My View: Notes from the Front Row: 6 ways to improve South Shore (Opinion)
This community has seen more change in the past five years than a previous couple of decades, with more to come.
As we have all seen, despite the fact we are located in the Sierra, away from major cities and population bases, world changes find their way down to our shores. There is no hiding; there is no pretending we can ignore the changes, and there is no looking back to a time 20 or 30 years ago.
Simply put, we need always to adapt and adjust to a rapidly changing world, and sometimes that can be a challenge.
Below are the six changes I believe would make sense to improve South Shore moving forward. The challenge is many of these issues impact other issues, and as a result, we need to look at things from a holistic perspective, not just one issue at a time.
For example, there is no doubt, housing and wages are interrelated. The same can be said for many of these.
One of the biggest challenges of tourism destinations across the country is the availability and affordability of housing for employees in the tourism industry. The recent surge in interest in relocating to outdoor destinations like Lake Tahoe has only exacerbated the problem with increased rents and a lack of availability.
While South Shore is moving forward with an affordable housing project, much more is needed. Why don’t other agencies at the federal, state and local levels make available land that could be used for affordable housing in the same way the Tahoe Conservancy has for the Sugar Pine project?
For example, the forest service alone manages over 160,000 acres in the basin. It would make sense for the agency to make available land for affordable housing, for their employees, if nothing else. We also need more urgency in changing ordinances and rules.
The tourism industry has long been one of the lowest-paying industries with many jobs (especially in the food and beverage industry relying on minimum wages and tips) low paying and without benefits. Given the challenges with affordable housing, many employees are leaving the industry, and business owners are challenged to provide adequate staff to serve customers.
South Shore has continually undercharged visitors when it comes to lodging and dining; thus, we have been subsidizing visitors at the expense of low wages and tips. Wages need to increase faster to keep up with housing costs, or businesses will need to rethink their business model on how they grow.
3. Sustainable outdoor recreation
From a broader perspective, many destinations rely on the natural environment as a dominant tourism driver. The iconic features, lakes, mountain ranges, deserts, and more, are integral to the success of the destination. Protection of the natural environment is critical.
As outdoor recreation gained increased popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on outdoor natural resources became significant. Many destinations are focused on developing sustainable practices to minimize the impact. We must continue to rethink outdoor recreation from a sustainable perspective. That may require doing some things differently.
4. Diversified Economy
Many have long suggested that South Shore benefit from a more diversified economy that goes beyond tourism which is seasonal and sees heavy demands on weekends. A more diversified economy with employees not tied to tourism would make the economy more resilient and better handle potential impacts to tourism, including future economic downturns, road closures, natural disasters, and potentially future pandemics.
5. Inclusion and Equity
Inclusion and equity have become more critical than at any time in the past, and rightfully so. Many on the bottom of the South Shore tourism economy have not benefited nearly as much as those at the top. It’s time to reframe the local economy with greater attention paid to those at the bottom. This includes much-improved transportation and, as previously mentioned, improved wages and housing availability and options.
6. Open to change
Like many communities across the country, we have often found change to be a challenge. South Shore is a complicated place. Lots of layers of government and, in some cases working in silos. Some in the community are fearful of understandable change.
But the truth is we have to find a way to see change as a positive. We need to change a part of our culture and see it from an opportunistic perspective, not from fear.
Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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