Hotel establishments learning to pivot in changing climate

COVID-19 was supposed to decimate the tourism industry in summer 2020. For lodging establishments it has been a mixed bag.

Mountain Travel Symposium on Aug. 12 hosted a webinar titled Recovery Road: A Look Inside Lodging. The panel consisted of Ben Day, director of sales and marketing for Blackcomb Springs Suites in Whistler, British Columbia; Ryan Rhoadarmer, director of market management with Expedia Group; Lance Syrett, general manager of Ruby’s Inn Inc. in Utah; and Bettina Zinnert, general manager of Wengen Classic Hotels in Switzerland.

Three-quarters of Expedia guests are concerned about cleanliness of hotel rooms. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Considering many believe the travel-tourism industry will help stimulate the global economy, keeping an eye on what is happening worldwide could be an indicator for places like Lake Tahoe-Truckee that depend almost solely on tourism, as well as California and Nevada as a whole. While the basin has been busier than a normal summer, to the point many locals are complaining about the degradation of popular sites, abundance of trash not in cans, and shoulder-to-shoulder non-mask wearing people on sand and asphalt, it doesn’t mean fall and winter are going to be this busy. Today people in cities and suburbia want to get away from their homes, and Tahoe has wide-open spaces. When the temperatures drop and outdoor dining no longer sounds appealing, it’s possible the basin could be a ghost town.

Rhoadarmer with Expedia said a recent study showed nearly half of the people in the United States are interested in a mountain or lake destination, surmising they want to be some place with room to roam. But what he couldn’t answer is what that desire for mountain-lake travel is in a non-COVID year, so the statistic only worked as an interesting soundbite.

Expedia in July saw travelers searching for trips in August increase by 30 percent week over week. For September it’s 25 percent increase. This shows a growing interest in travel. What Rhoadarmer said is that it’s most important for hoteliers to know where travelers are coming from so they can market to them as well as cater to their needs upon arrival.

Syrett oversees 700 hotel rooms in Utah at a three-season resort. This time of year he is normally at 100 percent occupancy. Today he’s at 45 percent, with a rate that is 40 percent of year’s past. As the closest lodging to Bryce Canyon National Park, it has always been a popular destination with international travelers. With flights canceled, so went the room reservations. To compensate, the Ruby’s Inn group began marketing to neighboring states.

One thing the company is doing is diving deeper into data it collects as well as what it has access to from partners like Expedia. The company in 2019 had about 4 percent same-day bookings, while this year it is at 23 percent. Last year 80 percent of guests stayed one night, while this summer that figure is 59 percent. This means there are longer stays.

For Zinnert in Switzerland she said being flexible is key. With business travel no longer existing she turned the resort’s business space into a co-working space “so you get the home office in the mountains.” Normally a quarter of their business is U.S. travelers, and they are nowhere to be found this season.

While flexibility is key, she said she would never implement a policy where you could cancel at any time. That doesn’t allow for proper planning in staffing, having restaurants be stocked and other needs of a lodging property. Zinnert said their marketing people keep an eye on what is going on in other countries; as in would people have to quarantine after traveling to Switzerland. If so, that’s probably not a good fit. She admits she is fortunate with Switzerland having few COVID cases and the government being proactive.

For Day at the Whistler property, July was strong with locals from the Vancouver area. “Fifty-seven percent of bookings in the last week arrived within seven days. It’s hard for housekeeping to put a scheduled out weeks in advance,” he said.

What he is looking at now is how dismal the bookings are for winter. “The advance interest for winter is very small,” Day said. “Winter is going to be extremely scary. We don’t know if it will be just British Columbia, down into the States or from anywhere.”

Few countries are allowing people from the United States in because COVID-19 cases keep rising here.

The hoteliers participating in the webinar said deals are necessary—like a local/regional rate, and incentivizing rebookings. Showing off families in a pool, while maintain social distancing is critical. Touting cleanliness is imperative. People want to know about outdoor spaces. Educating and training staff about new protocols is key. So is modeling proper behavior—distancing and masks by staff so guests will do the same.

Solving Emerald Bay congestion in final planning stage

Congestion near Emerald Bay is a problem local agencies are trying to fix. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Each year it gets more treacherous to go to Emerald Bay via the highway. People are parked where signs say that activity is prohibited. Pedestrians walk on the asphalt, which is a state highway. There is no real bike lane, yet people pedal there regularly.

For what is called one of the most photographed areas in the world, in many ways Emerald Bay is no longer an inviting place to visit.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for the last two years has been spearheading a management plan with the help of landowners and other stakeholders. An Aug. 3 webinar outlined some of the components being talked about to decrease congestion and improve the recreation experience. There will be another webinar Sept. 22 at 5:30pm. Register here. This will be to discuss the final plan, which will be available the week of Sept. 14. Details about the plan are online. 

