County to begin new search for park
El Dorado County officials have pulled the plug on a controversial park in South Lake Tahoe, saying political opposition to building a regional park off Golden Bear Trail had delayed construction of needed sport facilities for more than a decade.
Earlier this month, county supervisors voted to shift $50,000 from a Golden Bear master plan to a recreation assessment of South Lake Tahoe, and will schedule public hearings to look for other solutions in a month or so.
The decision climaxes a decade of an often-contentious search for a site where new soccer fields and tennis courts could be built.
“The end game was going to be more objections, and I didn’t see that as productive,” said Supervisor John Upton in explaining what he called a shift in the county’s strategy. “Golden Bear is not necessarily dead, but people will have to come to grips in a realistic way with alternatives to Golden Bear. They will have to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of various sites, including Golden Bear.”
Opponents of building a park on the 305-acre parcel near Pioneer Trail had maintained that the property’s purchase with Santini-Burton funds precluded its development. The Santini-Burton Act finances the public acquisition of environmentally sensitive land to be set aside as open space.
Other opponents said the mostly forested parcel was a last corridor for wildlife traveling between the basin’s national forest and the Trout Creek and Upper Truckee River wetlands.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe was a prominent opponent of the proposed park, saying that needed facilities should be added to existing urban centers.
“The league is pleased to hear South Lake Tahoe will look at a broader range of options,” said Jeff Cutler, the league’s assistant executive director. “Our position is that new facilities should be concentrated where there are existing services, such as bus lines.”
Opponents had gathered signatures of residents opposing Golden Bear Park, and recruited both U.S. senators from Nevada, Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, as allies.
The opposition was too much to overcome, conceded Steve Yonker, an El Dorado County recreation commissioner.
“We got so much flak on the Golden Bear location that it looked like whatever we did, they were bound to make it difficult,” Yonker said. “Instead of bloodying our heads against the wall, we’ll be seeking a compromise.”
While the county could still end up building a smaller facility at Golden Bear, Yonker said the money set aside for a Golden Bear master plan will be better spent renewing the community’s search for an acceptable location.
“We’ll take the money and make it a more general study,” Yonker said. “We’ll do what the critics say we should, examine all the alternatives. We’ll revisit the needs assessment and get the community back involved. I hope everyone will come back to the table with open minds. A lot of this got tainted with emotion.”
Playing fields are in short supply in South Lake Tahoe, said John Collins, a city recreation supervisor.
Youth soccer “uses every patch of grass on the California and Nevada side,” Collins said. “With so much demand, there’s really no downtime to do necessary maintenance.”
Supporters of the Golden Bear site said concerns over the property were magnified, and said the Forest Service had decided that the Santini-Burton Act was not an insurmountable barrier.
Yet, in the end, park proponents said the need for new facilities outweighed the desire to stick by Golden Bear.
“We have to get some of the emotion and rigidity out of the discussion and get something done,” Upton said.
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