City council contenders face off
Redevelopment, regulation, infrastructure and the economy topped the list of themes Tuesday night at Embassy Suites for the first in a handful of candidate forums slated for six candidates vying for three South Lake Tahoe City Council seats in the Nov. 7 election.
Retired teacher Bill Crawford, incumbent Kathay Lovell, recreation advocate Tom Wendell, businessman Tom Davis, innkeeper Jerry Birdwell and real estate agent Michael Phillips took stabs at the questions brought by moderator Larry Kay for the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Government, a group that evolved out of dissension for government practices.
Early on, Kay reminded the panel they could hold up a poker chip to rebut each other, and the practice was only used twice. Both involved Lovell and Crawford. Lovell took issue with Crawford’s comment about the city’s extensive use of consultants for redevelopment law, in particular, because the city was trying not to make the mistakes of the past.
In turn, Crawford – who stood up on every answer – claimed the city attorney had that background.
Still, the panel of diverse candidates remained civil, polite and caring through the two hours of debate. At one point, Crawford said he didn’t “know what you can do in town with $1 million” when referring to what to build from the housing authority’s set-aside money after a third is taken away in staffing. Wendell, who sat beside him, whispered to him that essentially he knew. The hush in the room of 40 people was broken by laughter.
Otherwise, the mood was primarily serious with a discussion on the future of the town – socially and economically.
The latter came up more than once for Birdwell, who often leaned forward and recited the success of the Ski Run Business Improvement District as a model for infrastructure to other areas of town. He co-owns the Black Bear Inn on the crosstown thoroughfare.
Birdwell, who like Davis advocated town hall meetings as outreach, thinks the city economic development coordinator, Camden Collins, should have more power to bring in more investment. He’s a firm believer in redevelopment. Like Davis and Lovell, he considers it a success on the northeast end of town and advocates it at the “Y.”
But that’s the last thing Crawford said he would do at the “Y.” A few times he said the city has failed in putting “a human face” to a factor of redevelopment – eminent domain, the government’s legal taking of private property.
To the vision of the Tahoe Valley Community Plan at the “Y,” Phillips said he envisions it without a roundabout for moving traffic around the city.
Transportation came up more than once for Wendell, who like the other candidates takes issue but is the most focal on the city’s crumbling streets on a 30-year repair cycle. He wants to create a model, green community out of Tahoe for the world to see. When asked what he would do to make the Lake Tahoe Airport viable, he told the audience he’d make it a transportation hub but added alternative transit as the key.
“It defeats the purpose if they land here and you put them in a rental car,” he said.
Crawford had his own ideas for the airport – let it pay for itself or have users like Douglas County and Vail (Heavenly Mountain Resort parent ) pay for it.
But Davis and Lovell see a greater vision for the embattled aviation facility that now also serves as City Hall.
“(The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s) own study said people would prefer to fly here,” she said.
As the one incumbent, Lovell was astute at the forum with figures to back claims and reasons for why the city made the decisions that it had in the past.
No one claimed success of the city’s now-defunct Tourism Promotion Business Improvement District, which divided the business community. It crossed a few discussions at the forum from local government outreach to city-funded marketing, a particular passion of former longtime councilman Davis.
“I speak marketing. I’m happy to say I was the only member of the council who didn’t vote to cut marketing. I’ve built a business on it. We’re selling a destination. It’s highly competitive. We have a product here and need to market it. If we don’t market it, we won’t be successful,” he said.
He had another idea for business success – revamp the 30 percent land coverage rule imposed by the TRPA.
Most of the candidates said they believed building restrictions are too stringent.