South Lake Tahoe City Council candidate profile: Hal Cole
Occupation: General Contractor
Why are you running for council?
When I left office two years ago I felt the city was in good hands. We had a good management team in place and the city was getting things done. I had no intention of ever seeking public office again. Now, however, I feel the city is in turmoil and there is a lack of leadership. Over those two years I have witnessed the dismantling of the organization. We in the public see the bickering, the confusion and lack of focus to the detriment of the entire community.
I feel I am uniquely qualified to rebuild the spirit of team work and collaboration, not only among the council members, but with our local agencies, the business community and our residents as well.
What are your qualifications?
I have been involved with local government for over 25 years. I have served on the City Council (appointed mayor six times), the Planning Commission, the TRPA, the California Tahoe Conservancy, and numerous committees and focus groups over that span. If elected, I offer the experience necessary to go to work on day one.
What is the No. 1 issue facing the city?
Our budget! I believe as councilmembers our primary duty is to be fiscally responsible with the public’s money. Based on the city’s latest financial forecast, we will have a deficit of $300,000 next year, growing to $1.2 million by 2023.
This forecast assumes: (1) there will be no economic downtown, (2) the economy will keep growing at 2 percent per year, (3) there will be no loss of revenue from VHRs, and (4) the employee’s pension funds will earn an unbelievable 7 percent annually.
Assuming budget forecast is true, the city is going to have to cut some services (meaning employees) just to erase the deficit. If indeed any of the aforementioned possible scenarios do occur, the city will have to cut even more services.
Many candidates are promising the public that they will expand public safety, invest millions of dollars a year for our roads, assist with affordable housing, reduce the cost of public transportation, etc. Ask them where the money is coming from to pay for it.
Yes or No on Measure T? Why or why not?
I completely understand the frustration of our residents and applaud their efforts to get this on the ballot. If I had never served on our City Council, or wasn’t seeking election now, I would support the measure.
My support is tempered by two likely outcomes; (1) our city’s budget will most likely take a $2 million hit and (2) I fear many of the short-term rentals will go underground with little or no staff for detection and enforcement. This would severely tie the hands of our city and make budgeting existing services nearly impossible.
If it doesn’t pass, the public has made it clear that VHRs need to be curtailed and the City Council would be foolish not to listen.
What is your opinion on the Loop Road?
First, let’s accept the fact that we already have a loop road.
The locals have been using it for years and now with the advent of traffic apps on mobile devices visitors and commercial vehicles are using it too, and it is severely impacting the neighborhoods.
Given the fact that on any given weekend, U.S. 50 through Stateline is a slow moving parking lot, doing nothing is not an option.
I do support a “loop road” with the following stipulations:
The city will not use eminent domain
New replacement housing will be built for displaced residents prior to construction
Signage and signals shall allow unfettered access to our existing businesses
The city’s recently passed cannabis ordinance was the subject of a successful referendum. How should the City Council proceed?
I do believe the City Council is considering reconvening the cannabis subcommittee in hopes of modifying the ordinance. In the meantime a moratorium will be in effect through Dec. 8, with the possibility of extending it another year. I concur with this process.
How should the city address sustainable funding for roads?
It is estimated that it would take an investment of $3 million a year for 20 years to restore our roads. Every year we invest less than that, the amount grows.
I previously proposed the city form an independent entity that would be entirely responsible for the repair and maintenance of our streets. It would be restricted from using those funds for anything other than our city streets.
The city did put this recommendation on the ballot in 2017 with one fatal flaw. They proposed a sales tax increase of .005 percent but they did not create the restricted district to receive the funds before they went to the voters.
A distrustful electorate is not going to give any more unrestricted tax dollars to the politicians.
I propose we revisit this idea. I do think our residents and visitors would be willing to pay another 50 cents for every $100 spent on retail goods if they knew it was generating $2.5 million annually going exclusively to our streets.
I would also recommend that the sales tax sunset in 2037 as that is when our redevelopment debt goes away, freeing up over $5 million annually for our city coffers.
How would you evaluate the current council’s handling of the previous city manager’s departure?
I have no problem with a city council parting ways with their city manager, but I have a serious concern with the process by which this City Council acted. It appears that not only was the public kept in the dark, but at least two council members as well.
The council clearly violated the Brown Act when they went in to closed session under the guise of hiring a city attorney and in fact directed the mayor to enter into a contract to assess the city manager.
When the city wants to enter into a contract with a consultant it is first discussed in open session, often as a request from a council member. If direction is given, the city usually requests proposals from more than one firm.
The hiring and proposed contract are approved in open session. This is the public’s money being spent.
What’s most bothersome is the fact that Ms. Kerry was never allowed to address the report, either publicly or in closed session.
Due process should never be denied to anyone!
The net result was the departure of a well respected city manager, a vacuum of leadership and an undermining of the public’s trust.
What can City Council do to address the lack of affordable housing?
As a builder I understand the cost of building in South Lake Tahoe; it is one of the most expensive areas in the state. Affordable housing means the cost of renting or buying a home is reduced for the occupants. This requires either the government to subsidize the construction costs or the developers often have to sell or rent at less than their own costs.
The city was very involved in affordable housing for 10 years and provided money for large down payments to more than 60 home buyers and subsidized the cost of building over 330 rent-restricted apartments for seniors, disabled and lower income residents. The money for these programs came from redevelopment, which was eliminated by Gov. Brown.
Presently the city is able to assist with zoning, city owned entitlements and reduced building permit fees, but these efforts are minimal. We need a source of revenue in order to provide the meaningful assistance we have in the past.
Businesses frequently complain about a lack of talented employees. What, if anything, can City Council do to help solve this problem?
Our community has understood this problem for some time. Our community college is providing vocational education and training with our local employment needs in mind.
If there is a lack of trained employees, the biggest incentive is to offer higher wages. Raising wages also helps make housing more affordable.
Some community members have speculated that you would try to rehire former City Manager Nancy Kerry if elected to council. Would you advocate for and vote in favor of rehiring Ms. Kerry? Why or why not?
Given the fast track of the City Council’s search for a new city manager, I feel this is a moot question. I do feel that the city would be hard pressed to find a someone as qualified or as dedicated to our community as was Nancy Kerry.
You have said greater transparency is needed on the part of city council and you cited the dysfunction at the city as one of your reasons for running again. At the same time, you’ve served on councils that have been accused of similar shortcomings. If elected, what specifically will you do to help make council transparent, functional and productive?
In my 20 years of service on the City Council, I never seen such a vacuum of leadership. The absence of leadership adds to the dysfunction of the council. The current council has to accept responsibility for completely dismantling city’s management team.
I have never put a topic on the closed session agenda and used that opportunity to blindside my fellow councilmembers and deceive the public.
These types of actions have never been part of our previous councils. That kind of powerplay doesn’t belong in government.
Now, more than ever, we need a councilmember who has been through recessions, changes in management and most importantly has the steadfast composure necessary to be a thoughtful leader, not reactive. A leader who won’t use the position for personal agendas, won’t mislead his/her fellow councilmembers.
We need a leader who will put the betterment of the community first. I have been and will continue to be honest with my fellow councilmembers as well as the public. Experience does matter!