Caught in the Loop (Road): ‘I support this project’ (opinion)
When I took over as publisher back in March, the issue of the Loop Road seemed to be everywhere I turned. After a while the talk died down and now, like the Phoenix, it has risen again — mainly due to a petition submitted by Let Tahoe Decide in an effort to put the project to a community vote on the November ballot.
Putting it to a vote is not a foregone conclusion as of yet. There are still items up in the air that would make this a reality. While these items get sorted out, I would encourage people to do their own research and talk to other folks in the community about the project. Get the facts and make an informed decision on where you stand.
For me, I support this project. This doesn’t mean that I cannot change my mind or be presented information to consider something different, but right now looking at all of the elements involved, this looks like the right step forward. I’m sure many of you have heard arguments for and against, but here are my thoughts on why I support it:
Friday night my wife and I were walking through Heavenly Village on the Highway 50 side. I couldn’t help but choke on the exhaust that was spewing from the traffic — not exactly the clean, crisp mountain air one would expect to be breathing. The Loop Road project would help to reduce this congestion for a more pedestrian-friendly downtown area.
I’ve been told that we don’t have a traffic problem. Maybe compared to the Bay Area or Los Angeles our traffic isn’t a problem, or perhaps if you’re sitting on your couch it’s a non-issue. How many of you have said to yourselves that you’re just going to stay at home because it’s not worth fighting the traffic? Sure, not every day is mayhem on the streets, and this past weekend compared to a shoulder season month or typical weekday is like night and day.
The point is, if you make the travel experience better for the visitor — not only the driving conditions and congestion times, but a safer downtown area for families — what does that do to our economy? We all know tourism is what makes the world go-round for Tahoe. How many visitors have we lost because they said it wasn’t worth fighting the traffic? This may be the right step to winning those visitors back.
At some point, a portion of our ever-important drive market will not want to come back due to congestion. They leave their cities to visit Tahoe and get out of that environment. Some of you will rejoice the day it happens because there will be less people on the road. But for some, it could mean the loss of a job. That’s not progress.
Another item that needs to be pointed out for this project is the impact on housing and businesses that will need to be razed. Between 78 and 86 residential units and three to six business units will be impacted. Relocation assistance will be provided to property owners and renters and a component of the project is to include construction for more affordable housing units than it removes. This calls into play a bigger issue (and one we’ll be digging into at more depth) of affordable housing. While adding units and offering relocation assistance is a solution, it doesn’t come close to addressing the larger issue at hand when it comes to affordable housing. There are bigger fish to fry here.
Sure, the money being spent on this project could go toward areas that are much more in need, such as affordable housing, but it can’t. This is a federally-funded project, not a city-funded effort. By opposing this effort, we would be opposing federal dollars. So instead of local taxpayers funding an initiative to improve the environment (which this project will do), we can piggyback on this effort with no out-of-pocket expense.
What would a denial of federal funds say to investors looking at this area for improvement? Has that even happened before? My guess is it would show people that this is a difficult place to economically develop. We already have that stigma attached to us from historical instances. With so much progress happening on this front, it would be a major setback.
I get that people are passionate about the community and that’s great. It shows they are invested and care about what goes on. However, this project is greater than just the city of South Lake Tahoe. It bubbles over into Douglas and El Dorado counties; and by saying that City of South Lake Tahoe residents are being alienated by this decision and should have the right to vote means alienating others involved to the same degree.
What about second homeowners? They represent a large portion of the community, but since this is not their prime residence they do not get to vote, yet they still pay local taxes. If you truly want to let Tahoe decide, why not give them a voice? I may be wrong, but I would say if you asked folks (many of whom come from the Bay Area) if we can improve drive times in and out of Tahoe, they would be all for it. If I were to set the odds, I’d put the over/under at about 86 percent in favor of it.
It’s a balance living in Tahoe. You have to balance what’s right for the community with what is right to improve the visitor experience and quality of life, because they are joined at the hip. That’s not easy — and oftentimes it’s flat-out hard. In order to show progress, you sometimes have to make hard decisions. In the case of the Loop Road, I believe it is the right one.
Publisher Rob Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-542-8046.