Ribaudo column: 2016 ‘Loop Road’ ballot initiative an example of bad judgement (opinion)

Local Musings

The California Supreme Court said a lot when it said nothing earlier this year when it ruled on Bruce Grego's 2016 ballot measure to try to have the city of South Lake Tahoe control the Loop Road project with a vote.

While it's a wonderful notion to have people vote on issues, it's unfortunately a federal and state project. The Loop Road is not a local project, unlike the recent Measure T dealing with vacation rentals, which is an issue that impacts the city and is a legitimate issue for residents to vote on — though that ballot measure is now in litigation and the outcome remains to be seen.

In denying Grego's petition for review, the Supreme Court smacked down Grego's ballot measure based on a lower superior court ruling that the ballot measure was "vague to the point of being unenforceable."

He brought a part of the community along with the notion that the community was entitled to vote on a federal and state project when every other lawyer knew that was not the case. In fact, people in this community still believe they were voting on the Loop Road project. They weren't. They were voting on the potential to vote on the Loop Road project, which again would not have been legal because it's a state and federal project.

Throughout this saga Grego has exhibited incredibly poor judgement. First, the decision to try to insert the city into a state and federal project via the ballot. In my conversations with other lawyers knowledgeable about this issue, they indicated case law is clear this would not be successful.

Second, his poorly drafted ballot measure that was categorically rejected by the courts.

Third, his decision to appeal to the appellate court, where he was rejected because he lacked standing, and finally his attempt to have the California Supreme Court consider the issue where he was ultimately shut down.

Bruce couldn't take one defeat, he needed four. How could someone have such poor judgement to be shut down at every level of the court system? He is a lawyer, he should know better. At each juncture along the California judicial system Grego continued to exhibit his poor judgement.

Yet, he is not done. Despite being rejected at every level, he indicated there were other ballot measures he was considering. Really? One has to ask: Is this about the community or is it about him? Can you imagine if the city of South Lake Tahoe had done all this? People would be screaming about incompetence and recalling the council. And Grego and his friends want to have another go at it? Just because you can do a ballot measure doesn't mean you should. Good judgement is part of that analysis, or at least it should be.

Bruce has been trying to be the unelected sixth City Council member since voters turned him out of office and he has used ballot measures to do it. In the process of doing so with this measure, he manipulated and divided the community to these ends.

I don't believe this was ever about the community having input on the Loop Road, having a say about the future of the project. The community has had many opportunities and made many great suggestions. And they will continue to have many more as the project proceeds, with each suggestion making the project even better for the community.

Those who live in that neighborhood want this project because they are smart enough to know this project will bring them better low-income housing, streets, less traffic, crosswalks, sidewalks and a park, many things they want to improve their quality of life, according to those who I have talked with.

No, this was about Bruce Grego and a bunch of his friends trying to exert their power and limit the City Council in its ability to function with regards to the project.

From my view he has lost all credibility and the good people of this community should reject his efforts at every turn.

It's a wrap

OK, we had a hell of a good winter, but it's time for spring. Time for baseball and long motorcycle rides. Bring it on.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.

Ribaudo column: Lots of unknowns heading into 2019 on Lake Tahoe South Shore (opinion)

Local musings

"It's the unanswered questions that make it worth getting up in the morning." — Stephen King

As we close out 2018, perhaps at no other time has this community faced so many unanswered questions. There are always unanswered questions, but we have a few big ones, each of which can have a major impact on the future of South Shore.

Here are my top 5 for your consideration.

The impact of Measure T is unknown. Not by the proponents and not by the anti-T residents. The measure was voted in with a razor-thin margin and there are two big question marks.

The first: the outcome of the current court challenge. On Monday a judge issued a temporary stay on implementation of the measure. The real legal challenge will come when those against the measure challenge the constitutionality of it.

The second: what really happens if the measure is implemented? Both sides including myself have offered opinions but no one truly knows. Will implementation of T be smooth sailing or marked with expensive unintended consequence to the housing market? If T is sustained in the courts, we should have good data in six months to a year to understand the impact, or lack thereof.

A second unknown is the a newly-elected City Council. This past election the community swept out the incumbents and elected a whole new slate of council members. Can they get along beyond the first few meetings when real issues start showing up for real votes? Will they understand the strategic challenges that face the community? Will they grow into a strong deliberative body that can effectively balance the needs of the community?

To add another layer to the unanswered questions, newly-elected Council Member Cody Bass was indicted by a grand jury on tax-related issues earlier this year. The trial date is April 2. Bass maintains his innocence, but what happens if he is found guilty?

New city staff at the top. A whole new crew including the city manager, the city attorney and the public information officer, all from out of the area and all hired by the last council. New blood is good and hopefully these new hires all add value for the community. But it's an unknown especially with an equally new city council. One hopes their fresh perspectives add another dimension in addressing the challenges we face.

The national and local economy. All business cycles go down and we are now in the 10th year of economic expansion. At some point it changes. The question is how and what will be the impact on the tourism economy and the resulting city budget.

