Candidates discuss the issues
From affordable housing to Measure Z, the candidates running for three South Lake Tahoe City Council seats in November are tackling issues on the interview circuit.
A case in point was the public forum held at the Lake Tahoe Community College Theatre Wednesday night which covered a variety of topics. About 60 people showed up for the forum, managed with a bit of lighthearted humor transitioning into cut-to-the-core questions, served up by longtime Tahoe resident Catherine Abel and KOWL radio personality Jerry Hurwitz.
Abel provided quick introductions of the diverse group of seven candidates vying for seats to be vacated by Mayor Brooke Laine, Councilmen Bill Crawford and Hal Cole. Cole is seeking re-election, running alongside painter Mark Cutright, retired airport employee Gunnar Henrioulle, telecommunications account executive Kathay Lovell, hotel manager Pete Mac Roberts, property manager and owner John Upton, auto service manager Michael Phillips and newspaper carrier Stephen Reinhard — who declined the invitation.
The candidates appeared eager to address issues — each in a two-minute time frame, even with some candidates having limited knowledge of insider city politics.
Cole, who feels he’s running at the peak of his learning curve in city business, launched the line of questioning with whether the El Dorado County areas, Meyers and Montgomery Estates, should be annexed into the city.
“It’s not for me to want or not want. I would certainly support enlarging our community base, but it’s not in the West Slope’s interest to have the tax base go to South Lake Tahoe,” he said.
When asked how he would close the $2 million budget shortfall, Cole told the audience the city was working with less money than it had 15 years ago because of state takeaways.
As the city currently has few resources, Cole asserted the government needs to increase its economic base through efforts like the furthering of redevelopment efforts.
“Then, I hope to God the state doesn’t take more money away,” he said.
Lovell fielded one of the most controversial questions of the evening: Should vacation rentals be allowed in residential neighborhoods?
“They’re something I believe we need to have,” she said, citing $1.2 million generated into city coffers.
By the same token, she recognized the need for a stricter ordinance like the city is hashing out to regulate unruly behavior of those who overfill homes and neighborhood parking spaces.
“I think enforcement is important,” the wife of county sheriff’s Lt. Les Lovell said. “We can’t unring the bell. (The vacationers) are already here.”
Lovell also received the most obvious randomly picked question of the forum, which asked how she distinguishes herself from the other candidates.
The crowd erupted into laughter, realizing it’s her gender.
Lovell characterized herself as a “good listener,” who would advocate retreats for the City Council to breed teamwork.
A constant challenge, Phillips’ answer to bringing trust into government revolved around a simple, common courtesy.
“You treat others as you want to be treated,” he said, noting his experience in building trust with his customers. Phillips’ line of work in auto repair makes it a necessity to earn it in the community.
From there, he tackled the big issue of affordable housing to earn the trust of the residents trying to buy into South Lake Tahoe.
The businessman pledged to put the quandary on his “top 10 list” by possibly offering incentives to builders and contractors.
“It needs to be a priority,” he said. “As we get rid of these problems, more come up.”
To have community input as issues arise, Upton –when asked how to get residents involved in the process — suggested the city hold town hall meetings and conduct more community outreach. He planned to use service clubs for civic leadership training.
The former city treasurer reminded listeners the city’s budget must be resolved. He later absorbed the question of whether the city should go more deeply into debt to build the convention center, an important component to further city redevelopment plans at the Stateline area.
“It’s important to have a seven-day-a-week economy,” Upton said, pointing to the town’s constant weekday-to-weekend fluctuations in tourism.
There was a condition. Upton said the debt would need to be properly secured.
Earlier, Upton had insisted the need for the city to define its entire community — not just at Stateline.
Regarding the other end of the city, Mark Cutright was asked if there was a solution to making the Lake Tahoe Airport fly — which operates on a $600,000 city subsidy.
“It’s no secret you all know I think the airport is a dead horse,” he said, pointing to the subsidy as a reason for the city’s debt.
He proposed the land be sold to the California Tahoe Conservancy.
Cutright told the audience he considered the council’s most important function is to “represent all citizens — not just the special interests.”
“In the past, I’ve felt we’ve only taken care of the Stateline neighborhoods,” he said.
Mac Roberts acknowledged the city has come a long way in improving its neighborhoods.
But wherever the council concentrates, the hotelier said it’s important for the members to work together to solve problems.
“I’m a firm believer in team action,” he said, taking issue with infighting on the council.
Balancing interests can be a difficult task on tough issues.
Mac Roberts recommended one way to sustain lake clarity and economic growth is to use the airport as a visitor center with a point-of-information site for environmental education.
Economic growth also came up when the Viking Motor Lodge manager was asked if he would opt to increase the sales tax as a means of boosting revenue. He said he would support a quarter-cent or half-cent increase, citing the need to spread the tax burden.
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