Petition to put Loop Road on South Lake Tahoe ballot moving forward (updated)
South Lake Tahoe residents may see Tahoe Transportation District’s Loop Road project on November’s ballot. The question focuses on whether the U.S. Highway 50 South Shore Community Revitalization Project should be decided by a citywide vote or city council when an alignment option is brought forward for approval.
Let Tahoe Decide submitted a petition May 23 to the City of South Lake Tahoe — proposing a ballot measure that, if approved, would prohibit city council from approving or supporting any part of the project, which spans two counties (El Dorado and Douglas) and two states (California and Nevada). The initiative, while championed by a group that has vocally opposed the Loop Road, aims to give voters a voice in the issue.
The plan, which is currently under environmental review, includes five variations. It aims to realign Highway 50 around Stateline’s casino corridor and Heavenly Village. The proposal also calls for the existing highway to reduce to two lanes to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown area for Tahoe’s South Shore. Depending on which option is chosen, the project would impact anywhere from 53 to 97 residential and commercial units.
According to a January Tribune article by Sebastian Foltz, “One of the most significant factors in the plan becoming a reality is a recent amendment in federal policy. A provision in the $305 billion federal transportation bill — passed last December — re-classifies the Tahoe Basin to qualify for certain kinds of federal transportation funds.”
Susan Alessi, South Lake Tahoe city clerk, noted that city council is not required to make an approval on TTD’s Loop Road project for it to move forward; if eminent domain were to be used to acquire city property, however, TTD would need council approval.
“The project is not a project of the city,” Alessi said. “City council cannot prevent TTD from proceeding with the project within the city, although dedication and abandonment of rights of way may require council action at a later date.
“No legislative action of the city can either prevent or authorize the TTD project, as TTD is an independent government agency.”
Alessi added that, without a preferred alternative route and environmental documents, the project is in its initial planning stage.
“As far as the petition, it’s part of the process,” Tahoe Transportation District manager Carl Hasty said. “As I’ve said before I think this is more about how the city will move forward than it is about the project itself. It’s important, and it’s important that the process work its way through. The environmental document is still under review by responsible agencies like the Federal Highway Administration for NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act], and once we have final comments we can move to the public review draft release.”
Regarding whether the ballot question, if approved, is enforceable, Hasty said, “Tahoe Transportation District efforts are directed at developing and operating a transportation system and transit for the region; we do not decide legalities of an initiative submitted to the city council. We do understand that state statutes provide the city council the ability to review the initiative and, with legal counsel, determine the legalities.”
South Lake Tahoe city attorney Tom Watson was not available for comment as of Thursday afternoon, June 30.
According to an official document signed by El Dorado County’s clerk-registrar of voters William E. Schultz, Let Tahoe Decide committee’s petition collected enough valid signatures to move forward. A petition must have 879 signatures from qualified registered voters within South Lake Tahoe; the petition contained 1,164 valid signatures.
“This matter will now be presented to the city council at their July 19 meeting for action,” Let Tahoe Decide committee member Bruce Grego said by email. “This initiative gives the voters the opportunity to approve or reject a specific realignment proposal.”
Grego said city council will have two options regarding the initiative at their next meeting: 1) let the question go forward to ballot; or 2) adopt the petition language as ordinance and end it there, essentially agreeing to decide a Loop Road project by a vote when the time comes.
“This initiative states that any realignment must be approved by the voters,” he explained. “The current initiative requires that they ask — that’s all it does.”