City Council throws a wrench in ‘Loop Road’ plans

Laney Griffo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The current plan for the controversial “Loop Road” project was essentially killed Tuesday evening after the South Lake Tahoe City Council voted to use property the Tahoe Transportation District would need for the project as housing instead. The project itself is not dead but an alternative route will have to adopted.

The US 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project, commonly known as Loop Road, is a plan to re-route U.S. Highway 50, which would allow the casino corridor to turn into a main street.

The plan has been in the works for more than 40 years, but TTD’s current plan would reroute the highway through the Rocky Point Neighborhood. They would have to tear down several houses in one of South Lake’s only remaining affordable areas but had promised to build replacement housing.

Despite the project impacting the city’s residents, the council had long felt left out of the discussion. In February, 2021, the council declared their intention to consider alternatives in order to protect the homes in Rocky Point.

The city retained Wood Rodgers to consider alternative routes using existing streets, however they found no options that would help traffic congestion. A resident of Rocky Point spoke during public comment in opposition of Loop Road and said he was glad to see the city consider alternatives.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council discussed building a mobility hub at the “Y,” which would help traffic congestion by lessening the number of cars on the road.

The mobility hub was outside of the scope of this project but council directed staff to explore the option.

In addition to discussing alternative routes, the council, acting as the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency voted to dispose of properties at 3900 and 3908 Lake Tahoe Boulevard.

Those vacant properties are needed for TTD’s US 50 reroute plan but instead, council voted 3-1 to put the properties on the market with the stipulation that they only be developed for affordable housing. Mayor Pro Tem Cristi Creegan was absent from the meeting and Mayor Devin Middlebrook provided the only no vote.

“If it comes to housing versus highways, I’m going to fall in line with housing,” said Councilmember John Friedrich.

Councilmember Cody Bass agreed, stating, “the city has done what we should do, which is protect housing.”

The council’s decision does not completely end Loop Road project, it just forces TTD to consider other alternatives.

TTD District Manager Carl Hasty said they still have the same objective for the project which is revitalization and economic development of the downtown area.

“I will continue working with my board and our partners, including the city, to find a plan that meets those objectives,” Hasty said.

Bass represents the city on the TTD board. Councilmember Tamara Wallace suggested Bass ask TTD to bring Loop Road back to the board and start from scratch.

During the meeting, council had a lengthy discussion about whether or not to support the U.S. House of Representatives Bill 6903. The bill, introduced by Congressman Tom McClintock (R-California, 4th District) would require the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out activities to suppress wildfires, which includes “extinguishing wildfires detected on National Forest System lands not later than 24 hours after such a wildfire is detected; and immediately suppress any prescribed fire that exceeds prescription.”

The city’s Interim Fire Chief Jim Drennan gave a presentation on the bill to council. He did not advise the council on their decision but did say he saw some “problematic points,” in the bill, including the fact that the Tahoe Basin does not have a “let it burn policy,” and already has mutual aid agreements in place.

He did say he believes both sides of the argument have the best intentions for this bill.

A representative from McClintock’s office said the congressman holds Lake Tahoe up as a shining example of fire suppression and wants other agencies around the country to have “more urgency” when it comes to fighting fires.

More than a dozen members of the public spoke in opposition to the council’s support of the bill. They expressed concern that this bill would put politicians in charge of making firefighting decisions and not the fire experts. The public also said that fire agencies don’t need more regulations, they need more resources.

Finally, several people brought up McClintock’s July 2021 statement to the Union Democrat in which he said, “wildfire firefighting is hot, miserable work, but it is not skilled labor.”

Friedrich expressed concern that if the bill requires agencies to put out fires within 24 hours that it will hamstring agencies, forcing them to move resources from bigger fires. However, the bill does stipulate that it is, “to the maximum extent practicable.”

Wallace, who asked for this item to be brought forward said this is not the final version of the bill and it will go through committee where it is discussed and debated.

The council gave direction to staff to craft a letter that expresses their concerns with the bill, including asking that the bill allows for local and regional flexibility.

They don’t support the bill as written but support the idea of the bill going through the process.

The council also approved a Electric Vehicle Charger Siting Plan which looks at best places to put EV chargers for both city and public use. The city currently has 42 chargers and they recommend adding another 114, 66 of which would be for public use. They are also looking into the possibility of adding e-bike charging stations around the city.

The plan allows for flexibility in case more businesses open up EV chargers for public use.

Finally, the council heard the inaugural Public Works Annual Report. Some of the highlights of the report include, Street Maintenance provides the 259 lane miles of road, and over 7,700 signs and post markers maintained by street maintenance, the 20 continuous days of snow removal in December and the more than $3 million in grants received and closed by Engineering in FY2020/21.

The meeting began with declarations of May as Mental Health Awareness Month and June as Tahoe Bike Month.

The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 7, and will include several Sugar Pine Village related items.

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