City wants help in relocating wildlife facility |

City wants help in relocating wildlife facility

With many public agencies stretched to the gills in time and money, the South Lake Tahoe City Council Tuesday unanimously determined to put out a cry for help in finding a new spot for Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

The city plans to draft a letter to the U.S. Forest Service, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, El Dorado County, California Tahoe Conservancy, California Department of Forestry and League to Save Lake Tahoe seeking a feasibility study to make the best decision on where the rehabilitation center should go and how it should be mapped out.

Several locations have been bandied about — including the Lake Tahoe Airport and the old Sunset Stables property, which the operators of the facility prefer. Also under consideration is the Van Sickle California-Nevada State Park being planned on the ridge east of Stateline.

The facility requires 10 acres and relocation may cost at least $3 million.

“The city is doing a lot already. I hope another agency would fund something like this,” City Manager Dave Jinkens told the council before its 5-0 vote. He added these agencies are more familiar with such organizations and studies.

The center — which houses wild animals at its Cherry Hills Circle location — is where issues ranging from proximity to neighbors to excess coverage issues have cropped up.

Owner and operator Tom Millham said a few months ago the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency discovered the center violated coverage rules by 300 square feet. The result of the recommendation: The Millhams plan to replace a gravel walkway — considered coverage — with the preferred option of grass.

Phone calls to TRPA were unreturned Tuesday.

City Redevelopment Analyst Janet McDougall also suggested California Fish and Game be added to the list, but the agency shied away from the request.

“In times of budget constraints, when we’re looking at layoffs, I don’t think it would be a feasible option,” said Fish and Game Capt. Mark Lucero, who will be replaced by Roy Griffith. Regional Manager Banky Curtis and spokesman Patrick Foy were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Despite layoffs, Tahoe is likely to retain its warden, Dave Bezzone.

“We didn’t expect any Fish and Game help,” Millham said. “Hunting and fishing — that’s what they make money on. We’re at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Councilwoman Kathay Lovell sees the economic potential of using the rehab center to educate tourists.

“Not only is it the right thing to do…but it would add a whole new experience to Lake Tahoe,” she said.

But resident Stephen Reinhard called the venture a “pet project” the city can’t afford in these belt-tightening times — especially when it comes to the limited economic value at the airport.

“Don’t turn this airport into the zoo it already is,” he said.

But the city has not turned its back on the property and potential, with the council also discussing and trying to facilitate opening a visitor’s center there.

Lovell urged Airport Manager Mike Dikun “to move now” on getting buy-off from the proposed funding partners for the idea that’s been in the works for a dozen years.

No dollar amount has been placed on the project, Dikun said. But the concept of a remodeled section that emulates a mountain lodge with new paint, carpet, a gas fireplace and seating arrangements has been proposed.

— Susan Wood can be reached by calling (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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