Supervisor Santiago set to walk the walk |

Supervisor Santiago set to walk the walk

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / El Dorado County Supervisor-elect Norma Santiago prepares her office for her term that begins today with her swearing in.

Norma Santiago will start leading Tahoe’s District 5 on the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors today with hope, promise and a desire to make a difference for citizens.

Santiago, a former surgery scheduler, has about six months to prove herself because another election is set in June for the next four-year term. The clock officially starts at 10 a.m.

This half-year finishes the term held by Dave Solaro, who retired due to health reasons and moved to South Carolina.

But Santiago, who won the seat with 33 percent of the vote in the four-way race, isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. As a longtime community advocate, she has already been meeting with staff, outside representatives and constituents.

She has resigned from her job at Tahoe Women’s Care.

The mission of outreach has already started, as Santiago evaluated her new office space at the County Administrative offices at Takela Drive and Highway 50.

“This is not my personality,” she said, pointing to a desk in her office that takes up most of the space. “When I talk to people, I never sit behind a desk.”

She looked around to see how to arrange the desk to where it accommodates two chairs facing each other and keeps the glare off her computer screen.

She and assistant, Judi Harkins, have already established an idea jar.

“(Judi) told me: ‘Norma, you have so many ideas, you need to put them in a jar,'” Santiago said. “I need to make sure I’m accessible to (people). So this place needs to be welcoming.”

But in the long list of priorities, office design makes the bottom of the list, Santiago admitted. In her first stint in public office, Tahoe’s supervisor wants to tackle one major item immediately that fits within the goal to gain cooperation among governments and organizations in South Lake Tahoe.

She advocates the idea of the county, city and Lake Tahoe Unified School District joining forces in a proposal to construct a joint-use facility at a school-district lot off Johnson Boulevard. Going forward with the center, which would take three to five years to build, allows the county to give commercial floor space back to the city.

The city’s concept to build a government center at the Lake Tahoe Airport appears to be off the table for now.

“This is an exciting time for us. We’re a community at the crossroads. One thing I’ve noticed is there are so many community plans and so many great ideas, and many of them are either not done or only bits and pieces,” Santiago said. ” I think a philosophical change needs to happen. While we want tourists, we need to make Tahoe a place to live and work. This is a time to focus on the locals and see what their needs are.”

Mayor Kathay Lovell, who worked on the campaign of Santiago’s opponent, Dennis Crabb, called the supervisor-elect’s goals to find permanent sites for a city hall and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care “incredibly encouraging.”

Lovell sympathized with Santiago over the timeframe in which she has to work.

“Six months is a short window to accomplish things,” she said.

City Manager Dave Jinkens agreed, adding the expectation level seems to be in line with the city’s philosophy of accessible government.

“She has a big job ahead of her,” he said. “She wants to make outreach in the community. How can one argue with that?”

Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the stated goals are true about ensuring Tahoe gets its fair share of services and resources from the five-member board. But the mission must also apply to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board, the chamber representative contends.

“We just want to make (the TRPA) represent the views of the locals,” he said.

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