GUEST COLUMN: The crumbling Tahoe dream
July 20, 2010
When I arrived in Tahoe more 34 years ago I was like the immigrants of old. I had 10 cents in my pocket and all my clothes had been burned up in the dryer at the old laundromat on Ski Run Boulevard. I was in a new place with no friends, family or future – just hope.
Since then, I have built myself a piece of the American dream and have made Tahoe home for my wife and three children. I worked hard and steady and always have had two jobs: one in the service industry and one in the construction industry. I joined the military at age 30 and recently retired as a major with more than 20 years of service. I started a business, K & K Services, and struggled my way to the top through positive work ethics and quality service. My wife of 29 years and I have raised three children here.
I have written for local newspapers like “The Entertainer” and “The Mountain News” for the past 14 years. I have made friends as well as enemies, but one thing I have never done is compromise myself for a story nor backed down from controversy. I have always tried to do the right thing for this community, regardless of whose toes I might step on or egos I may bruise.
I have always given back to the community over the years through big tips, cash donations (close to $25,000 to local charities), firewood donations (more than 100 cords), free labor through my company to just about every public and private agency up here and just about every resident who has ever asked me for anything (more than $50,000). I helped raise more than $21,000 in one day for the Angora Fire Fund and I bet you didn’t know that for the past 10 years I have cleaned up Reagan and El Dorado beaches every July 5 after the fireworks.
I built my dream home, took out a second mortgage, purchased a lot and built the first multi-use, multi-family commercial building in Tahoe in more than 30 years. I even won an award from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for innovation and building.
I was living the dream until about two years ago when my little world came crashing down. I lost one of my fingers in an accident in February 2008 and I should have taken that as a bad omen, if I believed in that stuff, of things to come.
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When the real estate bubble burst in July 2008, I was caught just like everyone else and the plunge has been fast and swift. I tried all the government programs that were supposed to help: modification, rate reduction and unemployment. I couldn’t get a commercial loan from anyone and I went to more than 16 local banks and mortgage companies here in Tahoe.
With more 16 inquiries to my credit, (my FICA score was 811 and my wife was 825), I started to get cancelled credit cards and the rest went to an interest rate of more than 29 percent. It didn’t matter that I was paying all my bills, both mortgages, credit cards and everything else on time and in full. I have been dealing with Wachovia / Wells Fargo’s toxic mortgage loan for 17 months and they will not work with me. Every time we get somewhat close to anything even resembling help they lose my paperwork and we have to start over again. I have been working with my credit card companies to pay them at a reduced rate and they will not work with me. I have been dealing with my local hard money lenders and they will not work with me.
The weather, unlicensed contractors, locals hiring out of town workers, and loss of work due to my injury has severely decreased by ability to earn a steady income.
I am dealing with every agency in the state of California including the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Employment Development Department, Labor Commissioner, Contractors Board and State Fund, all of which decided to make an example of me through sting operations, fines ($21,000 and $8,000), and penalties. I have proven them wrong in each case, but it cost time and money to fight.
In the last two years I have lost all my credit cards, my commercial building, my dream home, one of my fingers and all faith in the government as well as the loss of both of my wife’s parents. I still believe in this country and that Tahoe is my home, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to hold my head up in town or even stay here.
Depressed? No, I am not going to allow what has happened to my family to beat me down. Tahoe is our home and we are making every effort to remain here. Losing everything you have worked for is quite an eye opener at age 54 and starting over is not a pleasant thought. I have my health, my family, my friends and I still believe in this town.
I, and a good portion of the people in this country, am not looking for a handout – just a hand from the same country, state, community and locals that I have given to over the years.
Kenny Curtzwiler is a South Lake Tahoe resident who has written columns under the name “SkiBum” for The Mountain News and The Entertainer.