Monthly message from the mayor: On the road to rethinking Tahoe
What do you get when you jam 12 community leaders in a small van and send them on the road for three days?
In addition to lots of laughs and too many unanswered texts, this merry van of road warriors got a collective awakening to the positive power of change. The road trip, sponsored by TahoeChamber.org, was an eye-opening view of how other communities solved what seemed to be insurmountable problems and, in doing so, prospered.
In Monterey, the issues were many: revitalizing a downtown, making science a tourism draw and retaining its rich history. The city has gone through immense environment and economic tensions, with fishing competing with tourism, and environmental degradation that resulted in too little concern for the footprint caused by both.
The complex problem of rebuilding Monterey required enormous cooperation between institutions, agencies, local government, the military, big and small businesses and residents. The vision was great, but the process to achieve it was often contentious and grinding.
But the city succeeded, guided by the following vision:
“Monterey is committed to being a model city for its quality of life driven by responsiveness of local government, historical and cultural preservation, mobility opportunities emphasizing pedestrians over vehicles, economic sustainability, a strong sense of place and good stewardship of the natural environment.”
Does the vision sound familiar?
Back on the bus, the road warriors headed for Livermore. Who would ever have thought Livermore could reinvent a vibrant downtown that drew locals out in throngs seven days per week and started a tourism movement that just may give Napa a bit of a run some day?
Well, it certainly wasn’t the majority of Livermore residents. When the city first proposed rerouting a main artery away from the town center and rethinking its downtown, the objections were numerous. Business along that right of way feared losing access to those hundreds of cars rushing by each day. Local residents rarely went downtown and some even questioned where exactly downtown was.
But some very dedicated community leaders realized that revitalization was about creating a sense of place.
And they did. The community now had a core, businesses began to prosper and Downtown Livermore became the place to go. The biggest complaint now is that it’s tough to get a place to park.
On what a local called a “slow” Wednesday night, the beautiful new streetscape – with its slow-moving traffic, plentiful greenery, outdoor dining, park benches and open gathering spaces – was full of people. Cars slowly cruised by, occupants looking out the windows to watch the activity all around. Pedestrians strolled along the street, which was jammed with bustling restaurants and cute boutique stores. Surprisingly, it wasn’t tourists enjoying the fun. It was residents. They greeted each other. Kids played in the grassy areas and fountains. Teens huddled together to gossip.
And the merry van of road warriors just joined the fun.
Back on the bus, these Tahoe leaders took their message to Sacramento. The message in short: Tahoe wants that. Tahoe wants to be vibrant, prosperous, as well as passionate environmental stewards. With the help of Sen. Ted Gaines, they were able to reach out to legislators and their staff, those involved in the difficult negotiations between two states, and to John Laird, the Secretary of Natural Resources.
In the end, Tahoe was seen as a place with a vision, not a quagmire of contention. Let’s hope we can realize that vision and not stall in fear or indecision.
– Claire Fortier is the mayor of South Lake Tahoe.
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