Can they all work together?
One of the largest projects proposed in South Lake Tahoe was met with cautious optimism by many of the candidates running for three seats on the South Lake Tahoe City Council.
After El Dorado County supervisors approved the concept of the joint government center estimated to cost the city, county and Lake Tahoe Unified School District up to $25 million, the six candidates running for three seats in the Nov. 7 election had weighed in on the cost and idea.
Most say many uncertainties exist.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us. But they want to see more definitive answers on the topics,” Tahoe’s District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago said of the other supervisors’ responses.
She listed the timeframe, work program and financing as the three key issues surrounding the proposal that calls for a 3.5-acre government center to house the three agencies, a community sports complex, transit area, bike lane connections and a parking lot or structure with at least 230 parking spaces.
City Council candidates Jerry Birdwell, an innkeeper, recreation enthusiast Tom Wendell, retired teacher Bill Crawford, real estate agent Michael Phillips, businessman Tom Davis and incumbent City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell want to know more – mainly, how much it will cost and whether the parties will be able to cooperate. Lovell serves on the subcommittee with Santiago and school board member Sue Novasel to explore the proposal.
Schools superintendent Jim Tarwater said the district is seeking private donor money but has declined to say who it’s pursuing.
Davis: “The devil’s in the details. I haven’t seen the economic side of it. That’s what drives the decision. It makes sense. But we need to know if we can afford to save that much from it.”
When asked about whether the city should stay put after spending up to $1.1 million to move to the Lake Tahoe Airport, Davis added: “The airport needed to be fixed up anyway. I don’t think it’s a right location for a city hall.”
He criticized government follow-through on projects, saying they take five to 10 years “on a good day.”
The co-owner of the Black Bear Inn wants to see the core services come first.
Birdwell: “As long as we take care of everything first – police, fire, the streets – I’m a big one for that – and snow removal is very important to this community. It’s a hefty price tag to place on that when we need snow removal equipment and need to keep updated with police and fire. These things are more important than a joint government center. At this point, there’s no apprehension. We just have to be extremely careful. I think everybody working together would be a good idea.”
That’s what former Councilman Crawford fears. He issued a response to the proposal to the county supervisors meeting. Crawford doubts the cooperation will be there and cites the running track due for renovation in the project. The following is an excerpt from his letter.
Crawford: “The proposed government center is a costly undertaking. It will require a considerable amount of goodwill and cooperation by all parties. Because of my experience as a school teacher and council member, I have serious reservations about the ability of the three entities sharing a facility on a daily basis harmoniously.
“On Sept. 2, 1975, the city and school district entered into a mutual use and maintenance agreement. For over a decade, the city has not maintained the track and is in breach of the agreement. Consequently, the track has fallen apart and cannot be used for competitive high school track meets.”
Phillips wondered about the same issue but tempered it with enthusiasm over the future.
Phillips: “The track record is not so great. But things are different. We’re in progressive times. It’s something we should entertain, but we need to ask: ‘Can those entities agree?’ If so, it could be a good idea. There needs to be a proven ground before we’ve spent that much time.”
Lovell: “That’s why we’re doing the community sports complex first. We could have that up in one summer,” Lovell contends. The outdoor sports complex, estimated to cost $1.9 million, represents the first phase of the project off Al Tahoe Boulevard. It would be located at the running track, for which the community has undergone a massive fundraising effort.
She wants to see a gathering place created.
“We have limited opportunities here. I think the community needs a place of civic pride where we can consolidate services,” Lovell said.
She advocates the proposal environmentally as a way to reduce vehicular traffic.
“We can have the one-stop shopping where we all have the same customer. Multiple cities – perhaps 30 to 40 cities – have joint use,” she said.
Wendell: “I’m all for pooling our resources. But the question becomes: ‘Do we cut down trees and break ground on an untouched area?’ I’ve already heard from some folks on (nearby) Marlette Circle, and I went by there.”
The area in question would fall between the neighborhoods adjacent to Johnson Boulevard and the school district offices on the corner of Al Tahoe Boulevard and Highway 50.
“Is there enough of a buffer? Does it have to be on raw land? Have they exhausted other alternatives? This is such a pivotal time. It’s not going to be pretty. It’s not going to be easy,” Wendell said.