Sass Talk: Plenty to address in South Lake Tahoe in 2017 |

Sass Talk: Plenty to address in South Lake Tahoe in 2017

Austin Sass
Sass Talk

Issues to address in 2017

The list includes: labor negotiations with our many city employees, the new Rec and Swim Center’s design and contracting, a long term VHR policy, the new California cannabis law and how we decide to proceed within the city, better engagement with our community and strengthening the trust that has been weakened as a result of the election and the past year, finishing Champion’s Plaza, IT investment to make our services better, new playfields, housing, the county relationship with 56 acres and the senior center, commodities and development rights, the Greenway, and a streets rehabilitation solution.

I could not be more honored and excited to represent this community as your mayor. Having served on City Council for two years, I have learned there are deeply passionate and extremely knowledgeable residents and fellow council members who care immensely about our community and the decisions made by our city.

As we begin a new year, I look forward to serving this outstanding community, working alongside my fellow council members and accomplishing many things with the resources we have available. The list of policies, tasks and negotiations we need to address in 2017 are numerous (see factbox). Successful solutions for all of these items will strengthen our economy and make the quality of life here in South Lake Tahoe better for all.

At our meeting on Dec. 13, we started out by swearing in our two new City Council members, Brooke Laine and Jason Collin. I want to welcome them both to council and I am optimistic that all of us will go forward seeing the glass as half full and not half empty. I believe we will work well together and be mindful of the past successes and failures. We will be respectful of each other and our residents, and we will get things done through hard work and a passion for South Lake Tahoe. We will move forward in a positive way with the goal of making our city a better place to live, work and visit.

So, let’s get right to my thoughts on some of the topics we discussed at council. The most controversial issue was the appeal on the Tahoe Wellness Center’s permit denial. As many of you know, the permit was denied by City Manager Nancy Kerry because it was incomplete. The renewal of the permit required two things that the TWC (Tahoe Wellness Center) did not submit. The first was a non-refundable $7,000 deposit and the second was a completed city form from the landlord stating they gave permission for a cannabis wellness center to operate in the building. The permit had expired in the spring and after granting several extensions, our city manager did not see a way forward because she was told by the landlord’s attorney that no such permission would be forthcoming.

The TWC appealed the city manager’s decision to council as was its right, and the council, in what was a quasi-judiciary hearing, supported the city manager’s decision. TWC’s attorneys argued that the lease agreement should suffice as permission. Council saw the lease agreement as a civil matter and did not feel it was its place to tell a landlord what to do with the building. As an aside, the TWC and the landlord have been in court litigating since the summer regarding the lease and a sales agreement that they reportedly entered into.

On Wednesday, Dec. 21, Judge Steven Bailey ultimately decided to grant a stay, which halts the issuance of fines until the court determines whether or not the lease should be considered consent from the landlord in place of the signature on the city form. A Jan. 10 date was set for the court to determine next steps.

From my viewpoint the council made the right decision. The hearing was an appeal of the city manager’s decision. We were ruling on a very narrow issue and the fact of the matter is that the renewal process was incomplete and is still incomplete.

All of council and the city management wish that the landlord and TWC could have worked out the issue rather than us having to rule on the appeal. In fact, Judge Bailey stated several times that he was troubled by the landlord’s actions and how they had ultimately dragged the city into the middle of this situation.

During the morning there was a presentation originated by our police chief on some of the implications of the new Proposition 64 cannabis law that California voters recently passed. Included in the presentation were comments from one of our police officers, doctors at Barton Hospital, the student advocate from the LTUSD and the South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition. The information presented was educational and informative. At the meeting and afterward many in attendance thought the presentation was one-sided and anti-cannabis.

As I stated at the meeting, if I were in the audience I would agree that only one side of the coin was presented. I do support having future cannabis discussions with the community regarding the new law and the benefits of banning it and the benefits of allowing it. The new law is in its infancy and there is much to learn about what it means, how you implement it, how cities recover the administrative and enforcement costs if they allow retail sales of recreational and/or medicinal sales, as well as the ins and outs of commercial grows.

To that end, Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David, the police chief and myself will be traveling to Sacramento on Jan. 11 for a 2.5 hour presentation by the League of California Cities on the new law. We have much to learn and then share with council and our community.

One of the joys of being on council is working with people who care enough about our community and donate their personal unpaid time to a cause. I was very proud to accept a certificate declaring South Lake Tahoe a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition. People like Chris Carney, Curtis Fong, Ty Polastri, Chuck Nelson, Peter Fink, Jim Marino and others are to be thanked for a personal commitment of time and energy on all of our behalves.

Another presentation in what was a very long 9.5 hour meeting was on vacation home rentals. The top line is that we have 1,575 VHR properties in the city, which is down from 1,906 in October of 2015. I do believe that the changes the city has made in the VHR ordinance and enforcement are working. I also believe that the culture of VHRs is changing. Owners are more involved and that means that guests are better informed about what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

Is there work to be done? Yes. Were the changes made over the past two years enough? No, they were short-term fixes. Are we working on a long-term policy for VHRs? Yes — stay tuned for the socioeconomic study findings this spring and then future discussions in 2017 on where we go with VHRs.

I want to take this opportunity to wish the best of luck to Gianna and Brad Leavers who were granted 4,873 sq. feet of CFA by council to open their dream, the Blue Granite Climbing Gym. Gianna and Brad are wonderful people and the entire council was very happy to be able to help make their vision a reality.

After a year off, I finally received medical clearance to ski again. I have to share with you that skiing and being on the mountain is one of the things that make my life full. I missed riding the chairlifts, hanging out in the lodge and carving turns with my buddies. I ski and ride with a great posse of friends and am grateful to be back on the snow ripping turns with them while looking forward to getting on edge with some new people I have gotten close with during the past year. Whether you ski, ride, snowshoe, cross country traverse, backcountry, winter hike or just like looking at the mountains, it’s all about getting outside. If you do, this I can promise you: It will always put a smile on your face.

Have a very happy holiday season and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

Sass Talk is a new monthly column written by South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass. He can be reached at

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