South Lake Tahoe City Council candidate profile: Bruce Grego
Occupation: Practicing Attorney in South Lake Tahoe for 38 years
Why are you running for council?
I have been a resident of South Lake Tahoe for 51 years, involved in community affairs since the late ‘70s; I have been engaged in many political issues. South Lake Tahoe is my home and I am concerned about our future. Our council is capable of so much more than they have achieved. I believe I can make a serious contribution to our community based upon my experience and background. I still believe in the words that were said over 60 years ago, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
What are your qualifications?
From my experiences on the planning commission, the City Council, working on Measure “P” (stopping parking meters), the Loop Road initiative (to place the question on the ballot), opposing Measure “C” (increasing sale taxes) and Measure “T” (to protect the character of our neighborhoods), I believe I have a good understanding of how government works and what it takes to make decisions. As an attorney, it is my job to come up with solutions for the best outcome. As such, I think outside the box and explore options that might not be considered.
What is the No. 1 issue facing the city? How would you address it?
I feel road repair is our No. 1 issue. Equally as important, is housing for lower and middle income groups. As to addressing these issues, please read the rest of my responses below.
Yes or No on Measure T? Why or why not?
I support Measure “T.” The purpose of zoning is to limit development to like uses. Residential areas were designed to be used by our community for living purposes, to create neighborhoods to have neighbors and to have children play to develop a friendly and secure environment.
Measure T is a reaction to the wholesale conversion of our neighborhoods to commercial use. As one voter said to me: “I did not work all my life to buy a home only to find out that I am living next to a motel.”
Measure T is one of the more recent examples of our council’s failure to bring the parties together on important issues. This council has ignored the concerns of local residents in our community in favor of tax revenue. Other impacts of VHRs include loss of workforce housing, the development of mega-homes, and the disruption of the true character of our neighborhoods.
The last “straw” occurred when Wendy David had an opportunity to reach a compromise acceptable to the residents, initially supported this proposal, then changed her mind and caused the compromise to fail which drove residents to initiate Measure T. Residents seeking to preserve their neighborhoods have been ignored.
What is your position on the Loop Road?
Let the Voters decide and place this question on the ballot. Redevelopment in the Stateline area has not gone smoothly. Small business have been damaged and lost, we have lost years of tax revenue with Project 3 and now we are facing a parking shortage in the Stateline area.
Is the Loop Road really necessary? We already have a system of roads that “loop” around the Stateline area. The proposed Loop Road will remove over 100 properties that have single and multi residential structures, while we are facing a housing crisis. The suggestions by the TTD regarding housing have been inept.
One suggestion is that they relocate the lost housing at the “Y.” Really? The people that live in Stateline walk to work and our transportation system continues to not work well. Austin Sass has proposed a Basin User Fee as a solution to this poorly managed system.
Also, it appears to me that the pressures to build the Loop Road have arisen solely because there are economic interests in the Stateline area that want to develop new commercial projects at the expense of businesses in South Lake Tahoe. It is all about the money and not transportation.
The city’s recently passed cannabis ordinance was subject to a successful referendum, how should the City Council proceed on this issue?
When I was on the council, I, in subcommittee with Bill Crawford, the city developed the first rules for this industry. Some had said at the time, that it was a model for the state. We worked with all interested groups. This referendum, just as Measure “T,” is indicative of this council’s failure to work with groups and find mutually acceptable solutions.
Their continuing failure is causing the expenditure of unnecessary time and money to try to correct their actions. This council is out of touch and has demonstrated over and over again its inability to bring people together. I think we should adopt the referendum or proceed to negotiate a reasonable solution with all stakeholders.
How should the city address sustainable funding for roads?
Some candidates discuss the concept of creating a separate district which translates to more taxes. The citizens rejected Measure “C” because they as I do feel that there is sufficient monies in the budget to fix roads. During this campaign, I propose that we designate the first $3 million of our budget for roads. While some have claimed there is no such money in the budget, I disagree.
In the last year alone, because this council delayed hiring a new city attorney after Tom Watson left the city, we spent $1 million in legal fees in one year. Where did the city find this money? Then, over and over again, we see the city spending thousands of dollars on studies; the study concerning VHRs cost the city $75,000.
