The incomplete streets of South Lake Tahoe

The incomplete streets of South Lake Tahoe

Workers pave one side of the street at a time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tahoe time – it’s something locals know all about. Usually it’s in reference to people arriving late and events not starting on time. It could also be a definition for the delayed implementation of infrastructure projects.

When the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, an arm of TRPA, rolled out its plan for the future for transportation a Lake Tahoe News story dated Nov. 4, 2011, said, “[TMPO s]taff is working on the premise of complete streets being the No. 1 policy goal.”

That same story said, “The three programs [the TMPO] is likely to pursue are: reducing employee trips via shuttles or flexible scheduling, real time traveler information via electronic signs, and parking management where entities may share asphalt.” It’s nearly eight years later and what accomplishments have occurred? Caltrans has some signs on highways that on occasion give travel times. Shuttles – none. Shared parking – nope.

And those complete streets? Well, depends where you look. The city of South Lake Tahoe with the aid of state and federal grants is making the 0.6-mile Sierra Boulevard a complete street, which includes curbs, gutters and sidewalks. When done it will also have bike lanes and better parking. This project has a price tag of more than $5 million. State and federal grants are paying the bulk of it because the city was able to demonstrate the extras beyond asphalt will help with erosion, and reduce greenhouse emissions and congestion.

The next complete street in the city limits could be Tahoe Keys Boulevard, where right-of-way is not an issue and utilities are already underground. Grant funding would be needed.

The streets in the Gardner Mountain area that are being torn apart and completely rebuilt right now are not being transformed into complete streets even though the road is being taken down to dirt. This is not a routine overlay project.

“That was the plan if we had the money,” former South Lake Tahoe Mayor/Councilman Tom Davis said of council policy being that when a street would be completely redone — taken down to dirt like what is happening in Gardner Mountain — that it would become a complete street with curb and gutters, not just pavement. The current mayor didn’t respond to questions.

Former City Manager Nancy Kerry said, “Yes, the goal was to make sure they were all complete streets. And there’s really no better time to do that than when they get it down to dirt. They will never have that opportunity again until the next time, which obviously could be 15-20 years, maybe longer.”

Roads in the Gardner Mountain area have been dirt much of summer. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Money. That’s the stumbling block when it comes to doing more than asphalt, according to current staff.

“Adding curb and gutter to a project would result in considerably more complication with funding and environmental permitting,” Stan Hill, with the city’s Public Works Department, explained. “The addition of new curbs and gutters on streets that don’t currently have curbs and gutters would most likely require construction of drainage inlets to collect the surface water from the streets, a conveyance system to route the stormwater runoff to a treatment facility and outfall, the stormwater treatment facility to treat the stormwater, and significant environmental permitting. The city’s (memorandum of understanding) with environmental agencies allows pavement replacement as a maintenance activity with no required environmental permitting. Adding curb and gutter to a project would result in considerably more complication with funding and environmental permitting.”

Hill, who is filling in for the department director while he is on vacation, went on to say, “There is discussion within the city’s General Plan stating, ‘the city shall seek to develop or upgrade all state highways, arterials, and collectors as complete streets that accommodate all travel modes.’ There are three defined collector rated streets within the Gardner Mountain area – 10th Street, 13th Street and most of Julie Lane. However, the current paving project in the Gardner Mountain area is a pavement maintenance project, not a complete streets project. Complete streets projects will require specific direction from the City Council and are much more complicated than pavement surface replacement work.”

Complete streets also require the right-of-way to put in the added infrastructure, especially sidewalks. If it’s not there, it means getting private property owners to bequeath the land or the city to buy it.

Still, the work being done on Gardner Mountain is a bit complicated and much more than a normal overlay.

Machines take out the old asphalt. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A machine pulverized the roads down to about 8 inches. The crushed road and subsoil were mixed together to create a base. Those affiliated with the project said this is a good strategy environmentally to not truck out all of the old stuff and to be able to reuse it. The dirt mixture was then compacted with heavy roller machines to create a substantive base.

This is the same approach that was taken with Al Tahoe Boulevard several years ago.

The benefit is the road should last longer than if only an overlay were used.

As has been pointed out at countless council meetings, a big problem with South Tahoe roads is that they were built on dirt with no base. That’s why the pulverization technique was used. Creating a base came the norm in the 1980s.

