GUEST COLUMN: Who turned off the light?
Most of us remember Thomas Edison, and if you don’t you surely are familiar with the light bulb – his greatest invention. Edison created and ran one of the first and greatest research labs in the history of our country. His employees, dozens of researchers, did nothing but invent.
The story about the invention of the light bulb is legendary. Hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars and failure after failure. As the story goes, he did not stop. After hundreds of failures he continued. One day he filled a piece of cotton string with some carbon and, eureka, the light came on.
What often is not talked about is the fact that there was no one to buy the light bulb. Not a single home or business could use it – there was no available electricity. Edison had to create the entire infrastructure to market his incredible invention. What’s that got to do with us? Well the Tahoe basin is an electric light bulb without electricity. We have one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, world-class skiing, virtually every nightlife style, and the best camping, hiking and outdoor activity areas in the world. Yet, we struggle as if electricity had not been invented.
Like Edison, we have to create the infrastructure to allow it to glow. Years ago, we were at the forefront. Fifty years ago or so, Nevada was the only state with legal gambling, there were 11 fewer man-made lakes in California and many fewer ski resorts.
Times have changed, yet we still have no sidewalks on U.S. Highway 50 and the gateway at the “Y” that looks like the gateway to a third-world country. Our motels, for the most part, are out-of-date, and our former world-class entertainment is gone. Remember the Horizon? Then the Sahara Tahoe, it had Elvis, the world’s greatest entertainer. That hotel is now a joke and half-closed with no gaming tables.
Times have changed. What people want and will respond to has changed. Competition for tourist dollars is worldwide. People want to be taken care of; they want quality and variety. We need to first fill the need and then wow them. It starts with getting work started again on the convention center. This is a no-brainer. A facility that can host 3,000 to 5,000 visitors a week, could draw in many conventions and the people who attend them. After we get them here, we need not only the facilities that support and entertain them, but an infrastructure that wows them. A working regional airport, light rail and overhead people movers. A parking structure and welcome center at Meyers could educate the visitor of our surroundings’ environmental needs and could take thousands of polluting cars off the road. We must get the wheel chairs off the highway – sidewalks, curbs and landscaping.
With these changes, the great entertainment will come, too, along with new modern hotels and world-class restaurants. So why don’t things get better? Well, either the existing leadership doesn’t think it possible to think big, or they just don’t have the time, skill or both. In fairness, our elected officials, who should champion change, are at best part-time, and paid $450 a month. To take on a city, you need the ideas but you also need the time, attending one or two three- to six-hour meetings a month is not going to do it.
If we had a full-time mayor, with the time, resources and control of the staff, could we make something happen? I say yes, if the person has the ability and, more importantly, the vision, like Edison, willing to go forward knowing that you have to make it happen, that time alone or having a good idea is not enough. We seem to be going backward and good intention alone makes no difference.
-Ted Long is a former councilman, planning commissioner and past president of the Sacrament Valley division of the League of California Cities. He currently serves on the Latino Affairs Commission and the El Dorado County Grand Jury.