Guest View: General Plan or Fantasyland?
On Tuesday, June 16, the City Council will receive from a consultant an Alternatives Report, a key element in the process of updating the city’s General Plan as required by state law. The report has been prepared by the firm, Mintier Harnish, under contract to the city to update the General Plan for the modest sum of $884,550.
The proposed alternatives and accompanying “policy options” are predicated on the assertion that “the city must now decide how and where to focus future growth,” and the word “growth” is repeated throughout the report. But is this really the major issue facing our city? This report and earlier documents produced by the consultant make no effort to support this assertion, perhaps because the greater likelihood is that South Lake Tahoe’s population will remain static or decline over the next 20 years.
What is the evidence for this? First, the South Shore, like the rest of the basin, is largely “built out” under present regulations, and there is little likelihood that those regulations will be relaxed to any significant degree in the future.
Second, the replacement of year-round residents with second-home owners may well continue when the current recession is over. And we can expect a continuing decline in school enrollment as families with children continue to move away in search of jobs and affordable housing.
Moreover, there is little reason to believe that tourism will grow substantially. Traffic volumes on Highway 50 have been declining for years. Forest Service data for visitations have been flat for a decade. And we can expect the Stateline casinos to continue to lose customers (and employees) as American Indian casinos in the region continue to expand.
In the consultant’s earlier background report, it is stated that “long-range city development plans should be based on the economic realities of the marketplace.” Subsequently, however, that bit of wisdom is entirely ignored.
Instead, Mintier Harnish relies upon a report prepared for the city by another consultant several years ago which argued that the city needed a substantial increase in commercial building in order to recapture “leakage” in retail business to the Carson Valley. Unfortunately, no reputable economist believes in the concept of “leakage,” and it is all too evident that the city now has a surplus of commercial space.
In truth, the major issues facing the city are: (1) static or declining population, (2) static or declining tourism, and, as a consequence, (3) a static or declining economy and an inadequate tax base. It is time the city began to address these issues.
Not long ago, the TRPA’s new executive director, Joanne Marchetta, observed in this newspaper that “Our communities and businesses are challenged with an evolving and declining economy, declining school enrollment, homes and buildings in sensitive stream environment zones … deteriorating buildings in the more developed cores, a lack of affordable housing, and other challenges.” One wonders how all this escaped notice by our highly paid consultant?
The alternatives that the Mintier Harnish report presents are little more than wishful thinking, or, in the words of the late A.J. Liebling, “wishful non-thinking.” They may satisfy the state’s requirement for a General Plan update, but they will be of very little use to the city in determining its course over the next two decades.
The consultant is leading us down the path toward Fantasyland. The City Council should reject this report and direct the consultant to come back with alternatives that do, in fact, address the realities of our situation.
-Jerome Evans is a long-time resident of the South Shore who has participated in several local and basin-wide planning efforts.
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