Also, how about the $100,000 fireplace installed in City Hall and the cost of other improvements made at City Hall? Were these improvements more important than roads? This council does not think in terms of drawing against existing resources but only in terms of more taxes and expanding government.
How would you evaluate the current council’s handling of the previous city manager’s departure?
Shameful. There was no transparency in this process. It appears that Nancy Kerry was receiving high marks from the council on a regular basis, received at least one salary increase, and upon her departure received $200,000 since her departure was not based on cause. I have heard different views as to the reasons for her departure, but this council purposely entered into a settlement agreement that concealed the reasons for her departure.
We, the citizens, had a right to know. What caused this almost immediate termination after many years of service? I believe in transparency in government and this event represents a cover-up. I will promote transparency at every stage and limit closed sessions to those matters that absolutely must be addressed in that fashion.
More, specifically, I would require in any future contract with the city manager or city attorney require all discussion about their performance held in open session.
What can the City Council do to address the lack of affordable housing?
There are many factors that have affected the availability of housing. First and foremost is the proliferation of VHR’s in our neighborhoods (see my discussion on Measure “T”).
In addition, the cost of housing, the availability of developable lots has certainly contributed to this problem. I feel there is a number of things that we can do in the short term to alleviate this problem. We can vote for Measure T. We can permit granny flats where appropriate, we can recognize non-conforming duplexes instead of ordering that property be restored to single family residences; we can engage the California Tahoe Conservancy and explore the idea of releasing undeveloped lots located in well developed residential areas with the condition that such property be used for middle and lower income groups.
We can support such efforts as exhibited by St. Joseph Land Trust. No more studies, we need action now.
Businesses frequently complain about the lack of talented employees. What, if anything, can City Council do to help solve this problem?
I believe the problem stems from lack of affordable housing, and the lack of long term employment opportunities. The city needs to focus on affordable housing and examine business regulations that discourage new business development in our community. We should also encourage diversified businesses that pay a living wage. The city needs to get out of the way of business development.
You have said the council’s responsibility is to the voters, not the general fund. Given the looming crisis regarding CalPERS and your opposition to revenue-generating efforts, such as the failed sales tax increase for roads in 2017, how would you propose keeping the city financially solvent? What would you cut and/or what would you propose to generate additional revenue?
What I have said is that council’s responsibility is to the voters, not the city. The interest of the city is not the same as the voters. In speaking to one council member recently about increases in wages and salaries for public employees, this council person’s response was “they deserved it.” The increases might have been deserved, but don’t the voters deserve something? Don’t we deserve to have our roads fixed?
The City’s discussions on these issues are always fragmented; no one asks the big question: How much of each dollar we earn in the private sector should be allocated to taxes? The big “bugaboo” for the City Council is how to address employee salaries and benefits and this problem continues to be kicked down the road.
We need a sustainable approach to wages and benefits without stripping other city programs to support this imbalance or over taxing our citizens; without a better solution, we all lose. As I have stated in some of my opening remarks in a candidate’s forum, my duty will be to the voters that have elected me and their needs, and not to the city.
You said in a recent candidate forum that you support small businesses and redevelopment is bad for small businesses. What is your vision for South Lake Tahoe’s economic future?
Few small existing businesses survived the redevelopment that has occurred in Stateline in the last 20 years. Redevelopment tends to support large corporations, eliminates individual ownership of businesses, and makes renters out of business owners.
I envision a city where all businesses are thriving and successfully selling their wares, not just the corporate giants. Why are they able to succeed? Because we have a community that lives here 24/7. One that works, plays, lives and shops in their community, year round. One where we have neighbors, one where our children don’t have to travel to be with friends, but can play in their own neighborhood.
A diversification of our business environment where we have jobs that pays a living wage.
I envision a transportation system that is convenient for our workers to use to get back and forth to work. Roads that have a smooth surface. A ski resort on the edge of our city, which pays their share of expense in the use of our roads, police/fire services and infrastructure.
A city that has overcome the financial burden of PERS and has a City Council that will listen to and work for the best interest of the residents.