OPINION: What kind of community do we want? Can we have? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

OPINION: What kind of community do we want? Can we have?

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The recent financial crisis has caused many of us to reflect on our future – unemployment is at all time highs, and while the stock market is recovering many 401k’s have been lost.

Let me say at the onset, that if I had been the first person to come over the pass and see Lake Tahoe, my first stop would have been in Washington DC. I would have strongly argued that the entire Tahoe Basin should be made a national park to be preserved in its natural state with all the protections of a Yosemite, and all our precious parks. However, I was not. The demands of the Nevada’s silver mines for timber plus a general lack of understanding of the value of such resources led to the rape of the forest and the commercial settlements that are now the communities surrounding the lake.

The result is a community with an economy based on tourism. As such, we are one of the first and the hardest to be hit by economic downturns. The one bright spot was the potential convention center project, that if completed, would provide more than 1,000 jobs and much need visitors throughout the year. However, that project has fallen on hard times as well.

The question is, what do we want and what can we do? Its seems impossible now to work toward national or state park status – there is far too much private ownership for that to happen. How do we preserve and protect what we have and support a community of nearly 25,000 that is dependent on tourism?

As an active environmentalist in the late 1960s, the young and successful people who lived in the community were the first to support protecting the coast line at Half Moon Bay. If this is the case, then to make our community successful we must improve the standard of living so people have the time and resources to be involved.

While our town has completed many worthwhile projects, those who participate in the planning and public input are pretty much the same each time. Those from the minority communities or who work two to three jobs are not usually involved.

The noted behaviorist, Benjamin Maslow, gave us a hierarchy of needs in which he points out that a hungry person does not see the beauty in a tree, only if there is fruit to eat in it. The same is true with community involvement. When you come home from your second job tired and still not financially comfortable, you are not excited about a three-hour meeting on the 56-acre project.

We can improve ourselves in several ways. First, we need to create year-round opportunities in the construction, tourism and service industries. Many of our existing business could offer more opportunities if they had a solid, year-round business and did not have to suffer through shoulder seasons. The convention business is the best source to do that.

Another is to create truly affordable housing so that the middle class that we do have – including city, police, fire, hospital workers and the like – can afford to live here. These are the citizens with the personal interest that comes from working and living here, of having children in local schools and playing baseball on the weekend with fellow members of the community. By forcing our middle class to move off the hill to find affordable housing we lose that element.

The people who are left are either too busy to get involved or are old timers. That’s not to say that these old timers don’t have something valuable to say, they do, but what is lacking is the balance with those who would bring in new views and ideas. By involving our young, successful community members we can have a community that is truly balanced by all sides.

Ted Long is a former councilman, planning commissioner and a past president of the Sacramento division of the league of California Cities.

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