South Lake Tahoe City Council ends local COVID-19 emergency, denies permit appeal

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday ended the local COVID-19 emergency. 

The local emergency, which was started on March 19, 2020, had six different orders, five of which had already expired. While ending this emergency is mostly a formality, there were several permit exceptions the city allowed for businesses during the pandemic, such as outdoor seating and signage, that will also expire. 

City staff is working with other local agencies to permanently allow some of the outdoor seating areas in the city. They will also be doing outreach to business owners. 

Despite ending the local emergency, Councilmember John Freidrich reminded residents that COVID-19 is still a threat and that people are still getting sick with the virus. 

The meeting began with substantial public comment on the consent agenda, specifically on one item regarding appropriation of funds for the Lake Tahoe Airport. 

During the Oct. 4 meeting, council approved a new rate study for the airport which raised hangar rent and landing fees. Several hangar renters spoke at Tuesday’s meeting against the fee changes, stating it would drive out locals and open up space for out of towners. They also said that their airport’s poor condition wasn’t worth the new rates they’d be paying. 

However, Mayor Devin Middlebrook pointed out that the rate changes have already been approved and these comments would have been better served at the Oct. 4 meeting when the item was actually being discussed. He also said the funds collected from the rate change would be used for capital improvement projects at the airport. 

The consent agenda was passed unanimously. 

The council also heard a presentation on gun laws and school safety. Police Chief Dave Stevenson gave the first part of the presentation regarding local, state and federal gun laws. 

While there are many laws, he listed the ones that most impact the police department on a regular basis, which include felons in possession of firearms, domestic violence restraining orders and arrests, assault rifle bans in California and 51/50 calls, which means a person in psychiatric distress is a danger to themselves or others. 

Assistant City Attorney Dan Bardzell then presented additional restrictions the city could enact locally, including safe storage laws for the home and in cars, requiring liability insurance, and gun violence restraining orders, meaning the police department and city attorney’s office could petition the court to temporarily remove someone’s firearm if they’ve threatened gun violence to themselves or others. 

Bardzell said San Diego is one of the many local jurisdictions that has enacted a regulation and has seen success, with nearly 600 firearms temporarily taken away. The council expressed interest in pursuing the gun violence restraining orders. Bardzell said a representative from San Diego can come to the city to do a training program with the police department. 

The council was also presented with a gun buyback program which they said they’d like to consider in the future but not currently. 

Finally, SLTPD School Resource Officer Jason Nixon gave a presentation on school safety and active shooter training. Nixon said the department’s goal in an active shooter situation is, “stop the killing, stop the dying.”

The department, and most agencies in the region, use the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program which focuses on team and solo officer movement, room clearing and weapons training. 

The program prioritizes medical care training, gives officers leeway to make decisions and encourages action. Nixon said, following the Uvalde tragedy, nationwide changes to response will likely occur and action encouragement will likely become more of a norm. 

One of the benefits of this training program is that the techniques the officers use can be applied to many emergency situations. 

Nixon also said the department would like to put more of a focus on debriefs and PTSD treatment following an event. 

During the meeting, council denied an appeal regarding a special use permit for The Landing at Tahoe Resort and Spa. The Landing is adding nine new cabins to the lot, which will require modifications to the property to accommodate additional parking. 

The permit was appealed by neighbors to the property, Patricia Suda Merrikh and Ramiar Merrikh, who listed concerns about safety, snow storage and potential property damage with the additional parking. 

As a condition of the permit, the Planning Commission required The Landing to have 100% valet parking. There is a wooden fence separating the properties and the permit conditions also require tire stops to be installed. 

With those measures in place, the council didn’t see enough cause to grant the appeal. The appeal was denied and the Landing can continue with the project as the Planning Commission approved. 

The next council meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15.

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