Opinion: A final farewell as LTN goes dark

By Kathryn Reed

This is it. It’s time to say goodbye.

These past nine years have been an incredible journey; one I would never trade. So many friends have been made. So many interesting people interviewed. So many exciting events to cover. So many stories – and not all of them saw the light of day.

I want to say thank you one last time to everyone who has been part of the Lake Tahoe News team – which includes all of you readers. After all, if no one is reading, what is the point of writing?

For the immediate future I will be paying to keep LTN up so it can be used as an archive. There will be a small fee to access the content. This is just a way to help offset the expense of hosting the site and for basic maintenance costs.

I believe all credible news sources become an area’s history. To “pull the plug” on Lake Tahoe News felt wrong on so many levels, so that’s why it will remain as an archive. There just won’t be any new content after today; unless it sells or something.

What I worry about most going forward is the lack of news Lake Tahoe will be receiving. It’s not that LTN is not replaceable. But the fact that no one in the basin is doing the kind of news LTN does – hard hitting, investigative, daily, in depth series – well, it will take some time to fill the void that LTN will leave.

This means it is going to be up to you, the residents and others who care about the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee to become more involved. Start by signing up for the information that the various public agencies send out. This includes meeting alerts and recaps of meetings. Just know that the recap is their biased slant on what happened. There is no reason to say you didn’t know about a meeting. It is easy to get advance notice about them. Read the agenda, become engaged.

Some meetings are online, others are covered via the public access station on cable TV. Seeing them in person is better; you get to witness how the electeds and others play with each other. A psychologist could have a field day watching these people interact.

The electeds who sit on other boards almost never give a recap of what happened so even their colleagues don’t know what is going on. I can’t remember the last time Councilman Austin Sass or Commissioner Nancy McDermid or Supervisor Sue Novasel reported back to the South Lake Tahoe City Council, Douglas County commissioners and El Dorado County supervisors about what happened on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board or Tahoe Transportation District? Yes, it would lengthen meetings if these recaps were provided, but don’t the other electeds and the public deserve to know? It’s been a pet-peeve of mine for years that these elected officials represent the city or county on another board but seem to do so in a vacuum, as an individual and not as a representative of the city or county. It’s one of the procedures I wish I could have gotten changed because I believe it would have brought more accountability to more agencies.

Read the legals in the non-daily Tribune, Record Courier, Sierra Sun, and Mountain Democrat. Yes, really. That’s all the small print in the back of those publications. (All are available online.) Public entities are required to post almost all of their meetings in the newspaper of record. Those four cover South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado, Douglas, and Placer counties. There is a trove of information in the legals.

Read those publications as well as the Tahoe Mountain News, Moonshine Ink, Reno Gazette-Journal and Sacramento Bee for local and regional news. The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun do a better job of covering Nevada politics, gaming and other news. In California, take a look at the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register. They all have real journalists who understand how to ask tough questions, have ethics and are not bought by advertisers. They are in print and online.

The number of pages a print publication has is based on a formula that starts with how many ads there are on a given day. The news hole is then derived by a ratio of ads to editorial content. So, the more advertising, the more potential for local news. The more advertising, the more reporters who can be hired.

If you want your news sources to stay, advertise. If you don’t have a business, frequent the advertisers in the publications and tell them you saw their ad in X publication.

When you see the donate button – donate. When the number of free stories expires, actually pay to read the publication. In fact, just pay for it from the beginning.

If you don’t somehow contribute financially to a news organization, it is not going to stay in business. It’s your choice.

If you want something done, do it. Government is the people. Remember that.

There is also so much that can be done outside the constraints of government. Get involved. Look at all the good the Meyers Community Foundation has done, the arts groups are doing, the business districts on the North Shore keep doing.

Remember, requesting public records is something the public has a right to do. It’s not just the media. And if you don’t get them, make a stink.

Write letters to the editor so more voices get heard. Suggest stories to the publications. Hold the publications accountable as well as the decision-makers.

There are so many aspects of this job I will miss. But it really is time for something new.

Thank you again for everything.

Hasta luego,


Lakeside gambling on workers for future success

By Kathryn Reed

Lakeside Inn has long been the favorite casino for locals. Now it wants to be the preferred employer.

The hotel-casino a couple years ago had designs of re-creating itself so it would be a focal point when driving in from the east. Those plans have been shelved and instead the owners are focusing on the locals and not just the tourists.

Yes, physical improvements are under way that are designed to modernize the property and appeal to the guests, but there is also a renewed emphasis on the employees.