Compounding this unknown is the fact that the community voted down parking fees, which would have gone to maintenance; and a small sales tax, which would have gone to road improvements; and the potential loss of Transient Occupancy Tax due to Measure T, all of which would have fallen significantly on visitors and not residents. Add to it the unknown in CalPERS costs and a reckoning with the city budget and services is coming — it's just a matter of when.

Climate change is impacting the environment and the local economy. Not only is climate change impacting the environment and the costs associated with it, but it's impacting the tourism economy both in winter and non-winter months.

With winter, it seems the only snow we can really count on is what Heavenly can make. Some years we get plenty of snow, some we don't. Add to it, the impact climate change is having on California fires and resulting smoke that impacts South Shore and it's a lot of unanswered questions.

I estimated we were impacted by 20-25 percent of the summer days with smoke. Visitors figured that out and headed for the coast. California fires are going to impact our community for the foreseeable future.

These unanswered questions are just my top five. There are plenty others: cannabis, Loop Road and so many more. But then again, that's what makes it worthwhile to get up in the morning.

It's a wrap

I was stunned to hear of Dr. Bannar and his passing. Like many he helped me several times with my knee.

My last conversation with him was about his vision to integrate the new orthopedic facility patients with Johnson Meadows for a more holistic approach to care. It would be nice if we could make that happen. So sad.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.

Ribaudo column: Election recap on Lake Tahoe South Shore (opinion)

What a difference a November makes. The local election, while still not final, has taken South Shore in a new direction. The old guard running for the City Council has been denied and swept out, and the council will welcome three newcomers. It's probably for the best — we need fresh voices. It will be interesting to see if the new council members can grow into governing a city.

All of them seem to be smart, but will they have the wisdom to govern? Will they think strategically or act in the moment? Will they govern with the best interests of everyone in mind or just listen to individual supporters? Can they take the big picture view and recognize the world is changing and South Shore also must change, or will they be stuck in status-quo thinking?

As of writing this, it looks like Measure T will pass by a few votes — and there are winners and losers. I don't think this issue is anywhere near resolved. I would anticipate a lawsuit(s) and, possibly, a new ballot measure to reinstate vacation rentals. Time will tell, but when you take away someone's income it gets personal. We shall see.

Measure T really did show how divided the community is. How split can a vote be? Years ago, we were divided by a state line. Today we are a community divided by age, issue, progressive vs. conservative outlook. It will stay this way for a long time unless the new City Council can show this community the way to compromise.

It was great to see MTV's acquisition of SnowGlobe. I know there are residents who can't stand the event. But in my view, it has been incredibly important and helpful for South Shore. MTV is a global partner South Shore can benefit from by reaching an important tourism market.

The people working at the recreation center are some of the nicest I have come across.

The big picture

California has burned all year long, but the Camp Fire in Paradise and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California are two I have a connection to.

Several years ago, I was doing a tourism project for Butte County and spent a lot of time in Paradise. In the process, I got to know their community and appreciate it. At the time Paradise received a whole lot less attention than Chico but was interesting all its own. So sorry to see this happen.

The Woolsey fire was more personal. I grew up roaming the Santa Monica Mountains. I body surfed Malibu and Zuma beaches. As I got older, I hiked and rode my bicycle through the area. I was just there a few weeks ago for a short getaway. I was all over the burned area: Mulholland and Decker canyons and all the others. Gone. Burned black under the Southern California sky.

I covered every mile of those roads and have suitcases full of memories. I'll be a very old man by the time all that terrain comes back. These devil California fires destroy the land and scar the people who lose everything, or heaven forbid die. It's sad to know it may never be the same.

Is anyone as sick and tired as I am about the hoopla of Black Friday? I mean really.

Recommendation

Enjoy the season, live a little, do something different and reach out to those less fortunate. There are many deserving organizations that can use your help. Support them!

It's a Wrap

This column is dedicated to all who lost their lives in the Thousand Oaks shooting and the devastating fires. Sigh…

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.

Ribaudo column: On South Lake Tahoe’s Measure T (opinion)

Local Musings

I will vote "no" on Measure T. Having lived in both the county and the city of South Lake Tahoe I understand the issue and concerns. I have always had rental units either next door or nearby. This issue has been going on for at least the last 25 years, as far as I can remember, and I certainly understand the frustration of residents.

The city and the VHR industry should have dealt with this in a meaningful way years ago. Instead the city was content to collect the T.O.T. and the VHR industry was content to push the cost of enforcement elsewhere. Imagine if 20 years ago we had the emphasis on enforcement we do today?

The issue today is far more complex. It's not just noise, trash and parking in neighborhoods, the issue has been further complicated by a lack of long-term workforce housing and the increasing rent of long-term rentals. These are two different issues with two different sets of causes that have become mashed up in the intensity of the moment.

The issue of long-term workforce housing (be it owned or rented) is being fueled by macro issues including a lack of housing statewide, a well-oiled economy that is throwing significant amounts of cash off and people looking to spend it, and TRPA and other agencies' policy that has made the cost of building workforce housing unrealistic in today's South Shore.

