South Lake Tahoe City Council candidate profile: Tamara Wallace
Occupation: Executive Director, South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce/Community Volunteer
Why are you running for council?
I have attended every council meeting for the past two years and have watched while the council has made bad decision after bad decision, they have had each other investigated, run off employees and ignored the citizens.
When I ran in 2016 the three main issues being discussed were Vacation Home Rentals, Affordable Housing and Roads. Unbelievably, these are still three of the main problems facing our city today. No resolution whatsoever on these issues. Some could argue that the VHR issue has only worsened.
I have raised five children in South Lake Tahoe, I have three beautiful grandchildren and I want this community to be better for them. I want all of them to be able to afford to live and work here. I want the roads to be safe for them to drive on. Most importantly, I want the leaders in this community to be held to a higher ethical and professional standard. These are the reasons why I am running for city council.
What are your qualifications?
I have been shaping public policy my entire life. I was the Executive VP of Economic Development for the Tulare Chamber, I served on the SLT Planning Commission. I helped develop Leadership Lake Tahoe. I attended every city council meeting for the last two years. I am up to speed on all the current issues in the City, have relationships with all the department heads and most agencies in the community.
I have worked hard to prove to this community that if they vote for me, I will do everything possible to make sure they are listened to and respected.
What is the No. 1 issue facing the city? How would you address it?
Budget. There is a financial tsunami rushing towards the city in the form of CalPERS unfunded liability, a projected recession and the city’s current policy of funding items not identified as core services — police, fire and roads/snow removal.
Yes or no on Measure T? Why or why not?
No, our community needs VHRs in its inventory of available tourism units.
I am very much a property rights advocate. I believe a property owner should have the ability to do with their property as they choose within the “bundle of rights.” However, that bundle of rights includes the quiet enjoyment of your property.
The big disconnect has been: for years the neighborhoods have complained of noise, litter, blocked parking and more, and the council has not enforced their laws. They actually had a policy of non-enforcement. So now that these issues have come to a boiling point which caused the Neighborhoods Group to put forth Measure T.
Now this complicated situation is becoming even more serious because of the extreme lack of rental housing for locals. No matter the outcome, I hope to work towards a compromise between “quality of life” and the “economy.”
What is your position on the Loop Road?
Let the voters decide!!! Personally, I’m not in favor of giving $100 million to build 1 mile of road to an agency that struggles with running a small, linear transit system. Tahoe Transportation District has not proven that they are capable of managing this project. Also, taking out 97 housing units to build a highway through a neighborhood seems counterproductive.
The city’s recently passed cannabis ordinance was the subject of a successful referendum. How should City Council proceed on this issue?
They should proceed differently than they did on the parking initiative, the loop road initiative, the sales tax/roads initiative. I think the council has fought the public’s input because they sincerely believe they are smarter than us.
Instead of spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting their own citizens in court, they need to demonstrate leadership. By leadership, I mean they need to truly listen to the citizens, the Planning Commission and other commissions they appoint. None of us is smarter than all of us. If the public feels the council is truly listening, then the number of initiatives will decrease and perhaps even go away.
The hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs spent fighting initiatives and ignoring the public could pave a few miles of roads. One of the other candidates had an idea this week that made sense to me. I intend to follow up with him and see what the cannabis proponents think. There is no telling what we can accomplish if no one takes the credit.
How should the city address sustainable funding for roads?
We all spend our own money on the things we value. For the past 20 years roads have been undervalued. It is not the city, but rather Caltrans and the Utility District that do most of what we see being done on our streets. When we drive down our own streets we feel the 20 years of neglect. I’m not for taxing our public more but rather getting paychecks higher and rents lower.
First, I would prioritize the $87 million city budget by putting roads in the top three along with police and fire. The city can’t borrow or tax their way to success, but perhaps through steady planning and shaving a little from other places we could find the money. It cost over $700,000 to remodel the city hall foyer. That was two years of pot hole repair.
