Sass Talk: We weathered the Tahoe storms, progress continues |

Sass Talk: We weathered the Tahoe storms, progress continues

It’s been great seeing all of my friends and acquaintances who have lived here for less than 10 years posting photos and sharing how Snowmageddon 2017 has blown them away. I did the same when I first moved to Tahoe back in the ‘70s when storms like this were common.

Back then playing was more important than clearing the snow. I had a big Dodge Ram 4×4 pickup and I drove over the snow in my driveway and packed it down. I did not own a snowblower and can’t remember shoveling much. One year the packed snow was so high I could not get the truck under the carport. Oh, how times have changed! Now I have a garage and a snow blower and I regularly clear the driveway. I think it was more fun just driving over the snow.

I live up by the Heavenly Cal base and was driving down the hill the other day and saw a four-door Toyota sedan stuck on the side of Needle Peak. I stopped and asked the family if they had a shovel to dig out the front tires. On closer inspection I saw that they didn’t have chains or four wheel drive. I shared with the driver that chains might have been a good idea. With a straight face he told me that his tires were fine and it’s the snow and ice that are slippery.

There are lots of visitors out there doing crazy things in their vehicles. I hate to say it, but Momma did raise some fools in this world. Keep your eyes wide open out there.

During major snow events like this there will always be people griping about berms and wondering why the roads aren’t getting plowed. With this much snow coming down in such a short period of time, it’s a strain on everyone. The plow drivers have been putting in 10-12 hour shifts. There is so much snow that the streets get narrower because there is just no room for the snow, and making matters worse, people are parking out on the streets. Anything over 3 inches triggers our snow removal ordinance.

The ordinance reads:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to park, abandon, or otherwise leave unattended any vehicle or trailer as defined in Section 670 of the California Vehicle Code on any City right-of-way at any time or in any manner which will obstruct, or hinder any City employees or City contractor during snow removal operations or which will leave any vehicle in such a position that it is subject to damage by City employees or City contractors engaged in snow removal operations. Owners of vehicles parked in violation of this ordinance shall be subject to citation or towing. Owners of vehicles parked in violation of this ordinance shall also be held liable for any damage to snow removal equipment, which may occur due to contact with said vehicle. The City of South Lake Tahoe shall not be liable for damage to any vehicles or property parked in violation of this ordinance. Snow removal operations shall be deemed completed at such time as the full width of the street right-of-way has been restored.”

Our drivers lean to the nice side and usually will stop the plow, honk their horn and see if someone will come out and move the vehicle. They do this so that they don’t have to call code enforcement to issue a ticket, but with this much snow the streets are much narrower and sometimes the plow driver can’t continue with his work because there is not enough room. So each time they have to stop it’s at least 5-7 minutes. Over a 12-hour period that’s an hour of plow time lost. With eight drivers and two shifts a day, that means 16 hours of lost plowing. Help the city out and keep the vehicles off the streets and if you can, share the same with your neighbors and our visitors. We would all appreciate it.

Here is some quick insight to our decision to declare a state of emergency during the storm. Most of the agencies in the region declared a state of emergency and have asked the governor to adopt the declaration and forward it to the president. The governor has agreed and the declaration now goes to the federal level. If it is indeed accepted, such happens, then federal funding may become available for residents, businesses and the city that were severely impacted by flooding and subsequent snowfall. Examples: 1) the business on Harrison Avenue that had its roof collapse. 2) The city for all of the snow removal equipment that was damaged in the storm. 3) A homeowner who had flood damage.

At the last council meeting we appointed residents to several commissions including the Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission. My thanks to all of the applicants for putting yourself out there and making the commitment in time and energy. These positions require lots of reading and giving up part of your personal life for all of the residents of the city. Commissioners help set city policy and often have to make tough judgments on everything from VHR appeals to approving and/or modifying building permits and area plans, to deciding what equipment will go in our new rec and swim center.

We also appointed City Council members to numerous boards and Joint Powers Authorities (JPAs). Many of the appointments are voting positions and are critical in determining policy and financial decisions that benefit all of us.

They require a substantial amount of time and if done correctly, require the appointee to become well versed in areas they never contemplated prior to council. I never thought I would speak land-use and transportation lingo, I’m sure Mayor Pro Tem David never envisioned fire and rescue planning and waste management as part of her knowledge base or that Councilmember Davis would be a fire guru and a real property negotiator, or that Councilmember Laine would be making decisions on local ambulance services and water rights and town lines as part of a county wide commission, or that Councilmember Collin would become our expert on new state laws and what other cities are doing in California to meet their requirements.

They require a substantial amount of time and if done correctly, require the appointee to become well versed in areas they never contemplated prior to council.

Beyond what you see or read about at our meetings, there is a lot more work being done to investigate and take advantage of opportunities and to protect our financial interests. It’s the part of the job that requires the most of our time. It requires us to work well with others whose interests are often substantially different than just the city’s. Serving on the City Council is so much more than what you see or read about — something I will discuss in a future newsletter.

Last month I shared that several of us were going down to Sacramento to learn about Proposition 64, the new cannabis law. Unfortunately, the storm was too dangerous to travel in. We are still committed to learning what the law means to us and what is and is not allowed. To that end, one idea was to bring up an expert on the law and share with City Council and the public Prop 64’s ins and outs as well as answer our questions.

I have heard from two other cities that the law is so vague, implementation may be pushed beyond Jan. 1, 2018. Lots of questions need to be answered before council can address the issue. Meanwhile, I do not anticipate the city accepting any applications for retail sales of medicinal or recreational cannabis or commercial grows until we understand all of Prop 64.

A big thank you to local business owner Lou Perini and our director of development services, Kevin Fabino, for working together to modify the fire inspection program. Their collaboration resulted in lower fees and a much more streamlined process. Well done, gentleman!

I can’t end this without recognizing the efforts of the snow removal equipment operators, the mechanics who kept those big machines in action, the police and fire and rescue personnel who helped everyone out, our departmental leaders who managed labor and resources, our communications team, and City Manager Nancy Kerry, who was at the helm throughout the event. Nancy captained the team with a strong commitment to our city that we all should all be proud of. I’m not sure she got more than a few hours sleep but still kept her hands on the wheel as the storm raged around her. Thanks, Nancy!

Now that the weather is clear, our white snow-capped mountains, our blue lake and the bluest sky in the world are all popping. My advice, get outside! It will put a smile on your face.

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Austin Sass can be reached at and on Facebook by searching Sasstalk.

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