An all-transit option (far right) has been ruled to be too expensive. (Graphic: Design Workshop)

Much of what was discussed this month seemed to be wishful thinking, yet it’s all going to be wrapped into the final plan. A dramatic increase in public transit on land and water are called for, as well as a bike lane to transport people. While that bike trail is being talked about, the soonest it would be a reality is 2045.  Even if it ever gets built, that segment is only for those in really good condition. It’s not an area most families would cycle.

Stephanie Grigsby with Design Workshop called it a “sobering exercise” to learn that transit alone could not solve the problem in the Emerald Bay corridor. Financially it doesn’t pencil out with the number of buses that would be needed, let alone the addition of park/ride areas and other expenses.

That’s why a mixed approach is being suggested. This includes managing the parking situation better. On the East Shore, which is one of the six corridors identified around the lake, the parking fine this year has been nearly doubled to $700. It will take the California Legislature to increase parking fines on the Emerald Bay side of the lake.

Key components of the Emerald Bay corridor plan. (Graphic: Design Workshop)

A reservation system was talked about, with officials pointing to how Muir Woods in the Bay Area did this and saw a reduction in traffic by 45 percent. Limiting the number of people via a reservation system, while making illegal parking costly are ways to decrease traffic. Tahoe officials want to remove the roadside parking, not existing parking lots. Safety and environmental concerns are said to be at the forefront to wanting to make changes.

One of the choke points is in Camp Richardson, especially in summer. Foot traffic getting to the ice cream shop is an issue as those people cross Highway 89.

“You can build overpasses, but people don’t use them,” Grigsby said. She said people won’t take the longer route, but instead will shoot across the roadway even if it’s illegal. (This was an interesting point from the consultant considering one of the components to the still talked about loop road near the state line is to have an overpass go from the casinos to Van Sickle Bi-State Park.)

What isn’t talked about during these webinars is how various tourism agencies and tourism related businesses continue to promote the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region as a place to come. Those promotions have worked, even during a pandemic. Anecdotal reports are that some businesses are having a record summer financially. But there is an imbalance in the numbers of people and what the current natural and manmade infrastructure can sustain. At some point the questions that need to be asked are:

  • Should there be a limit to the number of people allowed to visit the region?
  • What is that number, who determines it and how would it be enforced?
  • Should Tahoe-Truckee continue to lure visitors when there aren’t the resources to accommodate them?

Information collected from users of the Emerald Bay corridor. (Graphic: Design Workshop)

Improving winter recreation is also a component to the plan. Today most of the U.S. Forest Service sites are closed half the year, yet people are recreating there.

Buses and water ferries being considered as solutions is the norm here. Those ideas have been talked about for decades without much success. It seems like punting the problem away to say transit is going to be the answer in Tahoe. While it’s one thing to come up with a plan, it’s another to pay for those ideas. What wasn’t discussed during the corridor plan webinar was the use of micotransit, which had been a topic in May during a transit webinar.

The Emerald Bay corridor plan is a component of the larger Regional Transportation Plan that TRPA is updating. This is an endeavor that is done every five years. The Emerald Bay corridor is broken into five segments: Pope to Baldwin, Emerald Bay, Rubicon, Meeks Bay, and Sugar Pine Point.

Tahoe designed face coverings are more than functional, stylish masks

Jacquie Chandler of Incline Village models how her Be Safe Bandanas can be worn. (Images: Provided)

With masks being part of our wardrobe for the foreseeable future, why not make a fashion statement? While being stylish wasn’t the impetus behind the creation of Be Safe Bandanas, it is one of the benefits. On top of that, they are so much more than a face covering, which will make them usable long after COVID-19 becomes a distant memory.

Jacquie Chandler of Incline Village is the creator of these fabric shields.

“Already grateful to Tahoe Forest Hospital and Cancer Center, I jumped in and contributed, following their mask-making guidelines. The cotton three-pleat felt limited, so when community coverage need emerged, I started to play,” Chandler said. “My daughter, Shay Strauss, a third-year med student at UNR, had been enlightening my mask making journey all along and this set me on a quest to see if there might be an intersection of protection, function, fashion and fun. Given my background in leather, I never liked the fraying aspect of fabrics, but after seeing a Lycra mask and learning how tightly woven fabrics were preferred (less permeable) in masks, I started to explore.”

Chandler was able to incorporate her daughter’s request that the covering be more like a bandana than a mask that fits tight across the face and loops over the ears. Having it available at all times and not just stuffed in a pocket was another request.

“The fibers are tightly woven, which makes it hard to blow out a candle out through the bandana mask. This is a test for permeability,” Chandler said.

