Guest column: On priority policies, issues for South Lake Tahoe government
As a local resident and voter, I respect the role the City Council plays to set public policy. The issues and concerns you face are not always easy ones, and there are always different opinions on most policy issues. In the end, the City Council must weigh what is the best policy or policies for the common good of the community and the community’s future. Local government must ensure that the voice of all residents be given equal weight to the wishes of well-financed and powerful special interests.
I am writing to share with you a few thoughts about what I see as important issues based on my experience and tenure in South Lake Tahoe and comments that have been made to me by residents who shared their views and concerns.
They and I believe that we are at a cusp in our city, and key decisions now are important. Of course, some people may disagree. It is their right to do so. I offer these thoughts with no malice or bad intention. I simply want to be a good citizen of the community.
1. Loop Road: City Council should allow the placement on the ballot in November the issue of the Loop Road. Should one be built in the city limits in whatever proposed final form evolves? The people of South Lake Tahoe must have a voice in this matter. Let the proponents and opponents provide the public with their arguments in favor or against and let the people decide. As a district Caltrans executive told me in the past, the Loop Road is a local issue that must be decided by locals.
2. Vacation Rentals: The voters of South Lake Tahoe have a right to decide whether they want to eliminate or make drastic changes in the business of vacation rentals. However, it would be wise for the voters to have a choice on possible solutions to perceived problems with the current system, not just an up and down vote.
Voters must be informed of the economic impact of a decision to eliminate vacation rentals over time. It is important for voters to get all of the information so that they can make an informed decision. What are the benefits and what are the detriments of the existing system? Can the existing system be fixed?
Some existing vacation rental units are not suitable to be single-family units because of their size and building plan, and policy consideration should be given to owners of these units who would lose most economic value for their large property if use of their vacation rental unit is eliminated. Large and expensive multi-room housing will not become affordable single-family housing. If vacation rentals are allowed to continue operation in the city, enforcement of the operating rules should ensure that they do not disrupt the peace and calm of existing residential neighborhoods.
3. Recreational Cannabis: Voters should have an opportunity to determine if they want the City Council to establish rules and regulations by ordinance for the legalization of recreational cannabis cultivation, sales and distribution throughout the city limits. State Proposition 64 specifically allows city councils in California to allow or ban recreational cannabis. What is Tahoe’s identity? Who are we and what do we want to be in the future? Decisions about recreational cannabis should not be made on the basis of the amount of revenue taxing sales might generate. Is it good or not good for the community? Some fellow voters and residents have voiced their strong concern allowing recreational cannabis, yet they support regulated medical use. Let the people decide.
Nothing is proposed here would impact the existing sales of cannabis for medical use to qualified clients.
4. Development of a Comprehensive City Quality Affordable Housing Strategy: The city of South Lake Tahoe needs to once again focus its residual RDA housing loan resources and identify other state and federal resources for the development of a comprehensive affordable housing strategy to help ensure that there are quality affordable housing units developed by the private sector to meet the needs of the residents who live and work in South Lake Tahoe. The use of housing tax credits should be examined. Not since 2010 has such a strategy been in place.
In some instances, the condition of existing housing is very poor and potentially dangerous and assistance to owners and renters to upgrade or replace this housing must be found.
5. Retail Absorption Study. Seek City Council approval to hire a competent professional firm to determine how much commercial demand there is within the city limits (and demand from visitors), and how much more retail is needed. How much more retail can the city absorb without undermining existing business owners and operators? The focus of the work of the selected firm should be on existing businesses within South Lake Tahoe. How much demand is there for new retail and of what kind? The city does not want to unwittingly create vacant commercial areas because of over saturating the market with new commercial.
6. Growing the Economy and Maintaining a Sense of Place for the Existing Community: Engage with the city and stakeholders to determine how to grow the tourist economy and maintain community values and standards. How much is needed? How much is too much? What is the appropriate balance between maintaining community values and aesthetics and growing the tourist base?
7. SnowGlobe: Engage the community and city leaders on whether SnowGlobe should continue. If it continues, what changes in its operation should occur if any to make it more acceptable and responsive to community concerns. Most of the people with whom I‘ve discussed the matter do not support this activity.
8. Business Climate: Work collaboratively with local, regional and state government officials to ensure that their policies, programs, and regulations are “business friendly” and create a positive and environmentally friendly climate for existing business retention and expansion.
9. Rent Stabilization: More affordable housing has to be developed or some form of rent stabilization or control must be seriously evaluated so that the people who make our economy work (our fine service worker community), can afford to live in South Lake Tahoe.
10. School Safety. The City Council should continue to do everything in its power in cooperation with the LTUSD to ensure that our children and our schools are safe places. Federal funds should be sought to pay for the placement of more School Resource Officers in our schools. I am assured that the district leadership and city police department management are actively engaged in identifying ways to keep our schools safe, and I applaud them for doing so.
It is important as well that the City Council encourages and support efforts by city executive management to build employee morale through team-building and active listening and encourage employee’s creativity. City government has fine employees who want to do the best possible job for the people of South Lake Tahoe, and they need the encouragement and support to do so. I am proud of the work they do for all of us.
I wish all success and good fortune for the benefit of our residents and the future of our community.
David Jinkens, MPA, is a South Lake Tahoe residents and good government advocate.