Oller describes first term
Only local control can save Lake Tahoe’s environment because federal aid comes with too high a price, Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller said during an interview Friday with the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s editorial staff.
Oller, who is campaigning for a second term, described his accomplishments as a freshman assemblyman, his recovery from heart bypass surgery, and his conservative philosophy regarding Lake Tahoe.
Even though it is a small portion of his 4th Assembly District, Oller said Lake Tahoe issues take twice as much of his time as any other area in the Sierra district.
The San Andreas Republican has continued the opposition of his predecessor, David Knowles, to Lake Tahoe’s regional government.
During his first term, Oller introduced a bill to allow Tahoe residents to elect the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board members, a bill Knowles regularly introduced.
But Oller’s bill failed to make headway in the Assembly, meeting the same fate as Knowles’ prior attempts.
“I don’t believe in regional government,” Oller said in explaining his opposition to the TRPA and its board, which is appointed by political leaders of California and Nevada, and the six local governments in the Tahoe Basin. “The people of Lake Tahoe have the greatest stake in Lake Tahoe. From a governing point of view, the system of government at Lake Tahoe is nonsensical.”
Oller described then-Gov. Ronald Reagan’s support for creating the TRPA in 1968 as “a grave error.”
Responding to the attention given to Lake Tahoe last year by the Clinton administration at the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, Oller rejected a federal role in addressing the basin’s environmental problems.
“Every time you get money from the federal government, there are strings attached,” Oller said. “For every dollar that comes to Lake Tahoe from the federal government, you lose three dollars of freedom.”
And Oller is unsure whether he will support an $800 million natural resources bond, which includes $95 million for Lake Tahoe, that California Gov. Pete Wilson has asked to be placed on this year’s ballot. Saying he has not made up his mind on the measure, Oller said he is philosophically opposed to bond measures.
Oller sharply questioned the quality of the research being conducted at Lake Tahoe, suggesting that researchers with the University of California, Davis may be pursuing their own agenda rather than the best science. The school may be pursuing a “radical environmental agenda” at Lake Tahoe.
For that reason, Oller said, he disputes the research that UC Davis, the University of Nevada-Reno and the U.S. Geological Survey conducted at Lake Tahoe and Donner that found a significant amount of gasoline contamination from recreational boating.
Last year, Oller demonstrated against the TRPA’s phaseout of two-cycle engines at Lake Tahoe, and believes the case against the engine has not been made.
“The evidence presented so far at Lake Tahoe does not suggest two-cycle motors are the principal problem,” Oller said. He is concerned, he said, about the erosion from Lake Tahoe’s high level. A 6.1-foot dam at Tahoe City stores water at Lake Tahoe for downstream residents and farming.
The conservative assemblyman said he has mixed feelings about the urbanization of the Sierra foothills in his district. While he said he is concerned about the growing urban sprawl, he rejected the conclusions of the Sierra Business Council’s two-year study, which concluded that county planners must restrict development outside urban areas in order to preserve the region’s quality of life.
His views on growth in the foothills mirror his attitude toward regulation in the Tahoe Basin.
“In all these issues, I am trying to balance the desire for freedom with the good of the group,” Oller said. “Absolute freedom with no constraints is anarchy. Constraints on absolutely everything is the TRPA.”
Oller said he has made a significant change in his personal behavior in recovery from heart bypass surgery. While not completely recovered, he said, he has adopted a vegetarian diet – no meat, eggs or dairy – and is exercising every day.
“I’m doing everything I know to do,” said Oller, who joked about possibly being the only conservative Republican who is also a vegetarian. “But, hey, I ate enough meat for a lifetime.”
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