While the new asphalt in the Gardner Mountain looks pretty, it’s hard to know if drainage will be improved. City officials say even on a project like this one, known problems could be fixed by changing the slope of the road, carving out a roadside path or putting in a ditch for water. It’s not obvious any of those ideas have been implemented.

Not every street in Gardner Mountain will be done this season. The city’s approach is to replace the streets that are failing the worst and proceed from there. Also, there is a coordinated effort to work with the utility companies so roads are torn up once. Southwest Gas has already replaced the steel gas mains on the streets being worked on in 2019.

“Southwest Gas has not completed the gas main and service line replacements on the section of 13th Street that was not included in the 2019 Road Rehabilitation Project area. At some point following the future completion of the Southwest Gas work on 13th Street (west of Julie Lane), Public Works will schedule pavement reconstruction of the remaining section of 13th Street,” Hill said. No date was given when the rest of the 13th or others in the neighborhood will be done.

This means the lower part of 13th is now a skateboarder’s dream, while the upper part remains so bad it’s even jarring on a mountain bike.

A newly paved street with only the manhole cover needing to be secured. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

South Lake Tahoe has a haphazard approach to maintaining its roads. There is no dedicated fund for roads even though most people would say it’s a basic need for locals and tourists. In 2016, voters said no to raising the sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.75 percent because it was to go to the General Fund and would not be dedicated for roads.

While nearly every council member (current and former) talks a good game about wanting to improve the dilapidated pavement, reality is another story. This fiscal year, which will come to a close on Sept. 30, the city budgeted $1.95 million for roads. The money came from excess reserves in the General Fund. That is not what one would call a reliable source of income. Another $362,000 came from the state SB1 gas tax.

The 2019-20 budget, which the City Council is slated to approve on Sept. 17, includes about $4.3 million for the street overlay program. At most, that will pay for 5 miles of road. The actual roads to be worked on won’t be decided until the budget is signed. It’s possible, though, with the Southwest Gas project on the books in the Tahoe Valley area for 2020, that the city will piggyback there when the road is torn up.

City officials say if complete streets were put in everywhere, repaving would come to a screeching halt because the cash would be gone. Privately, city officials say complete streets on all roads will never happen. The money isn’t likely to ever be there, especially with transient occupancy tax money (one of the three main revenue sources for the city) about to take a drastic hit because of the vacation home rental policy voters approved in November 2018. Roads and so much more will be even more neglected.

Sometimes I forget what my name is

Sometimes I forget what my name is

It’s rather embarrassing when I forget my name. It’s not that I entirely forget it. I sometimes hesitate. It’s like a long pause before I remember what to say.

Such are the hazards of going to a Spanish-speaking country and your name means what. Kae sounds like que.

When I was in South America in the 1990s I was asked in Spanish what my name is. I said Kae. They heard, Que? It was like an episode of Who’s on First. They asked, I answered – several times. Then I finally figured out what was going on and responded Kathryn. They must have thought I was pretty stupid to not know my name.

This episode led me to the decision to start off with going by Kathryn when I went to live in Mexico a year ago. I wanted one name for everyone to use no matter their primary language. This was fine, all was going well. People did ask if I go by anything shorter, like Kathy or Kate, and I explained the issue with being called Kae. We laughed. Kathryn it is.

I told friends back in Tahoe about this and they started calling me Que in emails. It got to where I was signing my name Que to certain people.

I’m Kathryn in Mexico and Kae in the United States. The trouble comes when the two overlap. When friends and family visited me in Todos Santos I would remind them to refer to me as Kathryn because most people didn’t now the Kae/que story and would have no idea who Kae was. The confusion has followed me north. I have a friend from Todos Santos who lives in Reno. She calls me Kathryn. When we were putting our name in at a restaurant I paused not knowing what name to use; she spoke up. I felt silly.

This whole author thing has been a bit confusing too as to whether I should be Kathryn or Kae. It’s Kathryn on the book, so I want people to remember that. When it comes to emailing people I’ve gone back and forth with Kae and Kathryn. I realize I’m the one confusing the situation. I’m starting to introduce myself as Kathryn at events. That’s what will be on future books. I was slow to realize my name is a business – or I want it to be.

It’s not that I haven’t used Kathryn before. It’s usually been in a professional setting – as a byline as a journalist, and now as an author. As a journalist I would always know if someone didn’t really know me because they would call me Kathryn instead of Kae.

