Issues are emerging in race for city council: The field of potential candidates now at 6
The business climate, bike trails, accountability and public safety make up a list of priorities for the future of South Lake Tahoe in what promises to be an interesting City Council race in November.
Doubling the list of possible candidates in two weeks, Jerry Birdwell, John Cefalu and Tom Wendell have taken out papers to run for one of three available seats on the five-member council.
Birdwell, a retired judge, criminal defense attorney for 30 years and now an innkeeper, has declined to comment on his interest until he files. Former councilman and Fox gas station owner Cefalu was out of town Wednesday.
Retired teacher Bill Crawford and Tahoe Keys Resort co-owner Tom Davis also plan to join incumbent Kathay Lovell, who filed to run for her second term. The filing period ends Aug. 11, unless an incumbent doesn’t file. Then, the deadline would be extended five days.
Mayor Hal Cole has elected not to run for his fourth term. It’s still unclear whether Councilman John Upton will go for a seat, as phone calls to him have gone unreturned.
And there is no shortage of ideas among the candidates and potential candidates.
It didn’t take long for one of the newcomers to the race, Tom Wendell, to name two important aspects of his campaign – bike trails and sidewalks. Wendell is a recreation enthusiast who helped form Tahoe Region Advocates for Cycling. He’s worked a decade for Tahoe Sports Ltd. including a stint as a tour guide. Upon returning to Tahoe after caring for his mother in Los Angeles, Wendell will go back to the shop as a retail manager at the end of the month.
As for the council run, Wendell intends to stick to the points he’s covered in his letters to the editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Basic infrastructure is necessary for competing for visitors in a world-class destination and giving the local residents what they’ve requested for years.
“There is nothing world class about a destination that forces pedestrians and those in wheelchairs onto a busy boulevard because it does not even have a sidewalk running the length of its main thoroughfare. That’s just plain pathetic,” he said.
Wendell said he’s tired of talk – asking what happened to plans for revamping the Ski Run Marina area and adjoining bike paths that came out of a Ski Run design symposium and competition. Private property issues had halted that effort.
“If there was ever a time when to use eminent domain, it was then,” he said. Otherwise, Wendell only advocates a government’s legal taking of property as “a last resort.”
Like other business and civic leaders, Wendell – who completed the Leadership Tahoe Truckee course in 1998, wants to see people get out of their cars.
“We spend too much time in metal boxes,” he said.
The environmentalist wants a new vision and way to find the funding for the infrastructure projects. “The money is out there,” said Wendell, who took a grant-writing workshop four years ago.
“I’m just a concerned citizen who’s tired of seeing the will of the community ignored,” he said.
Former City Councilman Bill Crawford, who served on the panel from 1998 to 2002, said he doesn’t like the way things are going and listed many flaws that have led him to return to local public office.
In Crawford’s eyes, the first thing the city must do is revisit “the public process” – meaning honing the government’s accountability and record-keeping.
“In general, when you look at city government, the thing that’s been lost is trust in city council and city management,” he said.
Flaws that he sees range from the failing of the citywide business improvement district and snow removal assessment fee during the last election to the funding stop-gap Measure Z and tree removal at the Lake Tahoe Airport. He’s characterized the recreation initiative, Measure S, as turning into disaster given its recent audit.
Crawford is a critic, who makes no apologies for his outspoken nature and off-the-beaten-path ideas. He would like to see more money go into the infrastructure of the town, such as a resurfacing of the streets, and wants a city hall at the building where the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce now sits on a $1 annual lease with the city on El Dorado County land.
The zoning of the property won’t allow for Crawford’s proposed relocation of city hall, incumbent Lovell responded.
To the critics of the previous city council, Lovell asks: “Are we better off than we were four years ago?” She answered in the affirmative.
“Can we improve? Yes, and we will,” she said. “It’s not all about one thing. But overall, I’d have to say we need to improve the quality of life.”
She listed getting the “Y” revamp – whether it falls under the redevelopment arm or not – as an important project to get off the ground in the next term. Right now, there’s a plan. She also mentioned more affordable-housing projects in the works and the completion of the joint government center with the county and Lake Tahoe Unified School District. The city and district’s partnership will make the agenda at the next council meeting.
There’s a lot of work left to do for Lovell, who has prided herself on being an avid communicator and public safety advocate on the panel – one who believes wholeheartedly there’s no reason that things can’t change.
“We’ve got to be flexible enough to adjust to change. What we have to do is re-evaluate things every year,” she said.
To another Crawford criticism – the convention center complex – Lovell said she realizes “mistakes were made” on the first redevelopment project, but would rather learn from it. They’re referring to the $7 million taken from the general fund to pay for cost overruns on the Marriott-anchored Heavenly Village project.
“If the convention center project was going to look like the last redevelopment project, no one would have liked that,” she said.
To her, revitalization will mean survival to the town.
Davis will look you square in the eye when he talks about what’s important to the city and why he’s running again after a few years away from the local public office.
“The economy, economy, economy,” he said. “We’re competing with other destinations. Look at Mammoth. Look at the North Shore.”
Davis has pledged to make the city’s business development strategic report developed in February 2006 his “Bible,” in particular the section on business incentives. Davis would like to streamline the permitting process to make the business climate friendlier. He not only wants the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency out of the transportation business, he wants an audit of its funds.
For his own leap into the arena, he would push to implement a free bus service around town – a venture that could top $1 million.
He’d also like to see a relaxing of the TRPA moratorium of drive-throughs, whether located at fast-food restaurants or pharmacies.
“What if you have the flu?” Davis said, adding he wants to see the science behind the restriction.
Davis said his priorities remain police, fire and snow removal. On the latter, he wouldn’t push for another raise in the $20 annual assessment because he believes taxpayers have had enough.
“I don’t think any tax is going to pass in the next three to five years,” he said.
In his three terms in office, Davis has built up a resume of community activism and wants to continue the trend – Kiwanis Club, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Christmas Cheer, South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association and its Chamber of Commerce.
South Lake Tahoe City Council Race
— City Councilwoman Kathay Lovell – rerunning for seat, filed and qualified
— Businessman Tom Davis, intending to run
— Retired teacher Bill Crawford, filed and qualified
— Recreation enthusiast Tom Wendell, intending to run
— Black Bear innkeeper Jerry Birdwell, interested in running
— Businessman John Cefalu, intending to run