Yesterday, today and Tahoe Tomorrow
Charles McDermid, once a management expert in Chicago, says South Shore needs to get back out on the crest of the wave it rode in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Our product has aged and the city has drifted,” McDermid said. “Now most of the properties on the South Lake Tahoe side are 30 to 40 years old. We need to freshen the city. We are no longer a world class resort, but we can become world class again.”
McDermid, 70, who owns the Holiday Inn Express near Stateline, was part of a group of concerned citizens whose work led 20 years ago to the establishment of the South Lake Tahoe Redevelopment Agency.
Feeling the same “need of change and sense of urgency” as he did then, McDermid hosted a meeting at his house in May. It became a starting block for Tahoe Tomorrow — a group that aims to revive tourism at South Shore and, along with it, the area’s shrinking middle class.
A diamond is the symbol the group has chosen to represent its vision of where it wants to see South Shore to go. Its economic structure now resembles a triangle, with the majority of the residents stuck at the bottom in low-wage jobs. The top of the triangle includes owners, professionals and executives.
The middle, which Tomorrow wants to see expanded with more high-scale jobs, represents government employees and business managers.
“We had a community of middle class people here,” said Tillman, who moved to South Shore in 1963 and is a founding member of Tahoe Tomorrow. “We had programs for everybody in the late ’60s and ’70s. I’ve seen it split off since then.
“There was still tourism. I just don’t think we ever stopped to say ‘Is this the right economic model for our community?’ I think we took the easy way out and said ‘Oh well, we’re a resort community.’ What we’re doing now is raising the red flag.”
The answers lie in a diversified economy that pairs an improved tourism industry at South Shore with non-tourist business, say members of Tomorrow. South Shore needs to build a year-round convention center and convert existing motel space into office space for businesses that are not tourist-based. Or the space should be used for affordable or employee housing.
Statistics show a lot of space in town is not being used, McDermid said. Midweek lodging in the city has an average year-round occupancy rate of less than 50 percent.
“I’m by nature a very optimistic person,” McDermid said. “I have no use for people who say it can’t be done — people who say, ‘Why don’t they do something?’ Why don’t they substitute the word ‘they’ with ‘we’?”
Tomorrow is in the process of formalizing itself as the redevelopment agency did in the late 1980s. It costs $100 to join the group, but McDermid said scholarships are available because the group is looking to be a diverse one. It also offers memberships for free to people who agree to volunteer a set amount of time to the organization.
Tomorrow’s action plan calls for the group to establish a 15-member board of directors, set up an office, create bylaws, hire a dynamic executive director and complete its first project by December 2003.
The role the group will play amid the dozens of public agencies at Lake Tahoe Basin is one of vigilance and action.
“It will keep people accountable,” said Carl Ribaudo, 45, president of Strategic Marketing Group and a founding member of Tomorrow. “Have a bias for action, keeping a light on the issue to make something happen. The key is to take all the stuff going on and harness it.”
Meanwhile, a nonprofit organization that hopes to fix dilapidated homes around the Lake Tahoe Basin and sell them to qualified working families is officially in business.
The St. Joseph Community Land Trust, a Catholic-based organization made up of several basin churches, was spearheaded about a year ago by South Shore residents Lyn Barnett and Patrick Conway.
The plan is to work with various agencies, foundations and apply for grants that will enable the Tahoe-based land trust to buy homes, fix them up and sell them to families who qualify, Barnett said.
“At Lake Tahoe, where prices have doubled on homes, our organization wants to ensure that families can truly own their home, but when they put it up for sale, they are not going to make a lot of money out of it,” Barnett said.
When buying homes, the trust will also buy the land the homes sit on, which Barnett says, makes up about 40 percent of the total cost of a home.
“And that land just keeps going up,” Barnett said. “This is our way of ensuring the house remains affordable because it will be the homeowner who is buying the house from the trust.”
For information or to become a member of St. Joseph Community Land Trust, call (530) 541-8930 or write to: St. Joseph Community Land Trust, 1041 Lyons Ave., South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150. Membership dues are $25 a year.
People interested in joining Tahoe Tomorrow should contact Tillman at (530) 542-8300.
— Jeff Munson contributed to this story.
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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