JoAnn Conner, 63, is an independent associate and regional manager for LegalShield and Identity Theft Shield. The companies provide legal expense plans and identity theft protection services. Conner also owns Golden Bear Events and has served as the president of the South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce. She has lived at the South Shore for 32 years.
I think it's time for some fresh ideas and a fresh voice on the council. I've been involved in the community for a very long time and I have some ideas. I'd like to see our city run a little bit more efficiently. I'd like to see us become a little bit more fiscally responsible and I think that I have some ideas that could help us create some more jobs here and make our town a little bit better for both the locals and the visitors.
The first - how could fiscal responsibility be improved - I think that at this time we need to focus on keeping our money here in South Lake Tahoe and watch how we spend it. Most of us are watching our budgets, so why shouldn't government watch theirs as well. And I think that fiscal responsibility also includes collecting where it's due. We should be collecting the (Transient Occupancy Taxes) that are not being paid instead of hitting our business owners with raised business taxes. I think that there are some different ways that we can generate revenue and revisit bringing more special events here. I think that we should examine our pension plan and see if we can reinvest that in a different strategy so that we get more return on our money. And I think that we need to look at the pension plan structure for new hires.
I think so. I think we should pursue special events. I think that, of course keeping in mind what the locals need and want and considering their well-being is very important and we need to have events that are appropriate for South Lake Tahoe. I think that we could improve our playing fields, for example, and bring more events like the Come Up for Air festival with soccer, like the Snowball Baseball Tournament. We have several marathons here and sporting events that are very popular and bring people into our town. We can pursue more of that. Musical concerts are great. SnowGlobe is controversial, but it did bring money into our town. But why not a jazz festival? I think that we should go out and look for businesses to bring them here instead of waiting for them to approach us, which has typically been the approach in the past is to just wait and see who comes to us. Let's go find them. Let's figure out what kind of businesses would be compatible to our city and our lifestyle and our location. Obviously manufacturing isn't going to be very successful here for many reasons, but let's go find some businesses that we can bring here and increase employment here and put people here to work. I also would like to see the city examine keeping more contracts local. I don't know the cost breakdown yet, I'd like to see an analysis, but for example when we outsource something to a contracting firm or a printing firm that doesn't live on the hill and those people aren't putting their money into our town, are we saving a few thousand dollars? Well, how does that compute when you're looking at retail taxes and business license taxes and the fact that those people spend their money in this community. I strongly believe in the trickle down. If you have those people here spending their money, then we keep more teachers employed, we keep more grocery store people employed, we keep more medical personnel here. It's a symbiotic relationship that can't be ignored. That being said, I also believe that we need to look at keeping our businesses here and being more business friendly to them.
Well, no matter who is up there, you're going to be the bad guy if things are bad. So, that being said, I know that we have some good people up there who have tried very hard. I think Lakeview Commons is an excellent idea. Every time I go there people are stopping to come and look from different parts of the United States. I think that's a good thing. I think they've had some tough roads to go down. I wish that they had taken a more proactive stance on "The Hole." Sometimes I think that they're somewhat inefficient in the way that they do business and it appears from sitting in the audience that staff time needs to be used more succinctly. For example, we've revisited the sign ordinance several times, we've revisited the snow removal ordinance several times. Now, as president of the chamber of commerce, we asked, "Please involve us in this system so that we can give you the input and we can get that ordinance at a place where it benefits business owners and is not too heavy-handed in the fines and the citations that are issued to them," because that hurts them. Let's keep those revisits to a minimum because every time they redo that, that involves more staff time. And our staff has been cut.