It’s so easy to pull over your head and then let hang around your neck until needing to use it as a mask. A dart on the nose ensures it is centered correctly. In the back is a clasp to tighten as need be.

When not being used as a mask, they can be flipped or folded to become an ascot, headband, cool band, visor, or sun hat. On her website Chandler poses with the bandana in its many forms. “Even without a pandemic, there can be times you wish you did have a mask—coughing, changing cat litter, exhaust fumes,” she said.

Most days she can be found in her garage making the multi-functional bandana with the help of David Colley.

Designing functional accessories with an eye toward sustainability is nothing new for Chandler. While living in Santa Barbara she taught herself leather design, and for more than 15 years made a career out of it. She still is in the leather craftsmanship business with JChandler Primal Designs.

A marriage, two kids, a move to the Bay Area, then a divorce led her to the world of marketing. A job brought her to Lake Tahoe in 1999. While it didn’t last long and health issues got her down, she was back on her feet in the new millennium.

“In May 2007, a random invitation took me to the 2007 SMG Tourism Conference. After seeing the geotourism presentation, I saw a sustainability solution and by the end of the event the executive director for National Geographic Center Sustainable Destinations appointed me as Tahoe’s geotourism liaison,” Chandler said. “No background in tourism, yet a seasoned corporate story coach, and very empathic to the plight of visitors trying to access the magic of Tahoe, I looked for creative ways to facilitate the emergence of a geotourism visitor menu through activities that do no harm. Given the entrenchment of the 1960s, auto-dependent, two seasons-visitor menu this was not easy.”

Not to be deterred and encouraged by other passionate locals (Dennis Oliver, Tom Wendell, John Dayberry, John Hara, Cary Crites, Stuart Yount, Maureen McCarthy) I co-founded Sustainable Tahoe.” That passion for making Tahoe sustainable is now at the root of all that she does.

In 2017, Chandler was asked to create LASER snowflake ornaments for the Incline Village visitor center. She agreed to if they could come with a message to inspire stewardship and gratitude. That is when she and Colley started to collaborate. He is the expert on the LASER Share Gratitude Products was launched. For now, the bandanas are being sold under that line.

“I currently buy the fabrics locally, so prints are limited by availability. The next step is to incorporate Tahoe-relevant local artwork we can print on these bandanas so they keep travelers safe, while providing a unique souvenir that inspires active participation in a culture of stewardship,” Chandler said.

At some point she would like to outsource the making of the bandanas. She hopes to have a production sample available this month. “I would like to find a competent manufacturer in the watershed to support locals. Maybe with China trade choked a bit, America-made has a chance.” A provisional patent is in the works.



Prep for South Lake Tahoe bike path alters driving lanes

No early warning is given for drivers used to two lanes going straight on Lake Tahoe Boulevard at Viking Road. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In anticipation of completing a $3.3 million Class 1 bike trail that runs five-eighths of a mile along Lake Tahoe Boulevard, South Lake Tahoe officials have restriped that road to get motorists used to what will likely be permanent changes.

Less than a week into the process the city has heard plenty of complaints, social media has been less than kind, and drivers are clearly not getting what is going on. One of the biggest changes is the creation of a right hand lane going to South Tahoe High School at Viking Road. In less than 10 minutes on July 25 several vehicles continued straight on Lake Tahoe Boulevard. The problem is there is a single right arrow painted on the roadway right at the intersection, which isn’t enough warning or information for drivers to know what is going on.

On the other side of the road headed toward the Y a solid white line has been painted so an entire lane is no longer accessible to drivers. Center turn lanes are also new. The city painted the lines without giving the public any warning or explanation for why it was doing this.

Called the Lake Tahoe Boulevard Bike Trail, it will essentially connect with where El Dorado County’s paved trail ends at the entrance to STHS. Cyclists and walkers will have to cross the road to hook up with the new trail that is slated to be built in 2022. It will then go along the south side of the boulevard toward the Y, connecting with the paved walkway at the bus terminal at the corner at the Y.

“This is a new technique that a lot of the country is doing. If you can get outside and stripe ahead of time, it represents what will be built in the future,” explained Jim Marino, with the South Lake Tahoe Public Works Department. “It gets everyone used to it and we get feedback.”

This saves money and frustration down the road so a multi-million dollar project doesn’t get put in the ground with a ton of unforeseen problems.

The city will take input from users to see what improvements can be made to the design before going out to bid. South Tahoe did this with Al Tahoe Boulevard a few years ago. Lines were repainted and this year construction is under way.

The new lines on Lake Tahoe Boulevard are being called a “roadway diet” and “traffic calming” so drivers slow down, especially in the area of the high school. Truck traffic going to the asphalt plant and other industrial businesses are the biggest speeders, according to city officials. The new road alignment is designed to help slow those vehicles down.

