of what has occurred and the mistakes in the past, my education and the fact I am an attorney probably make me more capable of reviewing contracts independently of the city attorney,” Grego said.
Grego isn’t sure if he would vote to give money to any chamber or the LTVA.
At the Y he would like to see commercial condo units so people could own the property where they live and work.
When it comes to the budget, he would give priority to police, fire, snow removal and related issues.
“It’s always a balancing act to have fair wages for employees and meet the demands of the public,” Grego said.
Grego has no ideas of his own for diversifying the economy.
When it comes to campaign donations, Grego will evaluate them on a case-by-case basis, but doubts he would take any casino money.

Hal Cole

Hal Cole will celebrate his 60th birthday in December. The contractor moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1959. When he left the council in 2006, he thought a dozen years was enough. He has changed his mind.
“I’ve been following the City Council and it seems the council is a little dysfunctional and disorganized,” Cole said. “I don’t see much uniformity. I see a lot of political speeches from the dais and not a lot of action.”
He wants to get the convention center built and joint use-city hall off the ground. Cole was on the subcommittee that negotiated the contract with Lake Tahoe Development Co., the convention center builders.
“There was no performance bond because he had not started construction,” Cole said. “That project could not change now. The hardest part is done – the plans and foundation.”
He believes it is still a good and viable project.
“I don’t look at it as a hole in the ground. I look at it as a rebirth,” Cole said.
Cole is somewhat humble when asked about his accomplishments when he was on the council from 1994-06. He points to the ice rink, salvaging the gondola project with Vail Resorts coming in after ASC went bankrupt and building the welcome sign on Highway 50.
Those are three things he believes would not have happened without him. The other stuff he said were votes he cast about ideas mostly other people – the community and staff—brought before the council.
He is quick to acknowledge it takes at least three votes to do anything and that he is just one vote.
Cole doesn’t think the moniker of “good old boy” fits. He has experience and has been around a while, that’s all, he says.
Currently he is vice president of the Barton Memorial Hospital board. While on the council before he had been mayor, on the TRPA board and California Tahoe Conservancy board.
He regrets the snafu that had Lake Tahoe Unified be down a board member when it was determined he couldn’t be on the LTUSD and Barton boards simultaneously.
Cole is proud of voting on the ruling to not have a set amount of money go to any entity. He didn’t like the council handing out entitlements. Cole wants chambers, LTVA and others to ask for money every year.
Cole said a resort needs two things: a product, and marketing of the product.
“We put in $100 million in redevelopment (near Stateline). I think Nevada could market the product,” he said.
Cole wants to emphasis recreation in Tahoe. “Gaming can market themselves,” he said. “I like families coming here.”
He believe the environment, economy and finishing the Y plan are the three pressing issues facing South Lake Tahoe.
He expects the Y plan to be adopted by the end of the year. Because the Redevelopment Agency, which the state created, expires in 2038 this leaves a “short window of financing.”
With snow removal equipment, he said it’s imperative if the city needs it, that the public understands this fact.
He said snow removal, along with public safety like fire and police will always be his priorities.
Cole believes South Lake will always be a tourist destination. “Our environment is what brings people here,” he said.
He doesn’t’ foresee recreation or tourism taking a back seat to another industry
“We don’t want to risk losing what we have,” Cole said.
Music is one of Cole’s biggest passions – playing and listening. He used to be in a band. Now he plays his drums solo at home.
Cole said he won’t take money from anyone who expects anything. He will not take money from the LTVA or lodging.

CalStar's EKG system

Two years ago, CalSTAR personnel based at Lake Tahoe Airport approached Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare about the possibility of creating a field EKG system.
It took that much time to raise the necessary money as well as convince everyone involved that this was a good idea.
“In the past, we had to wait until the patient was admitted to determine if he or she was having a heart attack. Now, thanks to the EKG in the field program, we receive the results from the ambulance as soon as the test is run. This saves us anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes on the time it takes to begin an interventional cardiac procedure,” David Tillman, doctor and chair of emergency services at Carson Tahoe, said in the summer CalSTAR newsletter.
Another item of note with the local CalSTAR crew is a training mission it did recently with the U.S. Marines’ Mountain Warfare Training Center based in Bridgeport.
“Basically, what we were doing was establishing the base’s casualty evacuation [Standard Operating Procedure] working with civilian air support while training the mountain warfare instructors,” MWTC range safety officer Michael Teeuwen is quoted in the same newsletter.

South Shore bus schedule changes

In an effort to unclog Kingsbury Grade and the casino corridor, BlueGo is free to employees and guests of The Ridge who show proper identification.
The Ridge just became a member of the South Tahoe Area Transit Authority Board. The property is subsidizing the route. In the past, The Ridge operated a shuttle service for its guests.
Called the Kingsbury Timeshare route, the BlueGo bus runs from 7:30am to 12:30am Sunday through Thursday, and 7:30am to 1:30am Friday and Saturday. It serves the casino corridor, the transit center, stops on K’Grade and goes along Tramway Drive.
Regular BlueGo fares apply -- $1.75 one way, $3 for a day pass.

