Hal Cole: Proudly handing the baton to South Lake Tahoe’s next city council (opinion)
November 4, 2016
To steal a line from Jerry Garcia: "What a long strange trip it has been."
As I come to the end of my tenure on your city council, I can't help but be reflective and a bit nostalgic. I have served for 20-and-a-half years, worked with six city managers, alongside 18 different council members, and prevailed in five elections. With your indulgence, I'd like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts and perspective as we approach election day.
The 1990s were an exciting time for my generation as we approached the new millennium. During my early school years, writing the date so dutifully on my homework, I often wondered what it would feel like to write the year "2000." It sounded so magical.
Our city at large was also anticipating the future as it engaged the community with a year-long planning exercise known as "Destination 2000" and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency charged the local jurisdictions with creating their own "community plans."
I was excited. I had grown up here, was now raising my own family here and the thought of helping plan our city's future was a dream come true. I was young, idealistic and believed that we were on the verge of something big. I jumped in with both feet.
My first foray was joining the Bijou/Al Tahoe Community Plan team in 1993. We spent many long afternoons planning the revitalization of Harrison Avenue with bike paths, curbs and sidewalks, landscaping and the creation of an area wide method of capturing and treating the storm water. Little did I know that it would take over 20 years to complete, or even more unlikely, that I would be the town's mayor for the ribbon-cutting.
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Subsequently, as a council member, I participated in the redevelopment of Stateline including building the gondola and Heavenly Village. I often look at the old photos of Highway 50 before the transformation and wonder what our town would look like or what shape our economy would be in if we hadn't made the investment. It was certainly a moment in time.
I believe that we are again at such a moment.
As much as I am turned off by our national politics and discourse, I am excited by the opportunities this election offers our town.
There are two items in particular on the ballot that could positively change this city for generations to come.
Measure P: Yes
Recreation has been widely accepted as our primary attraction for both locals and visitors alike. With Measure P we have an opportunity to rebuild our aging Recreation and Swim Complex. It would greatly enhance existing programs as well as provide new year-round recreation opportunities. Funding will be from a two-percent increase to the tourist occupancy tax paid by visitors staying in our local hotels and vacation home rentals. I'm glad to see there is so much support for Measure P and look forward to its passage.
Measure U and Measure R: Yes
In my opinion, this is the most significant issue on our ballot. For the first time in the city's history, the voters have the opportunity not only to agree on a tax measure, but also say where they want it spent.
Measure U proposes a ½ of one percent increase in our sales tax (50 cents for every $100 spent on retail goods). It is estimated to generate $2.5 million every year.
Frankly, the reason I combined U and R is — I could never support any increase in sales tax unless it went to our roads. Measure R does just that. For every 10 phone calls I received during my years on city council, I would be willing to bet 9 were about the condition of our roads.
In 1965, when we incorporated our city, we inherited the county's roads. They were essentially country roads, primitive at best. For the most part they were constructed by laying asphalt over native dirt with no preparation or compaction. For the last 50 years, we've been using our limited and cyclical revenue trying to keep them drivable. It has primarily consisted of overlays and patching.
Our public works department has been warning us for years that we need a consistent, dedicated and ongoing funding source. They have presented the city council with a Roads Program that would rebuild, not repair, our streets. Measure R would provide the funding to implement it.
If Measure U and R pass we will see immediate results. The long awaited rebuilding of our roads would commence next summer!
For my parting comments I offer this: In order to implement the proposed investments, we need a team. We need professional, experienced and collaborative leaders to complement the great city staff we have in place. I will be voting for Brooke Laine and Jason Collin.
I want to thank the Tribune for providing me this forum. More importantly I want to thank all of you for your support over the years as a candidate, a city council member and your mayor. I love this place we all call home and I proudly (albeit with a touch of sadness) hand the baton to those who take my place.
Hal Cole is an outgoing City of South Lake Tahoe City Councilmember.