Tahoe 2005: The Year in Review
December 28, 2005
* Two longtime firefighters are picked to head their respective agencies: Lorenz Gigliotti with the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department and Jeff Michael with Lake Valley. Gigliotti began his duties on Jan. 1 while Michael officially began in October.
* Michael Bravo was fatally shot in the head and his body discovered Jan. 20 at his one-bedroom unit at Blackwood Apartments. Javier Garcia Acevedo was brought to trial on a charge of accessory, or hiding information after the murder took place, but a jury found Garcia not guilty in September after deliberating for about two days.
* Glen Cunningham, 50, was walking down the center of the westbound slow lane of Highway 50 about 8:30 p.m. when he was struck and killed from behind by a Ford Aerostar van driven by Sandra Morales, 30, also of South Lake Tahoe. There is no roadway lighting and only a 3-foot shoulder in that area as Cunningham was walking toward a broken-down vehicle he was driving.
* Commercial burglaries and armed robberies were one notable occurrence in South Lake Tahoe in early 2005 as Dylan Boaz Burdick and William John Weldy were arrested in February in connection to 13 robberies involving at least 15 victims and four stores that had plagued South Shore since fall of 2004. Burdick, who was charged with the most robbery counts, was sentenced to 10 years in prison while Weldy was sentenced to 1 year in county jail.
* Also in February, Robert Kelly, who burglarized as many as 20 businesses in South Lake Tahoe to help fund his fondness for drugs, was sentenced to four years in prison. Four months later, his accomplice, Shannan Smith, received three years probation and 150 hours of community service.
* South Lake Tahoe launched a huge discussion over the city’s consideration to put a roundabout at the “Y” to spruce up the town, make the intersection safer and ease traffic delays. A consultant was hired to explore the feasibility, and the City Council agreed with the findings – despite the traffic improvement costing $2 million. The concept is now in the hands of Caltrans, which will conduct an engineering report. A design report will also be assembled.
* Dennis Machida, the California Tahoe Conservancy’s executive director since 1985, died from a heart attack at a conference in Montana. Machida, 58, was known for his calm demeanor and steadfast commitment to protecting Lake Tahoe. He spearheaded 600 projects in water quality, wildlife and recreation. Under his leadership, the state agency authorized more than $290 million in public money to buy 7,400 acres of sensitive land on the California side of the basin.
* The suspension of two Whittell High School seniors for possessing prescription ibuprofen at the school’s prom sparked parent and student outcries and a threat of litigation. A student sit-in took place at school and Principal Janie Gray came under fire. The suspended sentences given to the two seniors were shortened. On a different matter, an arbitrator’s ruling on an alleged teacher sickout was accepted in June by the district’s board of trustees. The ruling said there wasn’t a concerted effort by the teachers. Gray announced her retirement at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year.
* In May, South Tahoe High School was ranked in the top 4 percent (or 996th) of 27,468 public high schools across America in preparing its students for college, according to a Newsweek magazine article. The high school, the only one in Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the only site to earn the recognition in El Dorado County, was among 201 California campuses in the ranking.
* In Douglas County, Whittell High School was one of only five schools in Nevada that earned exemplary designation under federal No Child Left Behind regulations. The other two Douglas County lake schools – Zephyr Cove Elementary and Kingsbury Middle – were listed as high achieving. To obtain the designation of a high-achieving school, scores must be well above the state’s goal.
* Meanwhile, two schools in Lake Tahoe Unified School District, were listed in Program Improvement status under No Child Left Behind, meaning the state could lend its assistance to the district if scores don’t improve.
* Tapped in May to become the next superintendent for Lake Tahoe Unified School District, James Tarwater started his duties in July. “Duties” is plural because he shouldered the superintendent, chief financial officer, principal of the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School and some of the assistant superintendent responsibilities. Tarwater was instrumental in innovations including the magnet school at the previously closed Meyers Elementary site, an attendance incentive program and a prekindergarten grade level.
* George W. Bush nominates Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Roberts’ resume included arguing and winning a landmark case for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency against property-rights advocates. At stake was millions of dollars that could have gone to the property owners, which instead was able to be used on conservation efforts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
* Douglas County School District Superintendent John Soderman announced his retirement after 30 years with the district, which he began as a teacher. The district’s board of trustees is interviewing applicants.
* In a turnabout among casino properties, Harrah’s Entertainment bought Caesars Entertainment for $9.4 billion – making it the largest casino company in the world. But before the transaction was finalized, the Las Vegas casino giant unloaded Caesars Tahoe to Columbia Sussex, a hotelier which operates Horizon Casino Resort, for $45 million. A legal battle remains between the landowner, Park Cattle Co., and the casino over alleged violations of building neglect. Columbia Sussex pledged to turn the casino once owned by Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas into a young and hip gambling center with a new name – MontBleu.
