Little cars face Tahoe hurdles
The car buzzes like a hummingbird as the engine 2.7 horsepower strong turns at 3,500 rpm. The wheels spin, spitting up a mini-cloud of dust. The vehicle fishtails as it rounds a corner. The driver, standing 20 feet away, works the remote control and steadies the approach.
Launching his remote-control car, an Inferno A Scale Buggy, over a foot high jump on a dirt track in front of Toy Maniacs, which also sells RC cars and trucks, 25-year-old Scott Michael co-owner of the store, watches as the car leans back and shoots upward, then tilts forward and lands with the front shock cushioning the blow.
The dirt track he is racing on, however, is not in compliance with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency regulations. Remote-control enthusiasts don’t have a track to legally race their vehicles.
The course at Toy Maniacs was approved for a six-month temporary permit in June 2000. But after a series of violations, the city ordered Shawn Michael, co-owner of Toy Maniacs, to level the track.
This has not pleased RC car and truck enthusiasts.
“I think there is too much regulation on these little cars,” said Michael Douglas, a South Lake Tahoe resident and race car aficionado. “They have no environmental impact whatsoever.”
This summer Lakeview Sports erected a remote-control car track but the city asked the store to dismantle it because it did not have a permit.
“When (Lakeview Sports) initially installed it, they didn’t get a permit,” said associate city planner Lisa O’Daly. “But when it was brought to their attention that they need one, they quickly and cooperatively removed the track.” Lakeview has not subsequently applied for a permit.
Although the track at Toy Maniacs has not been maintained to its optimum level, it still exists with jumps and a berm. As a result kids and adults – the RC cars and trucks cost anywhere from $180 to $3,000 – use the track frequently.
Because of this, Pam Atwood, associate city planner, has turned the case over to the TRPA, which will review the situation and possibly levy a monetary fine against the owner of the property, Samir Habash, who lives in the Bay area.
Habash claims he is largely unaware of the situation. He said he thought the issue was over, and Toy Maniacs had stopped using the track.
“I have not received anything in writing, or legal, from South Lake Tahoe,” he said. “When I find something to clear up the situation, then I will respond.”
Michael argues that he should not be in violation of any codes because he has no control over people who want to use the track in front of his store.
“The only way you could stop kids from running races is to have police standing there at all times and writing tickets,” Michael said.
But Atwood disagrees, saying the track needs to be destroyed.
“If there was no track, no one could use it,” she said. “We’re not the bad guys. We just go after the most obvious violators, and he is one.”
Michael was cited for three violations of the permit: removing native vegetation, using the track during unspecified hours and installing permanent items.
But he said all these allegations are false and contends the city kept changing the rules on him.
“Last year we were in full compliance with the permit,” he said.
He also said he had a verbal agreement with city that allowed additional time to use the track for practice.
“The kids have nowhere to run their cars, and the city doesn’t want them to run their cars,” Michael said. “Every time that we did something, they would come up with something else.”
Atwood simply said that is not true.
Michael has not applied for a permit to operate the track and said he is waiting for the city to help him locate a new spot for the track. Atwood said it is not the city’s job to find a new location, although it could offer guidance.
Mary Kay McLanahan, is a former associate city planner and co-owner of Siam Restaurant. She supports the track next to her business.
“I do think it is a great use,” she said. “There are tons of kids that do this. I never knew kids had so much money,” she added, laughing.
But McLanahan, who helped establish the Bijou Skate Park, said RC enthusiasts need to organize in order to find a location for the track.
“We didn’t wait for the city to hand us a spot,” she said. “We pursued a spot. Then we worked with the city hand in hand.”
While there was one initial complaint about dust by a nearby business, that store has since changed owners.
“Enchanted Florist is under new ownership and management,” said Laura Ramussen, manager of Enchanted Florist. “They have no prior knowledge of the situation. We have a very friendly, pleasant relationship with Toy Maniacs.”
Business representatives contacted by the Tribune spoke positively about the track.
“What I can see is (TRPA) is putting government in front of what is good for the community,” said Jack Vicente, co-owner of Siam Restaurant. “I see kids and families and fathers and sons just enjoying themselves.”
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