“We want to be the preferred employer,” Stacy Noyes, president of Lakeside, told Lake Tahoe News. “We want a happy staff who feels supported and are given the tools to do their job. Then the guests are rewarded and it’s profitable for the business. When you forget about the staff no one wins.”

She sent out a memo to workers at the start of the summer season outlining Lakeside’s goals. In part it said, “In the past we have explored the possibility of redeveloping our site to a newer hotel and casino, but last year, turned our energy and focus toward growing our business. We spent many years saving our way to success after the economic downturn. Now it is time to invest and improve.”

For the employees it means rewarding them with things that are meaningful to them. While wages were increased in 2015-16, that did not bring in more applicants. It is doing things like resurrecting the “blue bucks” program that had been disbanded in 2008 that workers like. This gives them money on each check that can be spent at the casino. This in turn is increasing the camaraderie among coworkers as they hang out together in their off time.

Studies show that happy employees are more productive employees. Harvard Business Review says, “Close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent.” Multiple studies show that people want autonomy at work, to be respected and to have an employer with a social conscience.

Noyes said her managers meet regularly to talk about employees’ environment, what they value and what is important to them.

Still, many positions go unfilled. Lakeside is not alone in having difficulty filling job openings. Practically every employer in the Tahoe basin-Truckee area is having a hard time finding workers. Lakeside, Harrah’s and Harveys no longer test for marijuana, which was a concession to realizing so many people today are inhaling. Today’s worker doesn’t want to work nights or weekends. When there is a powder day they opt for the slopes and call in sick or are a no-show. Lack of affordable housing is another hurdle.

While workers may be different today, in many ways the work is the same as it has been for decades. The benefits are what can change.

At Lakeside there are 50 employees in food and beverage with J1 visas, and more in housekeeping. These are people from other countries.

“They are a Band-Aid. They don’t replace the full-time, local who lives here,” Noyes said.

As she works to hire more locals, the owners are also investing in the physical aspects of the business. Consultants have been hired to “make our casino floor more modern and attractive and our marketing promotion more contemporary and fun for our guests.” Technology had been improved, heating and cooling systems upgraded, new carpet installed. The parking lot will be resealed; a new roof is on the to-do list.

Noyes isn’t releasing the dollar figure being invested.

Her memo said, “The goal with the investment in our buildings, property and technology is to improve our cash flow. As we being operating at a higher level, we will then be able to reward you, the staff for supporting Lakeside thought the challenging years.”

25 years of Spanish immersion at LTCC

Paella making with Tere Tibbetts, right, is a favorite during ISSI. Photo/Provided

By Kathryn Reed

Don’t be surprised to hear more Spanish than English at Lake Tahoe Community College this week. Monday begins the 25th year of ISSI – Intensive Spanish Summer Institute.

What started with 150 students in three levels of grammar courses has evolved into 16 levels from low beginning to high superior. Hundreds of people show up for the weeklong course; some are locals, some travel to South Lake Tahoe just for this instruction.

While fun is part of the day, the whole goal is to get people talking Spanish. Some take the classes to help at work, others want to use it while traveling. The reasons to participate are numerous.

“What I like best about ISSI is the commitment of the teachers and the camaraderie of the students. I’m excited about going back for a third year in a row because I know I will increase my vocabulary and comprehension,” Rhoda Shaponik told Lake Tahoe News.

A big reason for this South Lake Tahoe resident to learn Spanish is that she has spent part of the last few winters in Mexico.

“The locals really appreciate me trying to speak Spanish,” Shaponik said. “My goal in retirement is to speak Spanish fluently.”

Shaponik is part of the 40 percent of attendees who are returnees.

ISSI was the brainchild of Sue O’Connor who was the bilingual coordinator at Lake Tahoe Unified School District. She needed more Spanish language training for the teachers. With the backing of LTCC Spanish faculty member Diane Rosner ISSI was born.

Today ISSI is run by O’Connor and Maxine Alper, with the help of countless instructors and others.

“Throughout the years, based on observations, feedback and student evaluations, we have added in mini-courses at lunchtime, at 3:30pm and various evening events. We also collaborate with the Community Education program to offer other events,” Alper told Lake Tahoe News.

The day starts with grammar at 8am for all students. Another dose of grammar comes in the afternoon. Mixed in each day are various breakout sessions that range from learning various cooking specialties, to working on pronouncing words, to history, to culture. There are about 100 choices.

“Students really love the small group conversation classes. Some of the students tell us that this is the first time they have spoken with a native speaker,” O’Connor told LTN. “Students like the atmosphere with all the decorations. They tell us they especially love how the Commons is modeled after a traditional plaza, the hub of the Spanish-speaking community where everyone passes through daily.”