This isn’t the first time I’ve changed my name, so to speak. When I was little I could not pronounce Kathryn and started calling myself KK. It stuck. I was known as KK all through high school; with some people still calling me that. The first day of school was horrible when the teacher would say Kathryn Reed. People always laughed. Kids are cruel. I wasn’t a Kathryn then unless I was in trouble at home. I explained to the teacher that I go by KK – double K, no periods.

As college approached, it seemed like KK needed to stay with childhood. That’s how Kae came to be. Lose a K and spell it in an nontraditional way. It worked.

All of this makes me think I should just go by Reed and lose all the first name confusion.

‘The Human Element’ proves climate change is happening now

‘The Human Element’ proves climate change is happening now

Words – written or verbal – don’t seem to persuade everyone about the real and dangerous consequences of climate change. Maybe images will.

The 2018 documentary “The Human Element” is gripping. Photographer James Balog successfully captures how humans are the fifth element after earth, air, water and fire that are affecting climate change.

This educational film was shown at the Crystal Bay Club in Nevada earlier this month, with proceeds benefitting environmental research and education at Lake Tahoe via the Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Balog’s still photos and videos are mesmerizing. The interviews with people who are being impacted by rising ocean levels on the East Coast, wildfires in the West, and the coal industry in the middle part of the United States put a personal touch on what oftentimes is a scientific discussion.

The film brings to the forefront how climate change is a human problem. It’s so hard to comprehend how people in 2019 can continue to believe we have nothing to do with the changing climate. The fact remains the climate is changing and we are all suffering from it today and it will only get worse with each year that goes by if we don’t collectively do more to curtail it. Waiting until it has a direct negative effect on your life is going to be too late.

It is time we realize all of our actions have consequences, and not all of them are good. There is too much irrefutable science and evidence to continue to say climate change isn’t happening. This movie clearly paints a bleak picture without being preachy.

I put climate change deniers in the same category as those in the Flat Earth Society. It’s like a mental health disorder.

The two places I currently call home are both noticeably impacted by climate change. In Lake Tahoe the snow line is dropping and more rain is falling from the sky than white stuff. In Baja California Sur, the ocean is warming, which helps create more devastating hurricanes. It would be hard to find anyplace in the world where the climate is not changing.

See the movie. It’s important.

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

No straw? How the heck am I going to drink and drive?

My first encounter with a strawless lid on a cold drink was this past spring at Costco in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I’m pretty sure if anyone was watching me, I looked pretty funny as I searched for a straw in the outdoor food court. Then I paused. No one had a straw, but they had plenty of drinks. I finally looked at the soda. The lid had a little hump on it with an opening. It wasn’t an opening for a straw. I was supposed to drink out of it.

Straws have not been eliminated from The Beacon in Lake Tahoe even though California has a plastic straw ban. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Awesome, I thought. It was like an adult sippy cup. I had never seen one on a cold drink; just for hot drinks.

I figured if Mexico had this, it must be all the rage in the United States. Then I remembered Baja California Sur is more evolved than parts of the United States. In July 2018, lawmakers for that state of Mexico passed a law banning single-use plastic, including straws. The legislation took effect this month.

I’ve visited more fast food restaurants this summer than usual while I’ve been out peddling my hiking book. Much to my disappointment I’ve only encountered straws; no lids to sip from. All of these straws have me seriously thinking about buying a reusable straw so I can say no to the plastic ones.

The Costco in Carson City, Nevada, also has straws. It’s unfortunate the company seems to be acting on external mandates to do what is right instead of changing to sipable lids at all of its locations.

I’m not sure I can wait for governing bodies to pass legislation banning them or for companies to figure it out on their own. I know I need to get better at saying “no straw” when I order a drink. Change is slow even though the evidence is irrefutable about how bad straws are for the environment and wildlife.

Despite California no longer allowing straws at sit down restaurants, that doesn’t appear to be true at bars that are part of the restaurant. I was so taken aback when I went into a popular South Shore restaurant to have one of their trademark rum drinks and saw containers of straws at the bar. That drink doesn’t require a straw, but all came with one – even for the people seated.

Does any drink really need a straw?