I think that we need to have better communication with our community. The idea of making decisions and then involving the community is obviously not the most productive way to approach any situation. We have Harrison Avenue and our community feels like they haven't been involved so they want to revisit that. We had parking meters and the community felt like they weren't involved before that decision was made to give input, when that could be a very good strategy for income for our community. Time and time again when I go throughout the community what I hear people saying is, "We want jobs and we're tired of being ignored." So, they want to be included in the process early on. I think that that is something the city should do when they're looking at the five-year strategy. A perfect example of that is the loop road. In its current configuration, when it was proposed, the chamber stood against that six months ago. And that destroys viable California businesses that are paying taxes. It also dislodges a lot of people that are low income and live near Stateline because they can walk to work and we don't have a reliable transportation system. So, I think involving the community in the strategy before things are ready to begin would be very helpful and that falls into the ordinances as well. There seems to be a lot of waffling on where do we go next. We have the Tahoe Valley plan, we have the Stateline plan, and when I was at the council meeting on (Sept. 18), they didn't really move forward on either one of those. I don't know why that is, but it seems to me that we have people in the community that are ready to do things. Let's involve them. Let's take advantage of that. So, the five-year plan, I'd like to see it move along a little faster. I'd like us to make some decisions and get our community back on track. I believe, being out there, that there are a lot of people who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get something done and revitalize the town, but they feel excluded from the process.
Well, actually the city did start community neighborhood meetings, and I think that that's good. I think that there are meetings at the council chambers, but I think we need to go out into the communities. I've been doing "Coffee with Conner" and I've been choosing small businesses in various locations around town and I've had people come in in the evening for just an hour or so and tell me what they think. I promised some of them that, if I were elected, that would continue because I think that it's really important that we go to them. These are people that are working. And it's all well and good to say, "it's on TV and it's recorded and everybody can access it," but that's usually after the fact. You can look at the agenda, but the agenda doesn't give you enough detail and the public remarks sometimes open up other cans of worms, so to speak, that aren't being addressed on the agendas and people don't have advance notice. Most of our people are working at least one job. Some of them two and three jobs to make ends meet, so it's difficult for them to get out of their homes and go down to the City Council chambers at night.
No, absolutely not, because it destroys too many businesses, it destroys housing for a lot of low income people. Those people, for the most part, haven't really been contacted either. The talk of well, "we can move them to Ski Run or to the Y," well, there are moving costs involved with that. What if they don't want to move? What if it's difficult for them to get someone to help them move? And then, again, it's the transportation system. We don't have reliable public transportation. And it costs money, so that adds to their burden. So, no I definitely do not think it is the best route for the city to pursue. I see no return on investment for the city of South Lake Tahoe with the current proposed loop road configuration, the one that they asked them to take off the table completely on (Sept. 18), which it was unclear as to whether or not that has actually been done. It benefits Nevada it does not benefit South Lake Tahoe. And I am all for working with our Nevada neighbors, but working with our Nevada neighbors does not mean my kids go hungry to feed theirs, it means that we try and find a why to feed everyone's children.
Yes, but how needed is that at this point? The talk is well, "They've been working on this for 30 years." Well, when I moved here 30 years ago there was a lot of congestion in the casino corridor and that was important, so we initially established the existing loop road to allow for locals to be able to avoid the congestion in the casino corridor and get to their jobs or their homes and for emergency vehicles to have access. So, we do have a loop road in place. Now, do I think it would be helpful if we reconfigured the existing road through the casino corridor and allowed for more walkable/bikeable space? Yes, I think that would be wonderful, but to feed into that, in order for that to be effective, you know I hear a lot of talk about, "Let's make Lakeview Commons, let's make the casino corridor more walkable, more bikeable." How do they get there? We don't have bike paths that are well maintained or that connect the community so that people can get to those sites. We don't have a bike sharing program, which I would like to see instituted in the City of South Lake Tahoe. We don't have good public transportation that is reliable or that goes into the neighborhoods. So, if you're talking about just the tourists, some of them will access that, but where's our handicapped access in that regard as well? How do people that are handicapped get to that site and how do they navigate around that site? I really haven't heard much in the way of that handicapped access being addressed. So, I think we can do some things to make that wonderful. The Village Center is a beautiful piece of property and it has got some nice shops in there and to extend that and create more of a, "Let's ramble through the town and just meander and have a cup of coffee and look in the shops," that would be great. I would like to see that happen in several places in Tahoe, but the current configuration, no. And yes I have seen some good viable options.