Various Spanish-speaking cultures are featured – from Mexico to Spain to Costa Rica and more.

Some of the offerings are repeated each year, some are new to keep things fresh.

“Most of our ideas come from the student evaluations and from instructors who have an interest, expertise or experience with a subject,” Alper said. “We also come up with some ideas by looking at what we ourselves find interesting.”

To keep going another 25 years the co-directors realize ISSI needs to be responsive to the changing needs of the students and the community. It’s like any education program, it has to adjust even if the language stays the same.

Organizers have had to adapt with California’s changes in regards to repeatability of classes.

“The classes are for college credit so repeatability is not allowed. However, we have added in new levels to allow students to take more classes,” O’Connor said. “In addition, the instructor at the highest level, high superior, writes new curriculum every year to allow these high-level students to continue taking classes.”

Each year new mini-courses and breakout sessions are added as well.

ISSI often sells out, so to speak, so when it’s time to sign up for 2019, but sure to do so right away.

TDFPD wants to build pier on USFS land

Tahoe Douglas Fire wants to dock its boat at a yet to be built pier at Zephyr Shoals. Photo/LTN file

By Kathryn Reed

A prime piece of South Shore real estate may be back in the limelight.

Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District would like to build a pier at the Dreyfus estate that would be used only by public agencies, but not the boating or recreating public. The U.S. Forest Service owns this land. No pier currently exists at the property.

“We are discussing and assessing options. We have not approved anything. We’re evaluating Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District’s request for a safety pier. We’re actively looking at locations for opportunities, considering all options at this time,” Heather Noel, spokeswoman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, told Lake Tahoe News. “NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) is used to disclose any environmental impacts to the public. So if we plan to do new construction on the Dreyfus site, or any site, we would scope the public.”

In other words, the public will have an opportunity to comment on any proposal. 

When the public will be brought into the discussions remains to be seen. There have already been meetings between the fire department, Forest Service and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Tahoe Douglas currently keeps its fire boat at Zephyr Cove Resort, which is operated by Aramark under a concession agreement with the USFS, which also owns that land. The Dreyfus estate sits adjacent to Zephyr Cove Resort. Zephyr Shoals is how the USFS now refers to the Dreyfus estate.

Under the shoreline plan the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board is expected to approve later this year it allows for new piers to be built, including specifically for the use of public agencies. Most law enforcement agencies, as well as some of the fire departments in the basin have boats, as do TRPA and U.S. Coast Guard.

The current plan would not allow a pier to be built at Zephyr Shoals because of fish habitat concerns. The new plan has updated science which says such concerns are unwarranted.

Still, it would take USFS, TRPA, Army Corp of Engineers and Nevada Department of Wildlife approval for the pier to be built.

Eric Guevin with Tahoe Douglas Fire said his agency is the lead, but that it will be a partnership. He told Lake Tahoe News the cash to pay for it will come from “grant money and donations, not tax dollars at this time. (We’re) not sure of the cost, still working numbers.” He said a rough minimum is $500,000.

He said the pier will be at Zephyr Shoals or Round Hill Pines, which is also owned by the USFS. Publically, the Forest Service has not committed to either location.

“We effect and have a negative impact on the long-term commerce. Plus, there is conflict with public use and public access. The improvements needed would be onerous,” Guevin said.

Today all public agencies use docks/piers where the public recreates. Guevin contends tourists don’t want to see medical emergencies at the dock. Of course they have to see trauma on ski slopes and there are car accidents every day, so trying to protect people from the reality of life would be difficult. He also said a dedicated pier would speed up the rescue efforts because the public would not be in their way.

The Forest Service hasn’t done much with the Zephyr Shoals property since it acquired it in 1997.

That year the feds entered a land swap valued at $38 million with the land-brokerage firm Olympic Group for it to acquire public land around Las Vegas in exchange for the Dreyfus estate.

The 46-acre parcel in Zephyr Cove had been owned by New York mutual fund tycoon Jack Dreyfus. Dreyfus built the 10,000-square-foot nine-bedroom estate in 1984, spending only two weeks a summer there. He had acquired the land from the Whittell estate and in that same purchase bought the Thunderbird Lodge along the East Shore.

There are reports that the Forest Service allowed the Olympic Group to sell the buildings to Park Cattle, now Edgewood Companies. Their plan was to turn it into a convention center. The price: $300,000, two memberships to Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, and seven weeks’ exclusive use of the mansion annually for 20 years.

A special use permit was needed from the Forest Service for Park to use the buildings. The company withdrew the application when the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General began a criminal investigation into the financial deal. No wrong-doing was found, but Park never used the buildings.

