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 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 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 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 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 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 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.