The issue of VHRs in neighborhoods is different, as many local residents feel put-upon by some loud and obnoxious visitors. Who could blame them?

What ties the two issues together is the advent of technology like Airbnb, which exacerbates the impact of both. This technology enables someone to market a house as a lodging property that could (but not always) negatively impact a neighborhood.

At this time, I will vote "no" on Measure T. There are several big, impactful questions that have not been answered. Those who support Measure T have not provided adequate analysis and answers to the following:

If Measure T passes, will visitors who are currently visiting and staying in VHRs continue to do so or will we lose them and their economic contribution to the community? Proponents assume "yes," visitors will continue to visit but offer no hard data.

What will the passage of Measure T do to current home values, if anything? Again, lots of speculation but no hard data.

The lack of solid data to those questions combined with the potential of a slower tourism economy in 2019 and the increasing budget impact of CalPERS exposes the community to financial risk, which could impact community services. The community shouldn't take this risk without answers to those unanswered questions.

From where I sit, I think we need to avoid exposing the community to the potential financial risk at this moment. In the short term, it would be smart to constantly improve enforcement to get the best practices we can and become the model for the industry.

At the same time, we should work to get the answers to those outstanding economic impact questions. Once we have those answers, if continued improvements in enforcement still do not solve the issue, the community can craft another measure with a better understanding of what some of the unintended consequence might be. Measure T at this time is an axe trying to solve a problem when maybe a knife or scalpel will do. Vote "No" on Measure T.

Recommendation

If it's not too late, do check out the fall colors. I have been out in Alpine County and the show has been wonderful. Also, it's October and that means the baseball World Series. The greatest baseball of the season happens in the next couple of weeks.

It's a Wrap

Several weeks ago, I had one of the greatest experiences of my life: to welcome my new granddaughter, Mia, to the world. Those of you who are grandparents already know this, but the moment you hold that sweet little baby it changes your life and your priorities forever.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.

Ribaudo column: Smoke from regional wildfires impacts Lake Tahoe tourism (opinion)

Local Musings

As if concern over whether we will have snow each year to support the winter economy wasn't enough, we now have to contend with the impact of fire and smoke on the South Shore economy. Luckily for the South Shore, we have not had a major fire for the past 11 years. But that doesn't mean we are not impacted by fires elsewhere.

This past summer California has, at last count, brought over 18 fires, and the easterly flow of that smoke has impacted tourism and the activities people can participate in while here. So far, I estimate that 20 percent of our summer season will be impacted by smoke from fires happening elsewhere in California.

This is not the first summer we have had this experience, but it is becoming a more common occurrence and the impact on our economy is real and will continue to be so.

In a recent study, Visit California (the tourism promotion agency for California tourism) found 11 percent of those surveyed changed their travel plans based on fire and its impact. Let's face it, no one enjoys a hike in the wilderness or a bike ride in some conditions that are unhealthy.

The reality is the forecast calls for more of the same and then some. The state of California is projecting more of the larger, more intense fires like the ones experienced in Mendocino County, Redding and Yosemite.

The impact for tourism statewide needs to be assessed, and we will have to do so here in South Shore. Will summer fires reduce visitation? Shift visitation to less fire-prone months? Will visitors' activities once here in South Shore change?

It all remains to be seen but we can be confident things will change, and our ability to meet those changes will be important.

As summer turns to fall and the impending political season with November elections, it looks like we have a full contingent running for the City Council. A veritable buffet for voters, we have some incumbents, some looking to return and some new faces.

It's important that local voting residents focus closely on this race and the county supervisor race and identify those who are prepared to deal with the changes to South Shore that are coming. It's not enough to look backward and remember how things used to be or even how things are today.

To me, one of the most important ingredients of a successful local politician is their openness to change. We now live in a global economy with instant communications and change is happening at a rapid rate. Which politicians will be the ones who look ahead to meet the challenges, and which politicians will be the ones who argue for the status quo.

Don't let their rhetoric fool you — ask tough questions. Demand specific answers. For what it's worth I'll write more of my thoughts in the upcoming months.

The big picture

I have many friends who are Trump fans, and I even support some of his policies, but he is classless. This whole issue with flying the flag at half-staff for John McCain, a sitting senator, was disgraceful. At the end of the day, I'll respect the office of the president, but I and the majority of Americans outside his core base do not respect him as a person. His pettiness and brittle ego can't just let the little things go. Trump just can't be the bigger person — it's not in his DNA. As we have seen, he is not a person well equipped for the job he holds.

Recommendation

The state line and Y area have gotten a lot of attention lately but don't miss what's going on in town around Sierra Boulevard. There are of good restaurants (Italian, burgers, pizza, Mexican, Sushi and more) and a second brewery has been added in the area. Lots of good stuff happening in the Mid-town area.

It's a Wrap

This one is dedicated to Sen. John McCain. Thank you for your service.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.