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Stop the presses

by staff

The staff at the Tribune has come up with a list of South Shore’s top 10 news stories of 1999. Stories specific to the North Shore or those outside the basin, such as the asbestos issue in El Dorado County, weren’t considered. It is intended to represent the stories that affected the Lake Tahoe Basin as a whole or South Shore specifically.

No. 1. MTBE-free gas



South Shore officials were fighting to get MTBE out of gasoline for more than a year, with their requests falling on deaf ears. Finally good news happened in 1999.

The fuel additive, used widely in California, had contaminated more than 14,000 sites statewide. The South Tahoe Public Utility District lost the use of more than a third of its wells from MTBE contamination.



In March Gov. Gray Davis ordered a three-year phaseout of MTBE from California’s fuel supply. Tahoe officials were initially upset, saying it would take too long. However, Tosco Corp. soon announced it would supply MTBE-free fuel to Tahoe within a month. Other oil companies followed suit, and now almost all of South Shore’s stations are MTBE-free.

Most of the state’s gas still contains MTBE, a suspected human carcinogen that makes water undrinkable at very low levels of contamination.

No. 2. Watercraft ban

It had been planned for years, so it was no surprise when the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s ban, which prohibited older models of Jet Skis and other personal watercraft from use at Tahoe, took effect June 1. The surprise, however, was how good the results were.

The presence of gasoline compounds such as MTBE and toluene in Tahoe’s waters had been reduced by as much as 90 percent.

The agency said most people followed the new rule. Only one person allegedly repeatedly violated the ordinance. He is being sued.

No. 3. Air service at Tahoe

Hopes for a revived Lake Tahoe Airport soared in June as two airlines began scheduled service. Those hopes spiraled to earth by the end of the year when first Allegiant Air then Tahoe Air pulled out.

Allegiant Air, based in Fresno, began scheduled service on June 3 between Lake Tahoe, Burbank and Las Vegas with connections to Fresno. Citing the strain caused by two start-ups trying to build business and community support, Allegiant officials suspended flights Oct. 19 to focus on new service to Long Beach.

South Shore’s hometown airline, Tahoe Air, took off June 25. It provided an aggressive schedule of flights between the Lake Tahoe Airport and Los Angeles and San Jose until Nov. 7. Delays and complications in its effort to change air service providers as well as financial constraints forced officials to close shop.

As the year closes, Tahoe Air’s few remaining officials try to get planes back into the air with Allegiant hovering in the background considering a return.

No. 4. Redevelopment

More than 12 years in the works, the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project took a giant step forward in 1999.

From the signing of the disposition and development agreement to the sale of city bonds to fund the project, the city’s objectives to eliminate blight and boost year-round tourism were put in motion — all without the vote of one councilmember.

Councilmember Bill Crawford repeatedly voted against redevelopment issues, calling the city’s use of eminent domain power “a mild form of tyranny.” He was also concerned about over-extending the city’s finances.

Despite Crawford’s concerns, he was continuously outnumbered 4-1 on redevelopment issues, and the legal process of purchasing 13 properties within the Park Avenue Redevelopment Project was started by the city’s Redevelopment Agency on Dec. 14.

No. 5. Dreyfus and Whittell estates

Two multi-million dollar East Shore estates may have seemed to have a lot in common in 1999, but in one area they differ immensely — their futures.

Washoe County’s Whittell estate and Douglas County’s Dreyfus estate, once owned by mutual fund tycoon Jack Dreyfus, were the subjects of the most expensive land swaps in Forest Service history and both made headlines across the West in 1999.

But where the Dreyfus land swap has been controversial and suspicious, the Whittell exchange, although taking longer than hoped, has achieved the results everyone wanted.

The Dreyfus estate in Zephyr Cove was the subject of a swap in 1998. However, because of a criminal investigation into the exchange and now refusal of any parties involved to speak publicly about it, the issue has been controversial and the future of the estate is still unknown.

Just the opposite, the older and larger Whittell mansion, also known as the Thunderbird Lodge, exchanged without controversy in 1999. Starting in 2000, the medieval-style building near Incline Village is supposed to be open for public tours and used for research by the University of Nevada, Reno.

No. 6. Rape suspect arrested

Police started looking into their unsolved abduction and sexual assault cases this winter after the arrest of 46-year-old Edwin Robert Carlevato. The Jackson, Calif., resident is now facing multiple felony charges in connection with three assaults on women dating back to September 1998. A preliminary hearing on the case is scheduled for January 2000. After an abduction and assault at Stateline, Carlevato was arrested Nov. 4 when several people reportedly called police and identified him as the man police were searching for.

No. 7. Bank robberies

In a span of two weeks in August, Meredith Howard Polzel successfully held up three South Lake Tahoe banks. He might have gotten away with it except for one fatal flaw — he left a trail. It didn’t help that he registered at a hotel in Truckee under the same false name that he had used on South Shore. Before his sentencing, Polzel told probation officers that the idea to rob the banks just “popped” in his head.

“I didn’t want to be cold or hu ngry,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I thought I would get $100,000 and it would be a one-shot deal.”

Polzel said he spent the majority of his ill-gotten gains — about $5,000 — on gambling and drinking. The 52-year-old was sentenced to five years in state prison.

No. 8. High school sports

The five California high schools — including three at Lake Tahoe — that border Nevada and compete there athletically survived a campaign by a bitter and often-beaten Moapa Valley football coach to have them removed from the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

Coach Jeff Knutson’s bid was inspired by a playoff loss in a Truckee snowstorm. But the bill died in a legislative committee. However, there was a compromise: All Nevada state championship contests now must be played in the Silver State.

Knutson also gained some revenge, beating Truckee at Moapa in the playoffs.

No. 9. Teachers vs. district

There was no resolution in contract negotiations in 1999 for the 296 Lake Tahoe Unified School District teachers who have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 1998.

A disagreement about a contract agreement reached in January between the school district administration and the South Tahoe Educators’ Association union led the teachers to file for impasse in May.

In the last half of the year, teachers showed up “en masse” at school board meetings wearing black T-shirts. Many of the teachers also elected to wear the black shirts to school on Fridays.

In a November election three LTUSD board members, who collectively have more than 35 years of experience between them, were unseated by three new board members who were endorsed by the teachers’ union.

Contract negotiations will be continued in January.

No. 10. Leadership changes

Three of Tahoe’s most important officials decided to leave for new horizons in 1999.

Juan Palma, supervisor of Tahoe’s unit of the U.S. Forest Service, and Kerry Miller, city manager of South Lake Tahoe, left the region for new jobs. Jim Baetge, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, announced he would be leaving Jan. 7, 2000 for health reasons.

Honorable mention

Grad night bust

South Tahoe and Whittell high schools’ classes of 1999 went out with a slightly bruised image after a “safe-and-sober” party in May turned ugly. The dance, held at Nero’s 2000, raised money for Whittell’s grad night and South Tahoe’s athletic programs. A South Tahoe student passed out on the dance floor from a overdose on GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate. Three teens were arrested for underage drinking and one for disorderly conduct and battery on an officer. The evening ended early with teens shuttled out of the dance club and into the streets. Organizers said they weren’t giving up on the party, but doubted whether Nero’s would host the event again.

Christmas Cheer thieves

On the eve it planned giving hundreds of toys to children in need, South Shore’s Christmas Cheer lost more than half of its gifts when thieves broke into the organization’s trailer Dec. 19.

However, the community rose to the occasion, and after the thefts were reported residents donated $15,000 in cash and 2,000 toys — “far more,” said Christmas Cheer’s director, than had originally been donated.

The thieves are still at large.


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