Border town has special challenges |

Border town has special challenges

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A fine line distinguishes the availability of jobs and housing at South Shore.

Represented by the border separating California and Nevada, the line not only separates two states but dictates where people live and work.

On the California side of South Shore, over 14,000 residential units — about 5,500 of which are rentals — dot the land and provide the majority of housing. Nevada has 3,000 units — one-sixth account for rentals — but heavily weights the scale by providing 12,000 jobs in the casino corridor.

Officials at California social service offices are aware of the numbers and find a blessing and curse in the situation they create: A small portion of people working in Nevada who don’t make a livable wage and seek assistance in their home state of California.

Paula Lambdin would like the Nevada border pushed back, or at least the casinos.

Lambdin, program coordinator for El Dorado County Community Services, offers monetary assistance for people who can’t pay their utility bills or rent.

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“If Nevada would just move their gaming facilities to the middle of the state that would make it easier on me,” said Lambdin, who jokingly relates to a mural on her building of a woman waving to ships. But instead of ships, Lambdin waves good-bye to people leaving South Shore in search of affordable housing and jobs.

A majority of Lambdin’s clients are seniors and disabled people, but a good portion are casino employees who spend their paychecks at gambling tables or slot machines.

“Nevada should somehow help out the border communities when their work force is having to utilize another state’s benefits to survive,” she said.

Employee housing, a living wage, greater transportation subsidy, guaranteed work hours and rules prohibiting casino employees to cash their paycheck on-site were suggestions Lambdin offered.

“To me it is a non-issue,” said Greg Bortolin, press secretary for Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. “I think it’s really unfair because there are a lot of high paying jobs paid by the gaming industry.”

Nevada State Assemblyman, Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, agreed with Bortolin that if California or Nevada thought it was a major issue, it would have been addressed formally.

“I think the states have just stayed away from it,” Hettrick said. “While it might be a problem for a individual city like South Lake Tahoe, it’s not significant for the two states in general.”

Maggie Wattle, who works in the department of employment services, said a handful of her roughly 50 clients, who are employed, work in Nevada.

“I don’t think it’s a burden,” Wattle said about having Nevada as a close neighbor. “What makes it a burden is a lack of transportation for people making those connections (to home and work). I think it poses as a tremendous opportunity.”

Wattle believes more people who work on the Nevada side of the lake live in Minden, Gardnerville and Carson City where housing is cheaper and plentiful.

But those who do live in California and request assistance must get help no matter where they work, said Lois Patrick, spokeswoman for the El Dorado County Welfare Department.

Patrick attributed the minimum wage difference in California and Nevada for Nevada workers needing assistance.

The minimum wage in Nevada, at $5.15 per hour, is equal to the amount set at the federal level. California’s minimum wage is $6.75.

El Dorado County has a fairly low amount of California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (the state’s restructured welfare system) recipients compared to other California counties, Patrick said.

Out of a rough population of 23,000, there are 239 people on CalWorks, 460 on food stamps and 1,207 receiving Medi-Cal.

Citing a 2000 December report, Patrick gave figures on the lowest wage required to make a living in El Dorado County:

n Single adult — $7.29/hour.

n One adult with an infant and preschooler — $18.07/hour.

n Two adults with an infant and preschooler — $10.49/hour per adult

n Two adults with one preschooler and one school-age child — $9.29/hour per adult.

Patrick noted the wages needed are above both states’ minimum wage.

“(Casinos are) a legitimate employer and they offer work,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if there is an issue just because we’re a border county. I’m sure there are other counties on the Oregon border where they might have the same thing.”

The sheer amount of jobs Nevada offers creates pressures on South Lake Tahoe housing, said Patrick Conway, housing and economic development coordinator for South Lake Tahoe.

Conway’s department is responsible for providing affordable housing units. He has a waiting list of people wanting cheaper housing but who will have to wait two to three years.

Currently Conway is working on putting 26 units of affordable housing on Melba Drive. The department chooses land for affordable housing, seeks grant funds and lends the money to an affordable housing developer. While Conway’s office is not considered a social service, he is affected by low-wage workers wanting roofs over their heads and putting pressure on the housing stock.

“The jobs allow more people to live on the South Shore,” Conway said. “There’s not many opportunities for people to live at South Lake Tahoe if not for the casinos. But the problem is the rate of pay. It’s not affordable.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at