The Forest Service in summer 2002 had open houses to gauge what the public would like to do with the property. Those discussions didn’t go anywhere. There was a time when the USFS was set on tearing down the structures. Today there are user created trails on the property and people use the beach. The Forest Service has no plans for making this property more accessible to the public.

There are some who have told LTN off the record that a plan for the entire site should be in place before a decision about the pier is made, especially since the original purpose for acquiring the parcel was for recreation.

SLT clerk releases partial info, withholds own texts

By Kathryn Reed

The release of some of the public records that were requested of the South Lake Tahoe city clerk only muddies the waters.

Suzie Alessi, who is quitting effective next Friday, provided Lake Tahoe News on July 25 with some of the documents that had been requested earlier this year. Normally a public agency has 10 days to provide the records. This took months.

Her email stated, “For the record, my cell phone is my personal cell phone and I do not receive a stipend from the city. I do not have a city cell phone as you erroneously reported and am not providing my text messages pursuant to your request.”

Not releasing the records is against state law.

At a public records training on April 30 at which Alessi attended attorney Leah Castella of Burke, Williams and Sorensen showed a slide that stated, “The California Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that information related to the public’s business retained on private phones, computers and other personal devices and accounts of public employees and officials is a public record.”

In other words, doing public, aka city business, on a personal phone regardless of a stipend is a matter of public record.

Interim City Attorney Nira Doherty, who works for that same law firm, agrees.

“You will receive all public records which are responsive to your request. I anticipate you will receive them (Friday), and if not, you will receive them within 10 days,” Doherty told LTN.

Lake Tahoe News has been speaking with an attorney about suing to get the records, which the city is aware of. If LTN were to prevail in court, the city would have to pay LTN’s legal costs.

While Alessi has powers as an elected official that she would not have if she were a city employee, she is not above the law.

Alessi’s email went on to say, “There are no text messages that were retrieved from Tracy Franklin cell phones.”

Tracy Franklin, aka Tracy Sheldon, is the public information officer for the city. Alessi is saying that between August 2017 and April 2018 the woman whose job it is is to communicate with everyone has no text messages. That is not true because this reporter has texts from her during that time period.

It is not known why Alessi is protecting Sheldon. The deletion of texts raises more questions.

Sheldon was called out in an LTN column this week. On Lake Tahoe News’ Facebook page she wrote, “You have just earned yourself a lawsuit Ms. Reed. You can’t publish false information.”

There was nothing false in the column. As the spokeswoman for the city, her words are supposed to reflect the sentiment of the city.

Mayor Wendy David emailed LTN to say, “Tracy Sheldon’s comments do not reflect the position of the city or that of the City Council.”

However, Sheldon’s boss, interim City Manager Dirk Brazil, has been silent as to what his thoughts are about Sheldon’s comment or Alessi’s lack of transparency. So it’s not known if Sheldon went rogue with her threat of legal action.

The texts Alessi released from David and Councilman Austin Sass’s were rather benign because most were redacted.

“I redacted information in the text messages that were provided to me. Text messages were extracted from cell phones by the police department. On city-issued phones, I only redact information which is privileged, i.e. information that implicates privacy rights, attorney-client privilege, etc. On personal devices, I redact information which is privileged and which is unrelated to city business,” Doherty explained.

However, it was Alessi who first had access to the documents. The attorney didn’t see them until after Alessi had read through them, so it’s not known what may have been removed by the clerk.

Most of Sass’s texts were between whoever was city manager at the time, with most having been redacted. A few were to his wife and some to his ski buddies.

The only slightly interesting one was from former City Manager Nancy Kerry to Sass on Feb. 5 saying, “I was calling to let you know Bob Hassett wants to call you re Cody [Bass] (space) I sent him your contact info (space) He is concerned about councils [sic] possible position re Cody /mj license.”

The few texts of David’s left intact were not interesting.

Alessi did not answer why it took her so long to release so little.

When the remainder of the documents are released that may shed some light on why she has been stalling.

Each of the council members was asked what they thought about Alessi’s refusal to release her own texts. Only Councilmembers Tom Davis and Brooke Laine responded.

Laine told LTN, “I am very disappointed that the city clerk has failed to fulfill this public records request, as required by law. This situation marks an unfortunate way to end an otherwise honorable career.”

Davis told LTN, “I’ve known Suzie for many, many years and she has had a great career. I don’t know what happened in the last couple months about the public records. I told her it was embarrassing to the city. Then she gave you partial stuff. I’m frustrated with her. It’s not just you, but the public has a right to know.”

