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Puddles on linear park’s path

Jenifer Ragland

In an effort to improve a crumbling, mile stretch of U.S. Highway 50, South Lake Tahoe officials have found themselves in somewhat of a quagmire.

In order to build “linear park” – a swath of bike paths, landscaping and pedestrian lighting – land must be acquired from about 20 residents of the Tahoe Meadows subdivision. Some property owners say they won’t support the project until the city fixes a separate, long-time drainage problem – something the city currently does not have the resources to do.

After months of negotiating, the city has made the decision to begin implementing the project, with or without Tahoe Meadows’ endorsement.

“We paused, we have taken note of their concerns and have a plan for the future,” said Judith Von Klug, city redevelopment manager. “We are moving ahead, and if we face legal challenges, we will have to see who prevails.”

The Tahoe Meadows has four major sources of drainage and flooding problems – partly because of its geographical position, but mostly because development around the area has diverted storm runoff into the meadows.

The city, while it may not be solely responsible for all four problems, has already fixed one and has plans and funding in place for two others – one as part of the Ski Run Redevelopment Project and the other as mitigation for Park Avenue

However, the remaining problem, and the one that has homeowners resisting plans for a linear park, is a 36-inch pipe just outside the boundary of Tahoe Meadows. The drainage pipe reportedly dumps water and debris onto at least three properties during storms and seasonal runoff.

Most Tahoe Meadows residents want some kind of a guarantee from the city that the problem will be fixed. They admit the 36-inch pipe is a pre-existing condition and a separate issue from linear park, but they feel the project is their only leverage to remedy the drainage problem.

“I want to keep the issues as separate as possible, but people who want to use the park as leverage are people who don’t trust the city and are tired of waiting,” said Michael Fry, a member of the Homeowners Association board. “It’s part of the leverage that goes along with any kind of adversarial politics.”

Ted Smith, a 23-year, full-time resident of the Meadows and a vice president of the association board, said some homeowners are afraid once the city gets its project, the drainage problem will become a fading memory.

“They have to completely address that somehow, so we know it will be taken care of in a certain period of time,” he said. “If they build linear park without doing something, (the 36-inch pipe) will go to the bottom of their priority list.”

Janet Gray Hayes, member of the Homeowners Association board and chair of the linear park subcommittee, agreed.

“I would like some guarantees that the problem, which is not going to go away, will be addressed,” she said. “We certainly agree to the park in concept, and we would like to work this out.”

It is unclear what homeowners plan to do if the issue is not addressed to their satisfaction, although city officials suspect legal action would be an option.

Mel Norman, president of the Tahoe Meadows Homeowners Association, said litigation is the last thing he would like to see happen, realizing that it would virtually kill the beneficial project.

However, he is firm in his stance that the 36-inch drainage pipe must be addressed before linear park can move forward.

And to Norman, having dealt with the city and El Dorado County for more than 40 years, “addressing” the pipe means fixing it – soon.

“I’m not talking about 10 years down the line, because then three of the Tahoe Meadows members are going to flood for 10 years,” he said. “Somebody has to take responsibility. This has been an ongoing deal for more than 20 years – all we’re trying to do is get this worked out.”

Von Klug said the city cannot possibly fix every problem at once, but, at the request of the homeowners, has studied issues related to the 36-inch pipe and formed a plan.

If four Tahoe Meadows homeowners grant the city a drainage easement, the water coming out of the pipe can be channeled to an area on Pine Avenue, which the city has already acquired.

That water will eventually “flow out to the lake” when the water treatment area is expanded as part of the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project.

But that will not solve all the drainage woes of meadows residents, as a significant amount of runoff comes down from the hills on the other side of the highway.

Von Klug said a possible plan is to put retention basins at the base of the hills, catching the water before it flows across Highway 50, but the feasibility of actually doing that is still unknown.

The major snag is the lack of money, said Carol Drawbaugh, city engineer and Public Works director, who anticipates the water diversion and treatment effort costing close to $2.5 million.

“At this time that project is not scheduled – we have no source of funding,” Drawbaugh said. “I am of 100 percent faith that the city will have to address that in the future, and we have semi-committed to it to Tahoe Meadows. It’s not something that can be solved tomorrow, it will probably be five years down the road.”

Hayes, Norman and Smith also expressed concerns that the drainage pipe, where it sits now, would be in a position to flood linear park when it is build.

Drawbaugh said the engineering plans for the project have not been completed, but said he believes the pipe could be extended under the park so that it outflows just before the fence to Tahoe Meadows.

That idea does not sit well with Norman, who said if the pipe is illegally dumping water into the meadows now, it would certainly be illegal to extend it.

“They want us to say yes before we know what’s going on – that’s our problem,” he said.

But despite the apparent conflict, the one thing both factions have in common is their desire to see the beautification project become a reality.

Hoping to overcome a long and complex history, city officials are scheduled to meet again with Tahoe Meadows homeowners next week to hammer out the details.

The final environmental review for linear park should go before the South Lake Tahoe Planning Commission for certification on July 23. After that, the city may proceed with a land acquisition process, which will include offering homeowners the appraised value of their property, Von Klug said.


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