Ribaudo column: The ‘opportunity cost’ of South Lake Tahoe ballot measures (opinion)
It’s almost budget workshop time for the city of South Lake Tahoe and historically it’s always been interesting. The city gets to figure out where they are, what money they have to spend and then tries to balance the demands for those funds.
But one thing they won’t be discussing is how much money they won’t be getting from measures that have been voted down by this community.
Over the past several years the community has voted against parking fees, a sales tax earmarked for roads and just last November the community voted to significantly restrict vacation rentals in the city limits.
Looked at individually, one might shrug their shoulders and move on. But if you look at them collectively over a 20-year period a very different picture comes into view — the long view.
In fact, the “opportunity cost” of those measures will cost this community over $100 million during the next 20 years, according to a spreadsheet I put together. Yep, $100 million. Those funds would have filled a lot of potholes and so much more. You get a different picture of all the funds we will have lost and its not a pretty picture.
How did we miss such a big opportunity? Near as I can tell this community is really good at being for or against something for the moment, but we are not as good at taking the long-term view of the impacts of those decisions.
Long-term thinking rarely enters the discussion. Long view thinking requires vision, compromise, patience and trust. We often act viscerally. We either hate a traffic circle or not, we either love SnowGlobe or we hate it, we either love the idea of Loop Road or we don’t.
We react in the immediate moment and rarely and thoughtfully consider the long view. We often miss the “opportunity cost” of our decisions, not just from an economic perspective, but also from a cultural and values perspective.
The frustrating thing is most of these measures would have impacted visitors, not locals. With parking fees, we could have exempted residents. The sales tax would have impacted locals but by my estimate visitors would have paid a much bigger percentage. With Measure T, all those taxes are paid by visitors.
I realize each of these measures has issues, but I also think they could have been managed and dealt with in a compromise. Instead, the for and against forces squared off, the usual suspects moved to get a ballot measure and presto our community is out $100 million over the next 20 years.
These decisions and actions will become more critical as soon as the economy begins to slow and the city reacts with service cuts. While the ballot box is an important tool in a democracy, there is a time and a place for it. Just because you can put a measure on the ballot doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or will result in a good policy.
In fact, from my view this has been a terrible policy for this community, and it will box in the city financially as its cost structure continues to increase as a result of CalPERS. I think we will get a much better understanding of that impact with the next economic slowdown.
If we don’t get smart soon and start thinking about the long-view implications of issues, we will keep making the same mistake — mistakes we can’t afford to make.
Don’t miss the Black Ice Theatre Company. I happened to catch their most recent production “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” at the college and had a great time. Check out their upcoming productions.
In fact, it is great to see arts and culture surging in South Shore. Forever arts and culture have not had a proper seat at the table overshadowed by gaming entertainment and recreation but it’s changing. Arts organizations including the Tahoe Arts Alliance, and artists are starting to break out. Keep your eyes open.
It’s a Wrap
Summer is here. Go out and enjoy everything you love to do. Hopefully the traffic management situation will improve. We could be in for a long summer.
Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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This community has seen more change in the past five years than a previous couple of decades, with more to come.