Official: Fixing Tahoe transit key to limiting tension between locals, tourists
TAHOE CITY, Calif — Public meetings in North Lake Tahoe seem to have two defining characteristics: the public is actually highly interested in attending, and someone will undoubtedly bring up the impact that tourism has on the community in some way.
Whether it’s traffic on busy ski days, the impact of second homeowners and the housing crisis, or even long lines at Safeway, there’s tension between some locals and the visitors sustaining the economy.
“It’s always a place of tension in a resort community,” North Lake Tahoe Resort Association Executive Director Sandy Evans Hall told the Sierra Sun during an interview in late December. “This is not unique here compared to other places I’ve lived or worked.”
Like many Tahoe professionals, Evans Hall has made a career out of working in the kinds of beautiful places that most people can only vacation in. Before taking the reins of the NLTRA in 2011, she served as executive director of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
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“If we put too many people in a place in a given time, the experience is not great for anyone — it’s not good for the local citizen and it’s not good for the guest.”Sandy Evans HallNorth Lake Tahoe Resort Association
She’s served as chair of the Tahoe Prosperity Center board and as a member of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Community Advisory Outreach Committee. She has also through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail.
In not as many words, Evans Hall knows a thing or two about tourism.
In December, she announced she’s stepping down from her job at NLTRA this July and leaving Tahoe region to be closer to family in Colorado.
The Sierra Sun interviewed Evans Hall then about her time with the association, how it has evolved over the years and how the taxpayer-funded organization balances the interests of the local community with the business interests of the entire North Lake Tahoe region.
Evans Hall said that over the last six years, there have been a great deal of changes throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin, including the creation of the Tahoe Basin Area Plan, which will now be implemented after being approved by Placer County in November and approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in January.
“Through that area plan process, we have identified things that are going to make development in this North Lake Tahoe area a whole lot easier for developers,” she said.
The reason that’s important comes down to a regional transit vision, which Evans-Hall said she expects will start moving toward implementation.
“We started a transit vision coalition back in 2012,” she said. “We held transit or transportation summits each year to talk about that. We costed it out and looked at all the different elements that we should be able to bring into that element and what was feasible and attainable, and that led to Placer County actually adopting that vision as their transportation plan for the next five years.
“We’ve got a vision that has now become the plan, and the plan will now be working toward implementation.”
Evans Hall said that during her time with the NLTRA, the organization identified a few key priorities to focus on — in addition to transit and improving trail systems, that also includes tourism marketing.
“We had, prior to that, been spending a lot of our money just in Sacramento and San Francisco,” she said. “That’s fine, and during the recession I think that was needed, but as we moved out of the recession and into a greater economic boom, you know, we wanted to make sure we’re going after the people in New York and Atlanta and Texas.”
She said the reason this strategy is important ultimately comes down to keeping businesses sustainable during periods that have historically seen lower visitation.
“Those people will book their vacations farther out, they tend to spend a longer period of time here, and they tend to have greater discretionary income to spend while they’re on their vacation,” she said. “So they’re not as fickle as the San Francisco traveller, who might wait to see if it’s raining in San Francisco and say ‘OK I’ve got snow, now I’m going to go.”
Evans Hall said that another way the organization is trying to make business steadier during the year is by scheduling large events during the spring and fall slow seasons, what she calls “strike zones” or “shoulder seasons.”
“By bringing those events in September-October, we’re finding compression that is then backing into some of the other times of year,” she said. “So for instance, Tough Mudder coming in September, or June now, and Spartan races in October, has backed into some of that wedding business into September and is really filling those time frames, so we’re getting a much fuller season — not just July and August, but really going for the summer from May all the way through October now.”
So, if the off-seasons seem shorter, that’s because they are. That’s all part of the plan.
“It’s tough when you have to, as a business, have the staffing, have the inventory, all the things you need for that really busy time, and then it’s gone,” Evans Hall said. “It’s much better if you can stretch it out so that we have a longer season, you know, and not quite as busy during that one, two week, three month timeframe — so we work on spreading it out.”
Another key part of the strategy is getting cars off of roads, though, she said.
“Tourists come and it’s not that they are bad — they’re spending money and providing an economy here that is helping all of us have a job — but it’s the impacts from the tourism,” Evans-Hall said. “If we can mitigate those, that’s what we’re trying to do. So the transit vision, for instance, is that we would get transit service every 30 minutes at the very maximum, and it would be free and would be something that would really pull a lot of cars off the road.”
She said that with the transit vision, the focus would be on providing service to all the lodging properties that are along the main thoroughfares, as well as making sure that all of the ski areas to do a better job of creating a circulatory system within their valleys, so that they’re keeping those people from all driving and parking.
“Then you’ve got a situation where you’ve got the visitors here, but you’re not really feeling them as congestion, as too many cars out there.” Evans Hall said.
She added that the NLTRA usually works on advertising during slow seasons, to mitigate some of the impacts from tourism and not pack too many people into an already crowded area.
“We also recognize that if we put too many people in a place in a given time, the experience is not great for anyone — it’s not good for the local citizen and it’s not good for the guest,” Evans Hall said.
Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at email@example.com, 530-550-2653 or @akrhoades.
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