Our View: Put Montgomery back on Tahoe planning board

Our View
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A push to allow developers to “clean up” eyesores in Lake Tahoe has left a black mark on four of the five Placer County supervisors’ voting records. Recently, four members of the board voted to oust Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency because she didn’t vote in step with other supervisors. The issue at hand: allow developers to take over run-down buildings, clean them up and possibly make them bigger. This is done through tourist-accommodation unit transfers. The transfers include hotel, motel and vacation rental rooms that developers can buy the rights to from existing projects in the Lake Tahoe area. Supervisor Kirk Uhler said the board looks at the transfers as a way to encourage the retirement of old units that have no erosion controls and are causing problems with lake clarity. The idea is a good one at first glance. Lake Tahoe is a magnet for outdoor recreation enthusiasts year-round and fixing up old motels helps make the jewel of the foothills shine even brighter. But a problem surfaces when developers can take what was once a small motel and turn it into a much larger one. One consequence is more traffic in an area that is already fairly congested. Growth can be good but it needs to be planned well, especially in a place like Lake Tahoe where the bright blue lake and its clean natural surroundings are the appeal to tourists and residents. And that’s what Montgomery had in mind when she spoke out against automatically giving developers the property development rights they wanted. Montgomery, who was elected by residents within District 5, which encompasses portions of Lake Tahoe, spoke on behalf of them when she said let’s go with growth but let’s do it well. But that notion, which residents supported, was squashed when the board voted to take her off the planning agency panel and fill the empty spot with Larry Sevison, who the voters did not choose. Some questions — as well as some discontent from voters — arose following that decision. Are supervisors simply robots of the county? Or are they allowed to make their own decisions and speak their mind on issues important to their constituents? If you base it on that vote, the answer is yes to the first and no to the second. The spot on the Tahoe board is not legally reserved for the District 5 supervisor but historically the elected official for that district fills that role. The District 5 supervisor should be a permanent fixture on the Tahoe planning agency. They’re elected by residents of that region and they should be the ones voicing their opinions on the agency, not a person appointed by four other board members who don’t represent the Lake Tahoe area. Montgomery also presented a good idea before she was removed from the planning board. She suggested that she should have split a motion regarding the developer decision into a separate item for the supervisors to discuss. Placer County supervisors serve on several other boards within the county including a transportation commission and more. They should each be allowed to have their own thoughts regarding the issues at hand for those individual governing bodies. If there is a disagreement between what they want to do on that governing board and county policy, then it should be its own agenda item to be discussed at one of the supervisors’ public meetings. Voting Montgomery off was a bad move by the four supervisors who agreed to it. They should remedy the situation by reinstating Montgomery to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Let her speak for those who elected her to her post. Also, the board should review its policy or perhaps make one that allows supervisors to have some say in the regions they represent.