LAKE TAHOE - On Nov. 6, 2012, the silent majority in America finally had their voices heard. In spite of voter suppression, long lines at the polls, lies and half-truths and massive amounts of special interest money, they roared. Now that the country is secure once again and moving forward, it is time to take a serious look at the plutocratic special interests that have taken control of the Tahoe Basin. In recent years Tahoe has become a microcosm of the nation at large.
Special interests have bought us out and taken control of our lives. Our voices too have been suppressed far too long. Our public meetings have become a tool of the wealthy, developers and those who will benefit financially from their efforts.
Two decades ago, public meeting announcements were either non-existent or reported the day of, or even after the meeting in our local media. Even then, they were scheduled at times inconvenient for the working class of Tahoe. After these announcements became timelier, the public was restricted to a small amount of time to express our opinions. And express them we did, so much so that the powers that be came up with another plan to further stifle us in the form of the "Nine Rules of Civility."
Then we simply turned up in greater numbers only to have our comment time further restricted to only three minutes. Now the special interests pack these meetings with their own people and those who stand to benefit financially from their projects so there is little room for the dissenters. The latest insult comes from the media when the Sierra Sun published a column from Ann Nichols, accompanied with a fact check editor's note based on statistics provided by TRPA. By definition, fact checking requires an objective, non-partisan group not the opposition.
Project public meetings and announcements are really more about the legal requirements of CEQA and NEPA than about input. As such, public comment serves as red flags to allow project managers to be proactive about public concerns and counter them before they become bigger problems. In essence, we are helping them refine their environmental documentation rather than changing the actual plans.
Is there any way to make this whole process more fair and balanced? Increasing public comment time is really not feasible due to ever increasing public interest. Perhaps there should be a 10- or 15-minute block of time for a representative of a cooperative of grassroots activists to present their case. It would save a lot of time and make the opposition's concerns more concise and understandable. This wouldn't even require additional legislation, though that would be best to assure us a seat at the table.
A far bigger problem, however, definitely needs legislation. The decision-makers (board and committee members) of the two biggest, most powerful agencies, CTC and TRPA, are appointed, not elected. This makes equal representation unlikely. To wit, they have put new plans in place that are contrary to the reasons these agencies were created in the first place.
An example of this would be the recent decision of the CTC to change its mission statement and strategic plan. Specifically, they have gone from providing public recreation and access consistent with resource needs to promoting access and recreation while still using public proposition money voted for years ago when their original mission was in place. Would you have given them your tax money back then, knowing they could change their intent at will? The public should be able to vote for these people who have the power to affect our lives drastically.
On a personal note, I believe local grassroots need an overarching representative body to help combine the common interests of all the smaller groups that have sprung up in recent years. To that end, and because there is power in numbers, I am working on a website where the silent majority of Tahoe can have their voices heard, post and sign petitions and find pertinent information. I've never created a website before, though I am a fast learner. Should you wish to help with this effort please contact me at: email@example.com.
Jacqui Grandfield is a 27-year resident/property owner of Agate Bay. She is a former local environmental agency insider and has a BS in Biology, with a wildlife emphasis, and a Masters in Environmental Policy.