Spiraling wildfire fighting costs largely beyond USFS control

By Cassandra Moseley, The Conversation

Just six months after the devastating Thomas Fire – the largest blaze in California’s history – was fully contained, the 2018 fire season is well under way. As of mid-July, large wildfires had already burned over 1 million acres in a dozen states. Through October, the National Interagency Fire Center predicts above-average wildfire activity in many regions, including the Northwest, Interior West and California.

Rising fire suppression costs over the past three decades have nearly destroyed the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. Overall funding for the agency, which does most federal firefighting, has been flat for decades, while fire suppression costs have grown dramatically.

Earlier this year Congress passed a “fire funding fix” that changes the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires during expensive fire seasons. This is vital for helping to restore the Forest Service budget. But the funding fix doesn’t affect the factors that drive costs, such as climate trends and more people living in fire prone landscapes.

More burn days, more fuel

Why are costs increasing so dramatically? Many factors have come together to create a perfect storm. Climate change, past forest and fire management practices, housing development, increased focus on community protection and the professionalization of wildfire management are all driving up costs.

Fire seasons are growing longer in the United States and worldwide. According to the Forest Service, climate change has expanded the wildfire season by an average of 78 days per year since 1970. Agencies need to keep seasonal employees on their payrolls longer and have contractors standing by earlier and available to work later in the year. All of this adds to costs, even in low fire years.

In many parts of the wildfire-prone West, decades of fire suppression combined with historic logging patterns have created small, dense forest stands that are more vulnerable to large wildfires. In fact, many areas have fire deficits – significantly less fire than we would expect given current climatic and forest conditions. Fire suppression in these areas only delays the inevitable. When fires do get away from firefighters, they are more severe because of the accumulation of small trees and brush.

Protecting both communities and forests

In recent decades, development has pushed into areas with fire-prone ecosystems – the wildland-urban interface. In response, the Forest Service has shifted its priorities from protecting timber resources to trying to prevent fire from reaching houses and other physical infrastructure.

Fires near communities are fraught with political pressure and complex interactions with state and local fire and public safety agencies. They create enormous pressure on the Forest Service to do whatever is possible to suppress fires, which can drive up costs. There is considerable pressure to use air tankers and helicopters, although these resources are expensive and only effective in a limited number of circumstances.

As it started to prioritize protecting communities in the late 1980s, the Forest Service also ended its policy of fully suppressing all wildfires. Now fires are managed using a multiplicity of objectives and tactics, ranging from full suppression to allowing fires to grow larger so long as they stay within desired ranges.

This shift requires more and better-trained personnel and more interagency coordination. It also means letting some fires grow bigger, which requires personnel to monitor the blazes even when they stay within acceptable limits. Moving away from full suppression and increasing prescribed fire is controversial, but many scientists believe it will produce long-term ecological, public safety and financial benefits.

Professionalizing wildfire response

As fire seasons lengthened and staffing for the national forest system declined, the Forest Service was less and less able to use national forest as a militia whose regular jobs could be set aside for brief periods for firefighting. Instead, it started to hire staff dedicated exclusively to wildfire management and use private-sector contractors for fire suppression.

There is little research on the costs of this transition, but hiring more dedicated professional fire staffers and a large contractor pool is probably more expensive than the Forest Service’s earlier model. However, as the agency’s workforce shrank by 20,000 between 1980 and the early 2010s and fire seasons expanded, it had little choice but to transform its fire organization.

Few opportunities for cost control

Many of these cost drivers are out of the Forest Service’s hands. The agency may be able to have some impact on fire behavior in certain settings, with techniques such as hazardous fuels reduction and prescribed fire, but these strategies will further increase costs in the short and medium term.

Another option is rethinking the resources for wildfire response. While there are almost certainly savings to be had, capturing these savings will require changes in how society views wildfire, and political courage on the part of the Forest Service to not use expensive resources on high-profile wildfires when they may not be effective.

Even if these approaches work, they will likely only slow the rate of increase in costs. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that continued cost increases are baked into the system for decades to come.

Wildfire fighting costs now consume more than half of the agency’s budget, reducing funds for national forest management, research and development, and support for state and private forestry. Even if it doesn’t lower costs, the fire funding fix is vital because it will help create space in the Forest Service budget to fund the very activities that are needed to address the growing problem of wildfire.

Cassandra Moseley is an associate vice president for research and a research professor at University of Oregon.

Opinion: Dysfunction becoming the norm in SLT

By Kathryn Reed

Ten days. That’s how much longer the residents of South Lake Tahoe have to put up with an ineffective city clerk.

The city on July 24 sent out a notice saying Suzie Alessi has finally said Aug. 3 will be her last day. On June 29 she first announced her intent to leave her elected post early. Then on July 9 she told Lake Tahoe News she didn’t know when she would be quitting.