Yes. I think that they are moving in the right direction with SnowGlobe this year in, first of all, communicating with the neighbors, communicating with the people that are doing vacation rentals. I mean, if they are going to rent vacation rentals in that area, rent them to the people attending SnowGlobe. That make's logical sense. I think putting up barriers to muffle the sound - because we have no guarantee for snow it could be try as a bone it could be a raging blizzard we don't know, I think limiting the bass production --and that's different than the decibels - I think limiting the bass production and picking bands that have less loud bass in them is certainly an important aspect and good transportation. It was the first year last year. Being a special events person myself on a much lower scale, the first year you learn a lot. So, I definitely think that was great. I talked to a lot of business owners who said they might have had to close their doors by January if it weren't for SnowGlobe. So, yes, we need to bring that money in here. And we can't just expect the retirees to come or the family people to come. Young people want to come up here as well, the young professionals, the college students. They have money. We need to be able to allow them to spend that. But there are some other things that we can explore. The Lakeview Commons music this summer was great. Let's bring in, maybe, a jazz festival. Let's look at some different venues. In regards to bringing in special events, I would like to see the city revisit their policy on usage of facilities. Right now, a facility can only have four major events per year and we have limited facilities that are convenient and have adequate parking and that are easy to find. So, my thought on that would be to change that ordinance so that it is four of one kind. For example, the middle school is a great location for events, but they use four craft shows a year. So, they can't do anything else. Same with the American Legion parking lot and hall. Four craft shows - which are big moneymakers for them - but they can't do anything else to make money. There's very limited venues available for people.
I think they are moving in the right direction. We had a little over a $1 million dollar deficit coming up for this year, which is much better than a $5 million deficit. I'm adverse to dipping into our reserves. As an individual business owner it's imperative that we keep a certain number of reserves because we never know what's going to happen. I think that they are looking at actively collecting on the (Transient Occupancy Tax) that's not being paid right now and that could definitely put us further into the black. I think they've got a pretty good handle on the employee situation right now and on expenditures. To go from $5 million in the red to $1 million in the red is significant. We're on the right track. And I see them making some movements towards making that totally in the black. Revisiting the pension plan is important and trying to find a better investment strategy for that and possibly looking at the pensions and benefits being offered to new hires. Educating the employees as well, because it's hard for them to understand how they're going from paying this amount for their medical to needing to pay this amount for their medical. And it's not an easy strategy, but I think we're in the right direction.
I think that we need to go find somebody to fill that hole. I think that we should not keep waiting. I know that there's a developer looking at the property right now. My understanding, and I could be wrong because I'm not privy to everything yet, is that he wants to put shops in the front and keep "The Hole" in the back and that would be unacceptable. Even if we fill that hole in and we end up putting smaller shops around it and make an art walk, for example, art trails, art walk, you know some kind of system where we're getting people to walk through those shops more and look at the art work of our local artists and showcase that would be infinitely preferable to having that ugly fence and having that attractive nuisance so to speak. I know kids are in their skateboarding at night. It's dangerous. I think we need to go find someone. We need to actively pursue that and see if we can get some kind of developer in there. I know that there was a national skateboarder that looked at it and said, "Well, maybe we can turn this into some kind of a skateboarding facility all year around and put a lid over it." So, there are options that can be explored. I think we just kind of keep hoping that a developer will come in and I think that it is time for us to go find someone.
I think I have a reputation in this town for being someone who tries to get things done and listens to the people and I'm fresh. I haven't been on the council before, but I have been going to the City Council meetings for over a year. So, I do have a fairly decent grasp on what's happening in the city and I'd like to try some new things. You know, I think that we could make some changes here. I think there are some people ready to help us dress up our city and revitalize it and I'd like to go bring them in. I'd like to bring in art groups, for example, and do those art trails and art walks.