* In July, the TRPA releases its controversial Alternative 6, a proposed solution to a 20-year delay in creating rules for how to govern Lake Tahoe’s shore area, including boating, piers and buoys. The agency underplayed the importance of one sentence in the 90-page document that arguably would have affected more people than any other part: a ban on motorboats in Emerald Bay for one day a weekend during summer months.
* An apocalyptic storm that packed 145-mph winds hit the Gulf Coast, leaving in its wake $58 billion in damage and 1,383 fatalities. It prompted a huge, nationwide outpouring of donations and volunteerism. South Lake Tahoe was no exception. Thousands of dollars in funds, hundreds of drives and several individuals opened up their homes and centers to take in Hurricane Katrina victims. Some volunteers descended on New Orleans to help. That includes Jerry Foster, a pastor and emergency medical technician, who worked at a medical triage center in Houston.
* The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency got itself into hot water with proposing a motorboat ban on Emerald Bay one day a week for two months during the summer. The bistate agency backtracked after a public outcry over the limitation.
* Lake Tahoe was the site for an environmental summit that brought out U.S. Sens. John Ensign and Dianne Feinstein. The two federal lawmakers re-committed their support for environmental improvement money to the lake. The annual forum began in 1997 with the Presidential Summit, attended by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
* Gas prices topped $3 a gallon, putting the pinch on businesses and motorists, who curbed their driving patterns to accommodate the dent in their budgets. Prices had gone up 54 cents in one year at some filling stations, causing tourism officials to wonder about the effects on travel during the summer driving months.
* Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, five evacuees from New Orleans arrive in South Lake Tahoe to work for Horizon Casino Resort. Over the weeks, children from the stricken region join our schools, and more workers arrive at other casinos. It highlights that this is truly a nationwide tragedy.
* The September release of “An Unfinished Life” marked the silver-screen premiere of Becca Gardner, a Whittell High School sophomore. On Jan. 9, Gardner is scheduled to appear in an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
* In the early hours of Oct. 25, 38-year-old Susan Rizk was attacked at her Al Tahoe-area apartment by a man wielding a 2-foot-long sword in front of her 4-year-old daughter. Clinging to her life, Rizk underwent five surgeries at Washoe Medical Center in Reno while her alleged attacker, ex-boyfriend Steve Wasserman, who is also the father of the 4-year-old girl, was arrested and proceeded through the court system. Helped by family, friends, community support and faith, Rizk survived the attack and was released from the Dec. 21, nearly two months after the attack. Wasserman faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on charges including attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
* In the first week of November, a Tahoe Women’s Care worker and longtime South Lake Tahoe resident surprised many people by capturing the El Dorado County Supervisor seat left vacant by the retiring Dave Solaro. Norma Santiago, who beat three contenders in the hard-fought race with 33 percent of the vote, has pledged to listen to the disenfranchised in the Tahoe community. She was sworn in this December by her friend, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury.
* Two Harrah’s Lake Tahoe security guards were stabbed once each in the neck in November and flown to Washoe Medical Center in Reno while the assailant eluded authorities. On Dec. 7, 24-year-old Justin Ready turned himself in, along with a small folding knife allegedly used in the attacks. Ready, a deejay who was being escorted out of Altitude Nightclub, is charged with two counts of attempted murder.
* Several scientists who study Tahoe closely say certain erosion control techniques used here might have potential affects on the health of Tahoe’s groundwater. Researchers for the city of South Lake Tahoe and South Tahoe Public Utility are spending $750,000 to study whether large erosion control basins, present in the hundreds here, are allowing pollutants to enter groundwater.
* Also, the Environmental Protection Agency is uncertain whether certain drainage systems used by homeowners to implement their mandated best management practices are regulated by the EPA for their potential to contaminate groundwater.
* Amid a looming lawsuit, an 11-member citizens group tasked with promoting tourism in town convinced the South Lake Tahoe City Council to disband the Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District. The highly controversial, citywide assessed fee, passed by the city in February, was spearheaded by the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce and Lodging Association to compensate for a loss in city marketing subsidies.
* On Dec. 4, two Douglas County sheriff’s deputies were shot by suicidal Harvey Ex, a despondent 53-year-old felon who fired five shots from a .32-caliber antique revolver he purchased from a South Shore dealer hours before he died at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Ex died at the scene from the nine shots fired by deputies Erik Eissinger and Dan Nelson.
* A pilot project by the California State Lands Commission finds the invasive aquatic weed Eurasian watermilfoil has invaded a larger portion of Emerald Bay than previously thought, and two acres off of Ski Run Boulevard. Milfoil has been found in 16 locations in Lake Tahoe. Some conservation groups are raising an alarm, while Lahontan Water Board says it has no indication the problem is getting out of control.
* The South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency capped off the year by turning over development rights to Stateline and Carson City developers to build a condominium complex anchored by a convention center. The city is working on an agreement that includes financial terms that commit property tax revenue it collects to the developer in exchange for Falcon Capital’s Randy Lane and DGD Development’s John Serpa footing the construction bill. In turn, the city intends to own a convention center. If all falls into place, ground breaking is slated for May 2007.