Hospital sells stuff online

After 15 months of working with a health care retail consulting firm, Barton HealthCare has created an online retail outlet called Tahoe’s Medical Marketplace.
At more than 250,000 name brand health care related items are available. Ten percent of the proceeds come back to the hospital.
Besides shopping from home, kiosks are located at Barton Hospital to order items from such categories as Mom & Baby, Nutrition, Orthopedics & Rehab, Diabetes, Cardiology, Health & Wellness, Oncology, Weight Loss and more.

USFS beach pass controversy

unedited sept. mt. news story:

By Kathryn Reed

Verbal fireworks were ignited at area beaches this summer when annual pass holders were told to hand over money in addition to showing their pass.
The U.S. Forest Service acknowledges the July 4 policy was inadequate. When beach-goers drove up that Friday they were told to pay $10, which was half the price other vehicles were charged. Several pass holders balked at this, saying at no time were they told this would happen.
Passes for Pope, Baldwin, Nevada and Meeks Bay beaches – which are all on Forest Service property – sell for $60. They are valid May 15-Oct. 15. No black out dates were posted or any indication given that Fourth of July would require an extra fee. Day use without a pass is $5 per vehicle.
“In retrospect, we all agree the pass holders this year should not have been charged because it was not disclosed upfront on the passes, which it will be next year,” said Cheva Heck, USFS spokeswoman.
It is not known how many pass holders were upset by the additional fee or how many paid it or if any turned around.
California Land Management, the concessionaire for the four beaches, loses money on July 4 because of the added expenses with additional security, attending to rest rooms more frequently and trash removal. Charging pass holders was a way to off-set some of the cost of doing business on a day that more than 20,000 people visit those four sandy spots, but did not cause CLM to make a profit that day.

Angora -- John in September

unedited September Mt. News story:
Editor's note: This is a monthly article following one of the hundreds of people who lost their homes in the Angora Fire in summer 2007.

By Kathryn Reed

As dusk fades to evening, it is hard to tell a forest full of charred trees is in the not so far distance. A crescent moon dances in the darkening sky. Lights at neighbors come on one by one. Laughter filters from the living room to the deck. Conversations run the gamut.
Life goes on.
A year ago the atmosphere was much less jovial at the Angora Fire survivors’ gathering.
This night, casual conversations center on refurnishing. Money has run out for some – the hazards of being underinsured. Blow up beds will have to suffice. Some will furnish with the bare necessities. Others talk about appliances on order. Some make the contractor repaint after the first color is all wrong.
It’s Sept. 4 and this week two more homes are occupied by those who have rebuilt.
El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago says 73 of the homeowners have yet to decide what to do. About 15 have transferred or banked their allocation – meaning building won’t be happening anytime soon if at all. She reminded those who are listening that Dec. 23 is the expiration date for the building fee waiver as well as to bank the allocation.
John Mauriello, one of the 254 households to lose their house on June 24, 2007, is hosting this gathering at his rental in the burn area.
He still doesn’t know what he is going to do. Build? Sell? Buy elsewhere?
“Whether he likes it or not, he is a part of the neighborhood,” neighbor Janet Ingles says in front of Mauriello.
He smiles.
Despite the respiratory issues he has had since the fire, it’s evident a part of him isn’t convinced moving is the right answer – this, despite, that he has his lot on Mount Olympia Circle for sale.
This evening plenty of business needs to be talked about even though many in the room are talking about being back or how they soon will be.
Jay Newburgh talks about the lot she bought on Lake Tahoe Boulevard between Mule Deer Circle and Angora Creek Road. She didn’t lose a house. She just cares and wants to give back.
“This is for you,” she tells the 20 or people. She shows blueprints of the memorial garden and rock labyrinth she intends to have finished by the end of the year. A chorus of “wows”, “oh, wow,” “beautiful” and “thank you” fill the room right before everyone breaks out in applause.
Granite benches will be erected. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has deemed it a restoration site. As such, the county says no to removing stumps. Santiago said she would try to intervene. Harold Singer and other residents volunteer to help.
Paula Lambdin, who started these gatherings, moved back this summer with her husband into their rebuilt house. She talks about how her children have dealt with losing everything. She wonders what is shared with new college friends.
Then she tells the group to be on the look out for strangers. Sheriff’s Lt. Les Lovell has promised a quick response and follow-up to any suspicious activity. People are taking building materials, flowers, sod and sleeping in unoccupied houses.
Survivors are encouraged to contact the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. A grant allows them to give out a couple dozen plants for free and a $100 certificate for compost from Tahoe Sand and Gravel.
Lambdin tells her cohorts “you are all champions of disaster”. She says this because people from other areas are contacting her asking how Tahoe has rebuilt so fast, moved on and essentially, not just survived, but thrived.
Mauriello questions Santiago about how he and others who paid for tree removal are going to get reimbursed. She said she delegated the issue to someone else. Mauriello says he hasn’t heard from anyone and wonders why she doesn’t return calls.
Tony Colombo asks her about a form from the county he was sent to fill out. He’s worried his property taxes will go up by telling the truth. Santiago says to come see her the following week.
Colombo and his wife, Tara Brennan, are dubbed the decorating king and queen for Christmas. The lot behind their place is open. That area is going to be one spectacular display of neighborhood festiveness.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like a neighborhood.