Coping with wood splitting withdrawals

Coping with wood splitting withdrawals

I have a wood issue. I get jealous when I hear a chain saw. Same goes with the hum of a splitter. I suppose I could have worse problems.

For so many years when I lived in South Lake Tahoe, August would be prime wood cutting season. I spent hours cutting wood by hand. It was so incredibly therapeutic. On days when work was a grind and I was ready to toss the computer out the window, I would go cut wood.

By the time I finished, I was in a better state of mind. Head was clear. Wood was cut. I was ready for more work, or a beer at a minimum.

Rounds of wood, split wood and stacked wood are a ritual for many in the mountains. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Now my maul, sledge hammer and wedges are in storage, as are the chain saw and baby splitter. I used the electric splitter for the really big pieces of wood. While this might seem odd considering the splitter was pretty small, it was so much easier. Getting both wedges stuck was such an annoyance to say the least, and that would happen on the monster pieces of wood.

All this wood – at least three cords – is what I used to heat my house each winter. Yes, I had central heat, but there is nothing like wood heat. Yes, flipping a switch for a gas stove is easier, but I still say wood heat is the best. I didn’t care it took work, that it was messy and could be a pain in the butt to even get to the wood pile some winters.

An unintended benefit of that wood splitting was buffing up my arms. This was wonderful for my tennis game, especially my serve. My serve just got better as I got stronger. Now I have to work on muscle strengthening in less exciting ways, or let my tennis game suffer.

I would get wood from friends – this would be in the form of rounds. Some I would find, so to speak. Public lands are a good source (permits required). On dog walks I would ask people what they planned to do with their wood sitting there. I kept the back of the Jeep free in case I spotted wood I could pick up then and there.

My wood days are over – for now. Other than for the fun of it, I don’t have a reason to chop wood. And chopping for the fun of it wouldn’t be the same. I see wood on the side of the road and want to stop. It makes me sad I don’t chop anymore.

When I was in Todos Santos, Mexico, I once heard a chain saw. (There aren’t a lot of trees there, so this was really an odd noise.) At first I thought it might be Bobby, who had a wood pizza oven business in the neighborhood. I fantasized about asking him if I could chop wood for him in exchange for pizzas. I never asked. I never found out who had the chain saw.

Now back in Tahoe I’ve thought about asking the neighbors if I could help with chopping wood. I know I won’t. I’ll just listen to the splitter and be envious. I know when it gets cooler here all I will have to do is press a button for the gas fireplace. I’m getting soft.

Danger lurks when driving at night in Mexico

Danger lurks when driving at night in Mexico

“Don’t drive at night.” It would be hard to find someone who would argue differently when it comes to Mexico.

The danger isn’t what you think. It’s not bad guys or even getting stuck in the middle of nowhere – though those can be real concerns just as they are anywhere.

Goats in Mexico don’t care if vehicles are whizzing by. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What drivers have a hard time avoiding is animals. Sure, there are deer and other wildlife on U.S. roadways that can severely damage a vehicle or worse, but they seem to almost be in designated areas. The threat in the U.S. isn’t for a 1,000-mile stretch like it is in Baja. Cows are the biggest problem in Baja. Goats, too, are a hindrance. A year ago friends struck a horse in Baja California Sur. It wasn’t even dark.

Driving to Cabo San Lucas from Todos Santos earlier this year I had to abruptly go from 65 mph to zero. Goats. A whole tribe was crossing the road, stopping traffic in both directions.

When I drove back to the U.S. this summer it was goats that had me stopping in the middle of the highway. I slowed down for the cows that sauntered along the edge of the road. I wanted to be ready in case they thought there was something more interesting on the other side of the road.

A big difference between hitting wildlife and livestock is that someone owns the latter. That animal suddenly has a value. It’s going to take insurance companies, maybe lawyers, to figure out who is at fault. The driver for hitting the animal? The owner for letting it roam? Another reason to keep my Mexico car insurance up-to-date.

Having experienced animals on the road in the daylight in Mexico and knowing it meant a quick stop, it’s easy to imagine how at night it could have ended in a collision. I’m going to keep driving when the sun is up and avoid nighttime travel.

