City Council approves new contract with utility; discusses evacuation plan

Laney Griffo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The South Lake Tahoe City Council decided on a short-term relationship with Liberty Utilities while considering long-term goals for the city.

During the Tuesday, Aug. 3, meeting, council received an update from the CIVIC Sparks Fellow Jackson Realo on the Climate Action Plan. He spent the last year working with Sierra Nevada Alliance and the city to help implement the Climate Action Plan.

Realo started his presentation with an acknowledgement that the city stands on ground stolen from the Washoe Tribe, as a reminder to be good stewards of the land. He then discussed various initiatives SNA have either implemented or are currently working on, such as solar installments for the city and South Tahoe Public Utilities District, and grant funding for electric vehicle charging stations.

He also mentioned a partnership between Lake Tahoe Community College, South Tahoe Refuse, Barton Memorial, Sugar Pine Village, Lake Tahoe Unified School District, the city and STPUD to create a micro grid. Those seven entities account for 10% of the city’s energy use so a micro grid would help reduce energy usage, as well as create an energy island that could be used during emergencies.

A greenhouse gas emissions inventory has not been taken since 2018, so the inventory doesn’t reflect initiatives already implemented, however Realo said the city is still behind on its goals. A new inventory will be taken by the next CIVIC Spark Fellow.

Later in the meeting, the council discussed its future with Liberty Utilities and the council considered that presentation during its discussion.

The city had a 25-year agreement with the utility company that expired in 2018. Since then the parties have continued operating as if the agreement is still in place.

City staff asked the council to provide direction on how to proceed. They could sign another long-term contract, create a municipal electric company or sign a short-term contract while considering long-term action. The decision came on the heels of Liberty Utilities announcing a possible significant increase to utility costs, which residents have been outspoken against.

Mayor Tamara Wallace said she was not comfortable with the city creating its own utility company, especially since the current infrastructure is owned by Liberty Utilities.

Implementation of the Climate Action Plan is part of the city’s strategic plan, so during the discussion they considered many of the points Realo made in his presentation, such as the microgrid and the fact that they are behind on their goals.

Instead, the council decided to ask for a five-year contract with Liberty. However, the contract would include several benchmarks the city would like Liberty to help them meet, such as undergrounding wires and moving towards energy efficiency. If Liberty meets those benchmarks, the city can consider another five-year contract.

The council voted 4-0 to move forward with that contract. Councilmember Cristi Creegan was absent from the meeting.

Issues were raised about a conflict of interest for Councilmember John Friedrich since he was previously employed by Liberty Utilities. However, Friedrich told the Tribune that it’s been over a year and a half since he worked with them and he was instructed by City Attorney Heather Stroud that there was only a conflict if his employment had been within a year.

The meeting also featured a presentation on the city’s All Hazard Community Evacuation Plan, presented by Lt. Travis Cabral with South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

The plan is a collaboration between South Lake Tahoe Fire Rescue, South Lake Tahoe Police Department and the El Dorado County Sheriff and the Office of Emergency Services to prepare an all-hazard community evacuation plan in cooperation with the CHP, Cal Fire, Fire Safe Council, American Red Cross, and the Lake Tahoe Regional Fire Chief’s Association.

The plan advises residents on when they should evacuate versus when they should shelter in place. It also includes a regional map with different evacuation routes.

Councilmember Cody Bass asked for releasing evacuation plans and routes for every possible scenario. Cabral said that they do have all scenarios gamed out but because there is so much information and emergency situations can change so quickly, like what was seen during the Tamarack Fire, that releasing all the information would be unhelpful to residents and in some cases could be dangerous.

Instead, they talked about emergency alert systems. Fire Chief Clive Savacool said they are working with local lodging providers to get guests onto the emergency alert list so they can have all necessary information during their stays. He also said alert notifications are sent out geographically so people can get the correct information based on where they currently are.

“It’s a good start but we have a long way to go,” Bass said.

He wants to see the plan extended so it includes Nevada entities. He also said he wants the city to do a supply inventory and make sure their caches are stocked.

Staff was looking for feedback on the plan so no action was taken.

The council also received a presentation about long-term rentals. A long-term rental housing survey was sent to short-term rental and vacation home owners and asked what incentives could be used for them to start renting their homes on a long-term basis.

The survey was sent to 5,300 homeowners and the city received a little more than 1%, or 58 responses. The majority of the responses said that homeowners were not interested in renting their homes on a long-term basis. For the small number who said they would be interested, assistance with property management services, lease arrangement assistance or tenant vetting was the most enticing incentive.

Staff considered relationships with Landing Locals, a company that has successfully changed short-term rentals to long-term rentals in the Truckee area, as well as Tahoe Home Connection which is working to open up existing stock of vacation rentals as long-term housing.

Mayor Pro Tem Devin Middlebrook said he was frustrated that those two groups wouldn’t work together and suggested doing trial runs with both organizations.

They also discussed incentives, such as a higher payment to homeowners to rent their home and disincentives, such as penalties for homes that sit vacant for too long.

Staff are going to research those ideas further.

Finally, the consent agenda included a cooperative agreement between Caltrans and the city of South Lake Tahoe for installation of safety improvements in the U.S. Highway 50 corridor was approved. The project would install safety lights along US 50 from Pioneer Trail to the “Y.”

The next council meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Aug. 17, and will be a budget workshop.

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