Alessi has been the elected city clerk since 2002; after having started in that department in 1986. Her term was to end at the end of the year. Instead she is choosing to be a quitter, to not fulfill her duty to the public who elected her.

It’s not like she’s around much, so it’s hard to know if she’ll really be missed.

She still hasn’t produced the public records Lake Tahoe News sought months ago. This goes against the advice of the city’s legal counsel. In fact, the interim city attorney has told LTN that if she had the power to release the records, they would have long ago been provided.

The documents have been assembled, just not released.

Alessi doesn’t want them to potentially be published because part of what has been requested is her text messages. In the texts she reportedly talks about her stint in rehab and trashes the former city manager. Also reportedly in the documents are incriminating emails from Tracy Sheldon, the city’s communication’s director, and Councilman Austin Sass. Those two allegedly had much to do with the smear campaign against the former city manager.

Alessi thinks that by not releasing the records they won’t see the light of day because I have said July 31 is LTN’s last day of publication under my ownership. But as of today, I’ll still own the news site in August. I can publish whatever I want whenever I want – or not. I can also write for another local publication; one of which has agreed to let me write the Public Records Act story when it’s ready, or I can provide them the info.

I have also been approached to file a lawsuit against the city to get the records. State law mandates that if I were to prevail, the city would have to pay my legal bills. So, I wouldn’t be out of pocket any cash and my attorney wouldn’t either. However, I believe this would be a huge waste of city (aka taxpayer money).

Still, sometimes it’s necessary to do the uncomfortable thing because it’s the right thing. Oh, wait, that should apply to the city clerk, not me. Come ’on Suzie, do the right thing – your job – and release the records. The city attorney keeps telling you to. Are you really going to make a judge be the one to tell you to?

And show up to work between now and your quitting day.

The mayor told Lake Tahoe News that Alessi “was an incredible source of information for the council.” Whatever. She doesn’t work for the council; she works for the public. At least she is supposed to.

That’s one of the odd things about having an elected city clerk, which is more of an anomaly than the norm in California.

Dealing with election filings – applications as well as financial documents – is part of the clerk’s responsibility. This is a big year locally with seats open on the City Council, Lake Tahoe Community College, Lake Tahoe Unified School District, South Tahoe Public Utility District and more.

Interim City Manager Dirk Brazil was asked if the city clerk’s office will be able to handle the election duties.

“That’s the big question – what is the clerk’s office staffing level required in an election year?” Brazil told LTN.

While the elected clerk is not a city employee and only accountable to the public, the deputy city clerk is a city employee. But the one the city has isn’t qualified to run the office based on job criteria if it were not an elected position. To be elected one only needs to be 18 and live in the city.

Per state law the city must have a city clerk. The council has 60 days from Alessi’s departure date to replace her. This could be with an interim person much like the city manager and city attorney.

Originally Brazil told LTN he planned to talk to the council today about the clerk’s position during the special meeting. LTN reminded him the clerk position was not on the agenda, only the city manager and city attorney positions were. If the clerk is discussed, this would be a violation of the Brown Act. The District Attorney’s Office is already looking into whether the council has violated the opening meeting law; is it really necessary to provide investigators with more ammunition?

South Lake Tahoe deserves better elected representation than it has. Run for office and vote.

Age not an obstacle in annual Tahoe tennis tourney

Zephyr Cove Tennis Club will be the site of the Tahoe Tennis Classic, July 26-29. Photo/Provided

By Kathryn Reed

Dominic Mushines is proving almost daily that tennis is a lifetime sport.

This week the 84-year-old is going to test his abilities when he competes in the 35th annual Tahoe Tennis Classic at Zephyr Cove Tennis Club.

“Younger guys can overpower me, but I have for my age pretty good reflexes and ability,” Mushines told Lake Tahoe News. “I am fairly fast on my feet for my age. I’ve learned to be patient on the court and not try crazy shots. I wait for the opportunity to make my shot.”

Dominic Mushines

With age comes patience, which can be an added bonus on the tennis court, especially against younger opponents.

It’s been a few years since Mushines has competed in a tournament or league. Today it’s more about playing with friends on a recreational basis.

In the four-day Classic, which starts Thursday, Mushines and his partner Ross Rittiman of Zephyr Cove are guaranteed two matches – just like the other 200-plus competitors. They are competing in the 140-plus division, meaning their combined ages are at least 140.

He’s happy to be playing with someone younger; hoping Rittiman does more of the running.

With the temperature supposed to be in the 80s this week, Mushines isn’t worried about the heat affecting him.