One possibility is going back to the voters regarding the new recreation complex that would add new employees to the CalPERS tsunami of debt that is on its way and ask for a split of the funds to help pay for roads. Or perhaps an outdoor concert series with our roads as the beneficiary would work. We can find solutions together.
How would you evaluate the current council’s handling of the previous city manager’s departure?
It was an expensive and secretive disaster. The over $300,000 spent to buy the silence of the outgoing city manager would have fixed a lot of pot holes or helped pay for the new police/fire radio system.
What can City Council do to address the lack of affordable housing?
All roads lead through TRPA. A contractor can build high-end condos and make a profit. However, the huge land costs, local government fees and regulations make the cost of building affordable/workforce housing so expensive that no developer can make the project “pencil” let alone make any profit.
The following needs to happen: All government agencies need to drastically lower or eliminate their fees, as STPUD recently did — cutting connections 50 percent and allowing the transfer of sewer units at no charge. The city and county both own extra sewer units they could put into projects. The CTC should donate land. All agencies that have banked commodities should give those commodities as incentives to developers that build deed restricted units.
TRPA should allow more parking, height and density, along with mixed use, without charging for any commodities. TRPA should follow the California law that provides for allowing mother-in-law units (accessory dwelling units) and tiny houses for community infill.
Finally, dispensations should be allowed for old motels allowing them to sell off TAUs. We need to incentivize small VHRs that choose to convert to long term rentals We should of course look for grants and low-cost loans.
And finally, a lot less talk and a lot more action. We should listen to the Tahoe Prosperity Center and St. Joseph’s Land Trust.
Businesses frequently complain about a lack of talented employees. What, if anything, can City Council do to help solve this problem?
The city’s role in workforce development is to provide a climate that allows for “True” economic development. The recruitment, retention and expansion of high paying, primary jobs to our community. We should encourage our chambers of commerce and the college to continue to provide excellent training programs to management, because employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. As well as continuing to provide workforce development opportunities like the Hospitality Management Degree program that is now available at the Lake Tahoe Community College University Center through Washington State University.
You said at a recent forum that economic development is bringing new wealth into a community. What role does council play in economic development and how would you work as a member of council to help bring new wealth to South Lake Tahoe?
The definition of economic development is the recruitment, retention and expansion of high paying, primary jobs to a community. Primary jobs are jobs that create new wealth. Tourism is an example a primary job. Currently tourism is South Lake Tahoe’s town factory. Because of the volatility of tourism, we need to diversify. However, there are some very important infrastructure needs that we need to develop first. Primarily, adequate and reliable high-speed internet.
I would work to develop a real plan to bring high-speed internet to South Lake Tahoe. This alone would go along way towards diversifying our economy. Other than this concrete step, a city needs to create a climate where business can thrive. If we make everything difficult, business is stifled. The city should, within reason, make it easy for business to grow. A high tide raises all ships!
You mentioned recently that the city was founded for the purpose of “police, fire and roads.” Given your belief in small government and the projected budgetary problems in the future, what programs/services would you look to eliminate?
My point was not to eliminate departments, but rather to prioritize. Currently our council lets the staff prepare the $87 million budget without even having a subcommittee look it over. I was there recently when the Council asked only few questions, then voted to accept the budget.
I believe the council needs to listen to what the voters’ value and make sure those things are budgeted first. The number of projects, wants and desires as places to spend money are endless, but it is the citizen’s money and it should be wisely spent on the basics first; then and only then decide on the next levels of priorities.
One idea, for instance, would be to start now putting money aside so as not to be bankrupted by the CalPERS increases.
I am also a firm believer in creating new revenue sources. I would love to work with staff on possibilities of creating future business ideas that can increase the city’s budget without taxing citizens. There is nothing wrong with the city running like a business. The city employees are human beings; the council can and should listen to all concerned and together find the fat that exists in every organization.