Tennis — a lifetime sport that tests the body and mind

Tennis — a lifetime sport that tests the body and mind

“The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.” – Martina Navratilova

 “I think team sports probably teach you more about giving – about being unselfish and being flexible.” – Chris Evert

“Tennis has a lot to do with your character and your poise, the way you keep your nerves under pressure.” – Boris Becker

Timae Babos reaches a drop shot to return a winner at the Silicon Valley Classic on July 29. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Planes soaring overhead. It was reminiscent of Forest Hills, New York, or least what I remember from watching the U.S. Open on TV. It just wasn’t as obnoxious.

This overhead disturbance was at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic tennis tournament in San Jose, which came to a close on Aug. 4. Venus Williams, who was the most famous name in the draw, bowed out in the first round. The 39-year-old former No. 1 wasn’t even born when the U.S. Open was last played in Forest Hills in September 1977.

For a recreational player, watching the pros can be humbling. It also can be inspiring. The athleticism is incredible. The movement – forward, back, side to side, lunging, lurching, pivoting. My body has never moved like that, even when I played as a kid.

Watching tennis on TV doesn’t adequately capture the power of these athletes. At this particular tournament it’s all women. This is one of the hardcourt tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open. It’s been called other things through the years and been played at other courts. Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams are some of the players who have been in the draw in years past.

Fans clamor to get an autograph from Venus Williams. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tennis is a game of inches – or less. It is mental as much as it is physical; maybe more so. It is a solo endeavor, even at times in doubles. It is also an individual and a team sport. It is one of those rare games that can be played for an entire lifetime.

I’ve played competitively on and off since I was a kid. I will be forever grateful to my mom for introducing me to the sport. While she dabbled in it as an adult, now she is solely a spectator. She has been there to root for me through the years; even watched me play with friends in Todos Santos last November.

Planes at the Silicon Valley Classic are not as distracting as they once were at the U.S. Open. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My competition in the last year has been in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, where there is an incredible tennis community. Twice a year there are two tournaments, usually where there are two teams. This rivalry is friendly and a bit fierce. The tennis is wonderful. As an adult, it’s the most fun competitive tennis I’ve played. It’s all because fun is the focus. Friendships have not been strained or lost, as has been the case in the U.S. on teams. I’m looking forward to the tourney this year in November. We are known as the Royal and Ancient Baja Sur Tennis Association (RAABSTA).

While I’m not on a USTA team now, I’m enjoying playing truly for the fun of it this summer in Tahoe. In Mexico I was playing women’s doubles twice a week and mixed doubles once week. In Tahoe now it’s a random mix of women’s doubles and singles.

My philosophy is if I’m not having fun on the tennis court, there isn’t any reason to be there – win or lose.

Wrangler Wave – it’s a Jeep thing

Wrangler Wave – it’s a Jeep thing

It was back as soon as I was across the border – the Jeep Wave.

I’ve known about this wave for years from when my ex drove a CJ-5. He’d wave to other Jeeps. Real Jeeps, as he would say. Not the Cherokees and later models. It was the Wrangler style he waved to, and who waved to him. While there are stories online saying all Jeep owners wave to one another, my experience is it’s a Wrangler thing. And I’ve been a Wrangler owner since 2002.

Jeep Wrangler drivers often wave to each other. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s possible the Jeep Wave is just a U.S. custom and not the universal sign of kinship I thought it was. There were no waves in Mexico.

There is no definitive history on the wave’s origins. The story I like, though, has its roots in World War II. Some say it started overseas where drivers shared a friendly hand gesture of acknowledgment. Others say it started once the soldiers returned to U.S. soil. They were apt to be the ones driving one of these vehicles; so it was a signal to a buddy who had survived the conflict. During the war the vehicle was built by Willy’s and Ford. It was known as a jeep, with a little J. Then a civilian version was developed. Those exteriors resembled what is on the road today.

It’s not a wave in the sense of a full-on arm gesture. Often it’s fingers coming off the steering wheel while the palm stays on it. It could be a peace sign. When the top is off or the window down the hand might be outside.

While I’ve been off-road, I’m not an off-roader. I don’t have big, gnarly tires. The rig isn’t jacked up to clear massive boulders. Still, even those Jeepers wave to me even though the wheels are most often on pavement (except in Baja with all of its dirt roads). The only judgment among Jeep owners is snickering at the wannabe Jeeps. I won’t name models, but you know what I’m talking about.

It’s weird to admit I actually missed the Jeep Wave. I didn’t know I was missing it until I started seeing it again on the day I returned to the U.S.

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