“I can wear the young guys out. They aren’t used to heat,” Mushines said. “You have to look for every little advantage you can.”

While he may not have been competing regularly, that doesn’t mean Mushines hasn’t been playing.

Mushines is able to play year-round because he lives at Genoa Lakes in the summer and in Palm Springs in the winter. The attorney isn’t sure the exact number of years he’s played tennis – 60 something – but he does make sure wherever he lives that a tennis court is nearby. The sport is that important to him.

Once a friend turned him onto the sport he has been playing it ever since. For years he lived in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood of South Lake Tahoe, and would often be found on the courts there.



·      Tahoe Tennis Classic – July 26-29

·      For more information, go online.

·      There is no fee to watch. This is some of the highest caliber tennis played on the South Shore.

·      This is the main fundraiser for the nonprofit Zephyr Cove Tennis Club Foundation.

Treating Tahoe’s West Shore trees

By Christina Restaino

Last winter marked one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. Thousands of people were hospitalized and many died. People with compromised immune systems such as the elderly or young children were hit particularly hard with the flu.

Lake Tahoe’s forests are no different.

Just as humans are susceptible to the flu when our immune systems are delicate, forests are more susceptible to pest infestations and other plights when trees’ immune systems are weakened by drought. Tahoe forests were clear-cut during the 1800s Comstock mining era. As a result, fire suppression and lack of management allowed these forests to become overly dense, making them even more vulnerable to fire, insects, and disease.

Lake Tahoe agencies have been working to combat this challenge for 15 years.

Since the Angora wildfire of 2007, agencies have treated more than 50,000 acres for hazardous fuels reduction. The largest project covered approximately 10,000 acres to reduce the fire risk in the wildland urban interface where the forest connects to neighborhoods. But there is more work to do, and resource managers at Tahoe are committed to restoring the health of forests throughout the basin. 

After five years of extreme drought, the West Shore is at particularly high risk of a high-intensity wildfire. A new approach has emerged to tackle this challenge and to target treatment of 60,000 acres from the lakeshore to the upper forest.

The Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership is working to improve the health of our forests in an area at high risk for wildfire. Multiple agencies and stakeholder partners are collaborating on how to boost the immune system of our forests. It started with an overall assessment of general forest health and resilience. The group is studying what optimal health looks like—how dense the forest should be, what healthy wildlife habitats look like, and what tree species are best suited for our forest.

Next, the group identified how far the West Shore forest is from optimal health. Out of this process emerged the Landscape Resilience Assessment—a comprehensive look at the values and services we derive from our forests and how far afield these are from desired conditions.

The Landscape Resilience Assessment found that a majority of the West Shore forest is at risk of high-intensity wildfire or beetle mortality, which usually follows drought. The assessment identified where the least-healthy, least-resilient areas are for forest density, wildlife, and fire risk. The partnership can now use this information to help target areas for improved resource management.

The Lake Tahoe West group is also working on a Landscape Restoration Strategy to outline and communicate the why and how of forest restoration goals and activities. Strategy development is occurring alongside a detailed, science-based modeling initiative to understand how different forest treatments affect attributes like fire risk, wildlife habitat, air quality, and water quality. This modeling work is considering landscape-level dynamics and will help the group sketch out solutions that match the scale of the problem. Partners will complete the Landscape Restoration Strategy in the fall of 2018 and project-scale planning will begin.

Lake Tahoe West has involved stakeholders and helped land management agencies partner with communities to find solutions to our most pressing problems. This collaboration will help forest managers create more resilient forests while improving recreation, wildlife habitat, and scenic quality. For more information, go online.

Christina Restaino is the forest ecosystem health program manager for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and leads the Interagency Design Team for Lake Tahoe West. This article was first published in the 2018 summer issue of Tahoe In Depth.

Scooters on collision course with walkers, lawmakers

By Jim Sallis, The Conversation

Electric scooters are appearing in many major cities across the country, including South Lake Tahoe, bringing fun to riders, profits to scooter makers – and lots of potential risks to walkers and riders.

San Diego, where I live, is at the forefront of the proliferation of electric rideables, and as a physical activity researcher I am an interested observer. Recently, I was enjoying a stroll on the boardwalk when a couple of electric scooters zoomed past. As I saw a young girl start walking across the boardwalk, another scooter zipped by, and I could tell it would not be able to stop in time. The young woman riding the scooter was able to act quickly. Instead of crashing into the girl at full speed, she fell down with the scooter and slid to a stop. There was a crash and minor injuries to the rider, but a tragedy was avoided.

