Council airs concerns on affordable housing
The South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting Tuesday was fraught with controversy when opinions clashed over disabled affordable housing.
The public hearing was to consider the city’s application for a state grant that could provide $1 million for affordable housing.
Although the grant would not lock the city into any particular project. It was the planned 19-unit affordable housing unit for the disabled at Emerald Bay Road that caused such an outpour of emotion from both fronts.
The proposed project site is in Gardner Mountain adjacent to Highway 89 between Tenth Street and Thirteenth Street.
Those against the project said that affordable housing would jeopardize the beauty of the scenic corridor, and one woman said she feared the mentally disabled. Those for the project said there was a need for disabled affordable housing and that discrimination was behind the dissenting opinions.
“I just don’t think it is an open space issue,” Councilwoman Judy Brown said Wednesday. “I got the feeling it was prejudice in the community, and I was appalled by it.”
City Council voted unanimously to apply for the California State HOME Funds, but stressed that the money it was applying for is not site specific and could be applied to any affordable housing project, however, no other projects have been proposed.
Tyler Cannon, owner of Sprouts Natural Food Cafe, said that he wasn’t against affordable housing, but that he did not agree with the location of the Emerald Bay Road project. The project is estimated to cost $2.7 million. It would consist of one- and two-bedroom units.
“In my opinion it somewhat downgrades the scenic corridor,” he said.
Mike Ramos, project coordinator for Accessible Space, a private partner in the proposed 19-unit project, assured the City Council that the project would be of high quality and fit the alpine theme of Lake Tahoe.
“We can bring a very high quality project to the community,” he said.
Resident Bill Connolly said that the city was cleaning up the Stateline area and pushing low-income projects from U.S. Highway 50 to Highway 89.
“It seems like we’re trying to push these people into one area,” he said.
Mayor Tom Davis was visibly disturbed by Connolly’s rhetoric and interrupted his statements to the council.
“Who is them?” he asked. “I don’t want to characterize this as a second citizen situation.”
David Kelly from the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled said that finding a place to build affordable housing is difficult for several reasons, which include available land, building permits, cost and the ability to secure land until grant funding becomes available.
Patrick Conway, housing coordinator for housing and economic development said that according to census figures for 1990, South Lake Tahoe has more than 2,000 disabled people. He also said that there is a definite need for projects like the one proposed at Emerald Bay Road.
Developers have an option to buy the three acres of land for $150,000, a figure many agree is extremely low considering its location.
“From my point of view, the community has to provide housing,” Councilman Bill Crawford said Wednesday. “I do not believe that the city government alone can find a solution to the housing problems that the community faces. This is a problem for the entire community. I don’t know where our work force is going to go if they can’t find suitable housing.”
Beverly Bauch, a nearby resident to the proposed project said that she feared for her safety and that she was particularly concerned because the mentally challenged have not been ruled out as possible residents of the project.
“I don’t want to feel unsafe coming home,” she said.
Manuel Jimenez spoke adamantly against the stigmas associated with mental illness.
“Do you know that stigma results in fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness,” he said.
Paul Beck, who has a mentally ill son, and spoke in favor of the project asked the question: “Who are the mentally disabled? They are your mother, your father, your son, your daughter… .
“I don’t care where you take this project in the Tahoe Basin, you’re going to go through the same thing,” he said, referring to the opposing commentary.
While City Council voted to apply for the state grant, a rezoning issue needs to be addressed by the City Planning Commission, City Council and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
A workshop to discuss rezoning of the proposed project site will be at 2 p.m., Nov. 20 at City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
Even if the proposed site is successfully rezoned and the state funds are granted, developers of the project still have to find additional funding sources.
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California’s broader economy is a bit sluggish, but certain sectors have been booming thanks to record low interest rates and many billions of stimulus dollars from Uncle Sam.