TRUCKEE, Calif. - The local economy, area development and town services were the main topics at the Truckee Town Council candidate forum last week.
There are two races this November for Truckee Town Council. The first race is for one, two-year seat, which has become available due to Councilman Richard Anderson leaving to serve as a Nevada County supervisor. Those running for the two-year term are: Denny Dickinson, a retired building contractor who has been attending town council meetings since 1999; Patrick Flora, a general contractor who has served on the town's planning commission since 2007 and the building appeals board since 2002; and Daryl Simms, an independent contractor in the advertising industry and president and co-founder of a nonprofit environmental education center.
The second race is for two, four-year seats. Those running are: Alicia Barr, co-owner of local businesses FiftyFifty and Drunken Monkey, who has served on the advisory board for engineering at CSU Chico; Jamie Brimer, a general remodeling contractor and plumber, who has served on the town's building appeals board since 2002; and Joan deRyk Jones, a town council member the past four years and current mayor, who is a general contractor, a partner in a construction company and co-owner of the Truckee River Winery.
"Because the issues facing the town council are the same, no matter the length of the term, we have included all the candidates in the same forum segment, so they will all have the opportunity to introduce themselves and answer the questions presented by the public," said forum moderator Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, to a crowd of approximately 35 people at the Town Hall.
Candidates were first asked how they would improve tourism on a year-round basis and make the town less dependent on snowfall.
All six agreed tourism is important to Truckee's economy, but offered different suggestions on how to improve it.
Flora suggested focusing on geotourism efforts, while Barr suggested collaborating on events.
"I think one, recognizing that Truckee is not an island, and really building relationships and collaborating with our neighbors to bring such events as Ironman, Tough Mudder, the Fat Tire event recently, those all, especially coming in the offseason - what is typically an offseason for tourism - would be a huge boom for all of us," she said.
Brimer suggested working with the chamber of commerce to create more events like Truckee Thursdays to attract people to the area, at the same time emphasizing the importance of creating more jobs for locals.
Dickinson said that's who the focus should be on: the locals.
"What's happened in Truckee is that we're too focused on tourism," he said. "We need to start thinking about the people. I think there's a way that we can have tourism and have a way that the people who work here can afford to be here, too. ... I don't know how to solve these problems, but this is one of the major areas I would be working on."
Simms pointed out that some current locals were tourists at one point.
"I was one of those tourists in 1987 and now here I am," he said. "... The goal of perhaps converting people that are here visiting to want to live here, it's critical."
As far as how to do that, he suggested the town should capitalize on its "action rockstars," especially regarding high school athletes and their achievements through signage.
Jones said Truckee's downtown infrastructure is important to attracting people to the area.
"We've done a lot recently to improve our downtown infrastructure," she said. "I think that's a tremendous boost to our tourism. It creates a community feeling, it creates a genuine downtown, and the more we can push forward that we are a real community with a beautiful downtown that's safe and easy to walk through ... I think we'll continue to bring tourists into our downtown area."
Candidates were asked if Truckee should give "CPR to the development industry" - they all answered in the affirmative, but a few stressed the importance of responsible development.
"If you were living here in the late 90s through 2006 or 2007, you know that construction was going rampant, and a lot of people would say out of control because it was too much, too fast," Brimer said. "But construction is one of the lifebloods of our community besides tourism and the ski industry, so yes, I would agree that the town needs to look at all ways to help construction, but smart construction."
Barr and Jones echoed that sentiment.
Making development difficult is the fact the town no longer has a redevelopment agency, after the California Supreme Court ruled this year to abolish such agencies.
"The Pocket Park, redevelopment on West River, what's going to be done with the old Corp Yard on West River, so there's a lot of projects still with irons on the kettle," Brimer said. "Now, exactly where those funds will come from, I don't believe anybody can answer that tonight."
Simms agreed with Brimer that it's difficult to say where funding would come from, but Flora did have a few suggestions.
"There are options out there," he said. "The town is currently pursuing some of those, being various federal and state grant funds. There are options, but it's going to be an uphill battle for the town to replace those funds on an annual basis."
Dickinson said the town needs to "rethink the box," and Barr offered such an idea.
"I would take the approach of instead of looking for funding, we (should) look internally and make it more attractive and streamline and affordable for businesses and developers to want to come and revitalize it for their own business," she said. "... Maybe creating a marketing arm of the town that not only encourages people to just to come visit here, but for people to come and start a business here, and if it's affordable and attractive enough, they can be part of the redevelopment process in a more organic way."
Jones suggested the town forming its own redevelopment district by working with other districts "receiving the tax increment monies" to fund community projects.
Another question posed to the candidates was to name a service not offered in Truckee they would like implemented and how they would pay for it.
"The key to that question is the last part," Jones said. "How are you going to pay for it. We're pretty constrained with property taxes and sales and TOT (transient occupancy tax)."
She said if she had a "magic wand," she would like to improve area trails and walkability.
Dickinson said the town needs a new library, and as for how to pay for it, he said: "We will ask the public to come forward and pay for that library out of their pocket."
Barr suggested the planning or building department have a liaison for those trying to open a business in town, while Flora suggested hiring an economic development staffer.
"Their entire job every day is to make our business environment for existing businesses better and looking for ways to get new businesses, new employers to come to Truckee," Flora said.
Brimer suggested extending the office hours of the building department, where as Simms would like to see a change to the downtown parking procedures.
"My notion would be the combination of what they have, barcode reading for stickers in and out of Lake Tahoe, and the local sticker that we currently have available here in Truckee," he said. "Combine the two. Allow people to buy the local sticker with the parking barcode ... They (can then) just go downtown and park. If a meter reader comes through, the barcode is read, their credit card or ATM is hit. They never have to worry about a ticket. They never have to worry about the kiosk."
As for a community service that could be cut, most of the candidates agreed that they wouldn't cut anything.
"I think we've trimmed back the government in an appropriate way," Jones said. "The building department is much smaller than it was many years ago. The police force is smaller. We have less town clerks. So there has been cuts and trimming (done) to be reflective of our revenues, but I don't think we have a community service or department I would say is not needed."