Tahoe officials discuss goals for coming year
Preparing a New Year’s resolution for yourself can be a daunting task. Just imagine making resolutions for an entire community.
South Lake Tahoe officials discussed their goals for the coming year, from building an ice rink and two major time-share hotels to deciding what to do with its airport.
City Manager David Childs wants to keep a clear perspective, even when hitting “bumps” along the way. “When folks are saying ‘the sky is falling,’ (I’ll) be sure to check for myself before running for cover,” he said. “This is a pretty fantastic place, after all.”
Perhaps a resolution on everyone’s list will be to move forward with the ambitious Park Avenue Redevelopment project. The South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency, a division of the city, has been working for 12 years to transform tacky 1950’s-era buildings that line U.S. Highway 50 into Alpine-themed structures blending with the natural surroundings enhancing the environment.
Two hotels – Heavenly Ski Resort’s quarter-share Grand Summit Resort Hotel and Marriott’s weekly time-share hotel – are slated for construction in the spring at the base of Heavenly’s new gondola, considered to be the centerpiece of Park Avenue redevelopment.
City Councilman Bill Crawford said it is imperative to move forward with the hotel projects.
“To cover the ($8 million a year) debt service, the project has to be built and completed,” he said.
A viable solution at the airport also topped the lists of resolutions.
The Lake Tahoe Airport has not been financially successful since its peak in the late 1970s. After Federal Aviation Administration deregulation in 1980, the tiny airport was no longer a viable business opportunity for commercial airlines which chose to focus on more lucrative routes. The airport cost the city $450,000 to operate in 1999.
Finding commercial carriers to service the airport has been a constant challenge for the city. Since June 1999, when Allegiant Air flew its first commercial flight from Lake Tahoe, the airline provided eight months of service. Allegiant discontinued commercial service Dec. 8 to Tahoe for the second time in 18 months and filed for bankruptcy protection. Tahoe Air, which flew from June 25 to Nov. 7, 1999, filed for bankruptcy protection in May and still owes the city about $70,000.
Arguments have been raised to close the airport, but proponents of keeping it open say the city can’t afford the $14 million in grant funding it would be required to pay back to the FAA if it closed. Officials have said that outside partnerships, possibly with the casinos in Stateline, need to be made to provide subsidies for commercial airlines.
“I’m looking forward to some direction for the airport,” said Councilwoman Judy Brown. “I remain eternally optimistic that we will attract a commercial airline,” she said.
Councilman Tom Davis said he wants to attract air service to the airport from Southern California, the Bay Area and Las Vegas.
“I think we are going to have to get real creative and look at a regional aircraft,” he said.
Crawford has other ideas. “Commercial service has proved itself a failure, and we need to explore other options,” he said.
Childs takes a more broad and long range approach to the airport. He wants to look at the airport as a transportation hub. He stresses the need to keep the airport open for general aviation and emergency situations. He also hopes to attract commercial service by exploring partnerships with various governmental agencies.
The city is faced with the dilemma of making capital improvements now or waiting until later when they will be more costly. It is also looking for more effective ways to pay for employee retirement benefits.
With a budget of around $18 million dollars, the city spends about 70 percent for services and payroll. Many taxes have remained flat fees for years. With inflation, the buying power afforded the city has decreased.
“I am very pleased with what (Childs) has done, and we will be testing his skills on the financial side,” Davis said.
Childs, who replaced longtime City Manager Kerry Miller in June, said he wants to work on a five-year strategy to move the city toward a more solid financial footing. “Remember that we didn’t get here overnight and that it will take a while to get on a solid track,” he stated.
While the community relies on tourism as its major source of income, escalating housing costs have forced many low-wage earners, who provide necessary services, to deal with unfavorable living conditions.
There will be a zoning hearing Jan 24. to consider an affordable, disabled-housing project on Emerald Bay Road, other housing considerations may also be in the works.
Childs wants to spotlight “life-cycle housing,” a term he uses to refer to housing for people of all needs – from low- to high-income residents and for the disabled.
Davis said he wants to see another affordable housing project, but thinks more community input is necessary to examine the proposed project on Emerald Bay Road.
The city will be working to resolve who will build the parking garage at the Grand Summit Hotel. It could be built by a number of different entities including the city and Trans Sierra Investments, a redevelopment partner. But no organization has made a commitment.
“The parking garage is a part of the (Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s) permits on Park Avenue, so we have to find a way of settling the parking issue,” Crawford said
Building an ice rink this year will be the first part of a voter-approved recreation plan.
Measure S has four components: an ice rink, maintenance money for bicycle trails, ball fields and improvements to Tahoe Paradise Park Resort Improvement District. Estimates to complete the ice rink -scheduled to open at the end of 2001 – are $700,000 to $900,000 above the budgeted $3.8 million. Officials are examining ways to make up the difference.
“I want to see it started next year,” Brown said.
The city will also work on finding more effective ways to negotiate employee contracts. The city deals with eight separate bargaining units and employees have been disgruntled primarily over retirement plans offered by the city.
Davis suggested consolidating the bargaining units to help facilitate negotiations.
Brown hopes to come to an agreement on the new employee contracts before they expire Oct. 1. Contract agreements in the past have been met after contracts have expired.
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