South Lake Tahoe City Council approves cannabis tax ballot measure, recreation center plans

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — South Lake Tahoe residents will be asked to approve a new cannabis tax in the November election after the City Council voted to place the question on the ballot during the Tuesday, June 21, meeting.

If voted in by majority of voters, the tax will replace the community benefit fee that was part of the original ordinance allowing dispensaries. 

The community benefit fee was 6% of gross receipts on retail, distribution, and manufacturing, and $20 per square foot of canopy for cultivation and was put into a grant fund. In 2022, nearly $400,000 in grants were given away to 14 local nonprofits. 

While the fee has worked the way it was intended to, the city realized that it placed a significant burden on administrative staff. The tax would be a way for the cannabis businesses to contribute to the city without the annual administrative need. The tax would be placed in the General Fund to be used for maintaining fire protection and fast emergency response, reducing the threat of wildfires, repairing streets and potholes, and maintaining snow removal, as well as nonprofit community benefit grants.

Staff is recommending the tax be set at 6%, so it will match what is currently being raised by the fee. That is the highest allowable amount but council could decide to lower the tax after it is approved by voters. The ballot measure was approved 4-0 with Councilmember Cody Bass recusing himself. 

The council also approved the final plans for the new recreation center. 

Both Jim Marino, capital improvement projects manager, and Joe Irvin, city manager, expressed joy in being able to present the final plans after so many years in the making. 

“This has been a long time coming,” Marino said. 

A representative with Jordan Knighton Architects presented the plans, stating they used the culture of the community, integration of art, celebration of place and human delight as their inspirations. 

The first floor of the building will hold the lobby, kitchen, administrative offices, a gym, a dance/arts and crafts/party room, locker rooms, and two pools (a six-lane lap pool and an activity pool).

The second floor will hold an indoor track that overlooks the basketball courts and a fitness center, as well as an event deck. 

A rendering of the indoor track overlooking the basketball courts.
Rec Center Renderings

The building uses a variety of materials, all of which are fire resistant. The majority of the building will use electric power, with the exception of the pools which will be heated using traditional heating methods. Marino said they could retrofit the pool heaters as better technology comes out but for now, they are happy with 95% of the building using electricity. 

Marino did warn that a large number of trees will be cut down for the project and one member of the public commented that it was counterintuitive to talk about power usage and greenhouse gas emissions while also cutting down a carbon sequestering resource. 

The designs were approved 3-0 with Mayor Pro Tem Cristi Creegan and Councilmember John Friedrick recusing themselves. 

The council also approved appropriation of nearly $3.8 million in Measure P funds for the construction contract. Ground will break on Phase 1 of the project this summer and be completed by November. 

During the meeting, the council approved new greenhouse gas emission reduction goals by 2030 to align with goals set by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. By aligning the goals, the Sierra Business Council can apply for grants from the ICLEI. 

The goals for the city are 63.3% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per capita and 59.2% absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

GHG emission data is taken every three years and the city did emit from GHG in 2018 than in 2015 (2021 data is still being collected). Councilmember Tamara Wallace expressed concern about setting a loftier goal when they haven’t been able to achieve the initial goal. 

Irvin admitted the city has a long way to go but that when the goals were first set, the city didn’t have the staff or programs in place that they do now. 

Still, the council unanimously approved the change. 

Following the regular meeting, the council held a transit workshop, during which they met with consultants to discuss what direction the city should move in. Via Mobility, the project team, launched a citywide survey last week and they have received 750 responses. 

Only 5% of respondents said they ride Tahoe Transportation District buses and nearly half of respondents said they weren’t familiar with TTD’s services. 

When asked what improvements would encourage them to ride public transportation, 50% said more places served, 40% said more frequent service. 

Respondents, as well as stakeholders surveyed by the project team, also said they want longer hours of operation, more direct routes and better infrastructure such as dedicated bus lanes. 

While the city is getting microtransit this summer, the council, along with the stakeholders, said there needs to be more service at the U.S. Highway 50- California State Route 89 corridor which would service the “Y” and Emerald Bay. 

The council discussed whether the transit should be more focused on tourists or residents and Wallace pointed out that no matter who it’s geared towards, more and better transit options would benefit everyone. 

“It’s interesting that we are having this conversation in a city hall that doesn’t have transit options,” Friedrick said. 

Via will now use information gathered from the council, survey respondents and stakeholders to develop recommendations to improve transit. 

There will be no council meetings in July. The next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 9.

City Clerk Sue Blankenship noted that the nomination period for City Council elections opens July 18 and runs through Aug. 12. She said that it’s not too early for potential candidates to schedule an appointment with her. 

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