Council candidates go head-to-head at Chamber Forum

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The 11 South Lake Tahoe City Council candidates attempted to set themselves apart during Wednesday night’s candidate forum. 

The forum was hosted by the Tahoe Chamber in partnership with the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, South Tahoe Association of Realtors, and South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates were split into two groups, Table A which included Nicole Ramirez Thomas, Joby Cefalu, Brad Jacobson, David Jenkins and Tamara Wallace and Table B which included, Chantelle Schenning, Scott Robbins, Cody Bass, Kevin Brunner, Sherry Eddy and Nick Speal, who participated remotely. 

During the two hour forum, questions were split between each group and every candidate was given a minute to answer. 

Table A was asked about what the city should do to meet the 3,000 units that were identified as needed to help the housing crisis. Wallace, who helped develop the needs assessment, said she’s all for throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, in other words, trying every and all possible solutions to see what makes a dent in the problem. 

Jacobson said he’d like to collaborate and communicate with other entities in the basin to find a solution but went on to say, “I am cautious also about just inviting too much development, because I think we need to be responsible about it and find the right partners to come in and create … I don’t wanna recklessly develop at all costs, but be strategic and calculated about what we’re doing.”

Both Ramirez Thomas and Jinkens said they’d like major employers to step-up and help solve the crisis and Celafu said he wants to encourage developers to build bigger, denser projects within the city. 

Table B was asked about revenue sources and taxes in the city, to which Schenning, Robbins, and Brunner all suggested raising transient occupancy taxes. Robbins also said he’d like to explore a vacancy tax. Brunner added that he’d like to make sure current tax revenue is going to the right places and being used to their best potential.

Bass said he doesn’t support any new taxes and wants to find a more reliable income source than TOT.

“The other thing that I’ve always wanted to look at is something that I think we should continue to explore is to become a charter city, which we would then be able to charge a transfer tax on all of our real estate … that would bring into the tune of $4.35 million into our general fund this year alone,” Bass said. 

Speal said he’d like to support a progressive tax which taxes people a percentage based on their income rather than a flat tax which disproportionately impacts poorer people. He also wants to tax tourist used amenities such as raising landing fees at the airport. 

Eddy, whose top issues are no new taxes and fiscal responsibility, said she’d like any new taxes to go to the voters for a vote but would consider the possibility of a vacancy tax. 

Table A was asked about the city’s 100% renewable goal. 

“When you make a vision and you make a plan, that plan needs to be able to be implemented, and currently we do not have the technology to be sustainable by 2030,” Cefalu said. “When that technology is in place absolutely let’s bring it forward and Lake Tahoe with our beautiful blue lake should be the leader in that.”

Jinkens also said he supports the notion of it but that the timeline, and the available technology makes the goal unrealistic. Wallace said she’d rather financially support projects that will have a guaranteed sustainable outcome like stormwater run-off projects. 

Table B was asked about how the city can help contribute to the $20 million funding gap that was identified in the Transit Area Plan. 

“About 15 million people visit Lake Tahoe every year, and we love our visitors but sustainable tourism means mitigating the effect of cars on traffic and lake clarity, especially at these hotspots, like Emerald Bay and also Sand Harbor,” Speal said. He continued that a fee to access those hotspots paired with a transit system could incentivize visitors to park their cars elsewhere and take transit to those places. 

Bass said he’d like a dedicated transit agency that serves the South Shore, made up of El Dorado and Douglas Counties and the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Robbins said he’s against a basin entry fee if it impacts locals. 

“If it’s something that exempts local residents and workforce people who work in our industries here, then that’s something that is, I think, worthy of consideration but we have to also be realistic about the difficulties in doing that. Highway 50 is not a city road. The city can’t make that decision,” Robbins said.

Table B was also asked about the wifi and broadband shortfall in the city. Eddy said that while broadband is important, she rarely has had issues with connectivity. She also went on to say she’s against 5g towers in town.

“Those are toxic for kids. Those are toxic for people. I feel these towers, these fake trees should not be right where our community has people living,” Eddy said. “It is proven that it causes major health issues. People have had to move away from their homes when these things are put near and in their residential areas. So I would really need to communicate with the city council, communicate with our community and get a strategic plan on where these things would be put and away from our local people and children.”

Table A was asked about wildfire mitigation. Jacobson and Ramirez Thomas said local firefighters need better pay and Wallace said she’d like to see every neighborhood become a Firewise neighborhood. 

“The biggest problem we have in South Lake Tahoe is public land managers like the U.S. Forest Service and the Conservancy, who have hundreds of parcels of land that are fire hazards,” Jinkens said. “The city needs to be an advocate, collaborate, cooperate but then if that doesn’t work, compel these people to make their lands fire safe, so that we don’t burn down and become like the town of Paradise.”

This is not a comprehensive list of every question and answer. To see the full video, visit

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