Survey indicates bitterness in the city |

Survey indicates bitterness in the city

Susan Wood

With almost half the number of South Lake Tahoe residents polled responding, the city received an acerbic earful on a survey designed to assess problems facing the community.

From streets and the subsidized “white elephant” Lake Tahoe Airport, to job opportunities, affordable housing and the environment, some of the 412 out of 995 city residents polled lamented the direction the city is headed. Echoing the sentiment of many, one resident said South Lake Tahoe is “trying to make this city for the upper-class rich people.”

Sixty-nine percent of those who responded said they’ve lived here for more than 16 years.

Other comments took aim at the mass exodus of residents unable to afford to live here and alleged fiscal mismanagement by the city with its ongoing budget problems.

Results were released Tuesday at the City Council meeting, but there was too much to tabulate in the diverse responses to make an assessment, council members concluded.

“This shows people care,” Councilwoman Kathay Lovell said, while raising her eyebrows. Councilman John Upton said some issues “clearly need to be addressed.”

The council opted to review the information at its May 18 meeting. The topic will be scheduled for discussion at 6 p.m. in the hopes more people will attend than if it was slated for the morning.

In the meantime, the city wants to get a reading as to whether the community would support a hike in the 7.25 percent sales tax by between a quarter and 1 percent on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The latter received a “definitely not” answer from two-thirds of the public. On the other side of the coin, more people surveyed said they would support a quarter percent increase if the money was used for street maintenance.

Longtime resident John Cefalu warned the council that a sales tax increase may have a tough go of it – especially if a financially struggling California government has the same thought in mind.

As a retail businessman, he questioned the logic in taxing the bread and butter of the local economy.

The economy and lackluster retail options represent recurring themes in the community survey – with two office supply stores in close proximity showing a lack of planning, one respondent said.

“We need another drug store like a third foot,” one resident wrote in response to the question “Overall, what would you say is the No. 1 problem facing the city today?”

Cefalu, who owns the Fox Station on Highway 50 and served on the council from 1978 to 1986, told the city Tuesday it needs to indicate where the sales-tax money would go because it has a perception problem in how it handles money.

In principle, the money would be designated to go into the general fund – which supports core government operations. He cited the $7 million the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency used from city coffers to pay for the Marriott-anchored project near Stateline.

The agency plans to pay back about $2 million of those funds when it refinances its bond debt in October.

The perceived advance of redevelopment at the expense of the locals’ plight dominated the survey. Some responses had a bitter tone when referring to South Lake Tahoe as another Vail.

In other business pertaining to community outreach, the town hall meeting slated for May 11 has been postponed to give the council more time to prepare for it.

The council also approved the first reading of a change in code to allow for a dozen arts and crafts shows over the summer.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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