I consider this event a warning about the dangers posed by the electric vehicles that have rapidly become commonplace on local boardwalks and sidewalks. An online search will reveal many reports of injuries. A Dallas woman went to the emergency room for head injuries the week of July 9, and officials in Nashville are considering legislation there that would require registration for scooters.

Several issues emerge from this new mode of transportation, including whether riders should be required to wear helmets and whether the vehicles should be allowed on sidewalks. And, should drivers be permitted to use them while under the influence? I want to warn local government leaders, electric-rideable companies, and users of sidewalks about the three ways that electric scooters can harm health.

How electric rideables can harm health

Have the rideables come to your neighborhood yet? They will. A market research company predicted electric scooters alone will grow from a $14 billion global market in 2014 to $37 billion in 2024. Bird and Lime, the two biggest scooter makers and both based in California, have placed scooters in nearly 30 U.S. cities in recent months, leasing them to riders seeking a thrill – or an alternative to ride-sharing.

There are many variations of one-, two-, three- and four-wheeled vehicles that share one major flaw. They all go too fast. Scooters go 15 mph, and electric skateboards, mini-motorcycles and one-wheeled devices can go faster.

The problem is that pedestrians walk 3-4 miles per hour, or slower. This means scooters are traveling four times as fast. If there is a clear path, the riders are going at full speed, because that is where the fun and thrills are. But considering the speed, weight of the devices and weight of the rider (sometimes two riders), the result is a dangerous force.

In a collision, the pedestrian will always be the loser. Putting these speeding motorized vehicles alongside pedestrians is a disaster waiting to happen. I could not find much data on injuries from electric rideables, but a study using the U.S. National Electronic Injury Surveillance System reported 26,854 injuries to children from hoverboards alone in 2015 and 2016.

A second way that electric rideables can harm health is by reducing walking. Ads for the devices claim they reduce car trips and carry public transit riders the first and last mile of trips.

But do they? I challenge the companies to provide evidence about this. Based on my observations, the devices mainly replace walking with riding. And it is well documented that low physical activity is one of the biggest health threats worldwide, being a major contributor to epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, dementia, etc.

The third way electric rideables can harm health is by making sidewalks hostile territory for pedestrians. Though scooters and other rideables are not allowed on the sidewalks, almost all the rides I see are occurring on sidewalks. If speeding electric vehicles become common on sidewalks, then I predict pedestrians will stay away. Our research group based at UC San Diego has shown that the better sidewalks and street crossings are designed for pedestrian safety and comfort, the more people of all ages walk for transportation.

Thus, I am concerned that competing with electric vehicles will make sidewalks less safe and comfortable for pedestrians. The U.S. already has among the lowest rates of walking and bicycling for transportation in the world. Will we now turn over the sidewalks to electric vehicles and further reduce our activity levels?

Walking is already too dangerous. About 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2017. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported that the number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14 percent. Clearly, the roads are not safe for pedestrians, so shouldn’t we protect sidewalks as a safe place for walking?

A quick fix: Slow things down

Local governments are actively working on responses to this obvious new danger. The first step in San Diego has been to enforce requirements for helmets, speed and single riders on the boardwalk. I have seen no such enforcement on sidewalks just a couple of blocks away. This infographic with safety instructions for electric rideable use is a good start to education for riders.

I have some further recommendations that will support safe use of electric rideables while improving conditions for walking and bicycling.

Let’s start by declaring sidewalks the domain of pedestrians, with motorized devices limited to those used by people with disabilities (#sidewalks4pedestrians). At least on sidewalks, the rights of pedestrians should come before the rights of vehicle riders.

Electric rideables should be allowed wherever bicycles are legal, which are bike facilities, lanes, protected bike paths and on the streets, but not on sidewalks. But there’s a problem with bikes and rideables on the streets – riding on the streets is not as safe as it could be on bicycles or rideables.

I envision a win-win scenario in which electric vehicle companies and bicycle advocates join together to advocate for rapidly building networks of protected bicycle facilities that can also be used by rideables. Most U.S. cities are unsafe for bicycling, so improvements are needed. Some of the electric rideable companies have market values of more than $1 billion, so they have the capacity to lobby cities for infrastructure that will safely accommodate their products.

I expect bicycle, pedestrian, health and environmental advocates would be happy to work with electric rideable companies to achieve long-sought goals for safe bicycling that are likely to produce more bicycling, less traffic congestion, fewer carbon emissions and healthier people. The electric rideable phenomenon is very new but growing rapidly, so the need for research on electric rideables is as urgent as the need for action. We need evidence to guide policies that will ensure electric rideables do not harm health and will possibly improve health.

Jim Sallis is professorial fellow, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University; emeritus professor, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, UC San Diego.