Letters: Too much bureaucracy; Douglas County School District makes mistake

It’s Time to Stop Feeding the TRPA Beast

I was dismayed to read the July 10th article in the Tribune celebrating “millions in transformative housing grants” given to TRPA. What will the money be used for? More bureaucracy, more meetings, more planning, and more rules; not for affordable housing. While there are external market factors at play, the primary reason why there is next to no affordable housing or new development in the Basin are issues that plague just about every governmental body to some extent:

1. Policy complexity built up over many years, often added to but rarely cut back – the Tahoe basin has become a collection of mostly vacant luxury single family homes, increasingly dilapidated development that predates TRPA, and an occasional new property that manages to hire the right consultants and have a geologically long development timeline (and budget) to survive the permitting process.

2. A severe disconnect between policymakers and those that implement them – deed restrictions make market rate financing all but impossible. Most projects are best divided between affordable and market rate units, but this runs afoul of rigid “all-or-nothing” rules. Their policies are overly prescriptive, resulting in glacial approval processes. In the private sector, time kills all deals and makes building (and therefore rents) more expensive.

3. Policies that promote good optics and risk aversion above efficiency, clarity and service. Lake Tahoe is perhaps the most studied area in America. Countless millions have gone into the hands of analysts, consultants, communication specialists, public meetings, and assuaging various community groups over decades. How many ADU’s have been built since 2020? How many affordable housing units have been built versus how many meetings about affordable housing have been held?

It’s time to admit that the TRPA’s system is fundamentally broken, take a deep breath, and start with a clean slate that enables rapid approval of environmentally sensitive developments of all shapes, sizes, locations and densities. If a building is LEED certified, does it really matter if it’s 35 or 45 foot tall? If a building is BuiltGreen, does 50% versus 60% lot coverage really matter? If a building is affordable by design with smaller, less expensive units, does it really matter if the people that live in them earn $15 or $50 per hour? If a single family home is designed as a passive house, does it really matter whether it has a 50 foot clearance from a stream environment zone? Would a few 16 unit apartment buildings amongst a sea of partially vacant single family homes really destroy the character of a neighborhood?

I have no doubt that, to a person, the people that work at TRPA are there for the right reasons and are well intentioned. Also, they are constrained by other boundless government bureaucracies from two states and the federal government. However, throwing good money after bad and spending more money on endless studies isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s time to stop feeding the beast until measurable results are prioritized through smarter, simpler, faster, and saner rules for sustainable development and redevelopment in the Tahoe Basin.

Seth Dallob is COO of NexGen Housing Partners, a market workforce housing developer and manager of more than 500 units in metro Seattle. He moved to South Lake Tahoe with his wife in early 2022.

Sad day in Douglas County

I was at the Douglas County school board meeting this week, at which the new riight-wing majority voted to fire the district’s long time law firm and hire Joey Gilbert, the bombastic litigator, conspiracy theorist and failed candidate for governor. 

I don’t think the recent stories on this conveyed the heated public controversy over this or how troubling the board’s behavior was.

Led by Susan Jansen, the new majority fired its legal firm because it advised them that their proposals against transgender students would likely run afoul of state law. That’s a bad reason to fire your lawyers, but things got much worse.

It’s not just that Gilbert has made a cottage industry of promoting discredited anti-vax and election denial conspiracy theories.  Or that his track record with high profile cases is poor.  After he lost the GOP gubernatorial primary last year,  and then sued to overturn the results, he not only had his case dismissed on summary judgement –tantamount to being laughed out of court — but was ordered to pay more than $240,000 in attorneys fees to the other side. We can even leave aside the fact that Gilbert spoke at the January 6 rallies in Washington before mobs stormed the Capitol. 

By his own admission, Gilbert has no experience in education law beyond suing the Washoe County School District. The district’s previous law firm has represented school systems around the state, including Douglas County, for decades.

Yet the board’s new majority picked Gilbert without even soliciting any other competitive bids.  Gilbert confirmed he will charge more than the previous firm.

It now seems likely that the board will pass the anti-transgender policies on bathrooms and sports teams, and the ACLU had promised to sue in response.  That sets up an expensive legal fight that the district may well lose.

At both of the board’s last two meetings on this, parents and educators and grandparents like me voiced deep concern. Jansen and her allies ignored all objections.

It was a sad day for Douglas County students, parents and teachers.

Edmund Andrews, South Lake Tahoe

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