The trail will be lighted, which adds to the cost of the project. More trails on the South Shore are coming with lights like the recently completed Sierra Boulevard path. When Pioneer Trail was improved several years ago lights were added. For years they have been at Linear Park, which goes from about where McDonald’s is in midtown to the Stateline area.

Part of the expense also includes acquisition costs for rights-of-way. The trail is being built on the Raley’s side of the road because there are fewer businesses, not as many ingresses/egresses, fewer utilities to contend with, and less right-of-way to secure. The trail will be about 10-feet wide, meet ADA standards, and be multi-use. Project costs also include improvements to the actual boulevard as well. Money has been secured for the entire project; most from federal alternative transportation grants. The city will contribute about $100,000.

The next project on the city’s list after the Lake Tahoe Boulevard path is done will be the Tahoe Valley erosion control and green belt plan. This is still in the planning stages. This would create a Class 1 path in front Tahoe Crossings (the old factory stores complex), go through the California Tahoe Conservancy lot, out toward Melba Drive, connect with Third Street, where cyclists would then cross Highway 50 to connect with the Class 1 that goes to Stateline.

South Lake Tahoe’s five-year capital improvement plan is slated to be on the City Council’s Aug. 11 agenda, with possible adoption two weeks later on Aug. 25.

COVID numbers keep rising in Tahoe, with South Shore man dying from virus

El Dorado County on July 18 announced the first death from COVID-19—a man from the Lake Tahoe area who was older than 65. No details about whether he had other health conditions or how he may have contacted the virus were released.

It is also not known if he was one of the three COVID patients being treated at Barton Memorial Hospital on July 17.

Barton Health’s CEO Clint Purvance and El Dorado County Public Health Officer Nancy Williams were part of a webinar July 17 hosted by the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Both doctors are worried about the rising number of coronavirus cases in the Lake Tahoe region. They both advocated for wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and taking this virus seriously.

Per the county’s stats released on July 17, there have been 394 cases in El Dorado County, with 174 active cases. With the death, that would be 173 cases. Of the total cases, 198 are from the Tahoe area. If the South Shore of California were its own county, it would surpass the state’s tolerance threshold for number of positive cases per capita by more than 2½ times, according to Purvance.

“There is significant growth of COVID in the community,” Purvance said. The cases have not adversely affected the hospital at this time. Barton’s caseload has been steady, with three COVID hospitalizations the norm on any given day, though there have been five at one time.

Williams said, “I feel fairly certain we will hit the monitoring level.” This would mean more than 100 positive tests per 100,000 people. The state has a number of protocols in place based on various criteria.

Testing continues to be available at Lake Tahoe Community College, at Barton Memorial Hospital and a couple locations on the West Slope. Barton tests those with symptoms and people coming in for procedures. The college site is full nearly every day, with results taking a week at times. LTCC does 132 tests a day. Barton officials met in the last week to discuss increasing testing, but right now the outside lab can only handle so many tests.

“The time it takes to get results back varies and it plays into the work force challenge,” Purvance said. “It affects Barton and the community.” He added the health system has had a ton of absenteeism because managers are being conservative with keeping people out who have any symptom of illness, even if it’s not COVID related.

Steve Teshara with the chamber related how many businesses are working with minimal staffs, so someone out on a COVID quarantine can be a significant staffing loss.

Williams stressed the importance of employees being told in advance about the consequences of getting infected, to follow guidelines at work and home. She said it’s a fallacy to feel safe with family members and friends without a mask or distancing, especially indoors.

The county and Barton are doing contact tracing on the people who have tested positive, meaning finding out who they have been in contact with. Asked if the county would release businesses with positive cases, Williams said no. She did say when the county receives complaints about employees not wearing masks that business is investigated. Sometimes businesses have been closed, other times cleaning in off hours has been sufficient when an employee has tested positive.

Social media sites for restaurants are a good place to monitor to see if a place is crowded and what their adherence to rules is. Several on Instagram have been posting photos of employees without masks, then backpedaling to say they only took the masks off for the photo. Plenty of crowded Tahoe beach scenes have shown up in the media and on the internet.

Working on becoming less of a white supremacist

People on the South Shore take a stand to support Black Lives Matter. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I am working on being less of a racist and understanding better how my white privilege impacts my decisions and behavior in negative, potentially hurtful ways to others.

I’m a firm believer that all lives cannot matter until Black Lives Matter. I haven’t had that many people who weren’t white in my life. I grew up in a neighbor that was 99.9 percent white. I could probably count on both hands the people of color I went to school with in K-12. At San Francisco State University I was in the minority, but my circle of friends was not diverse. It’s still not.

I’m trying to become a better me by becoming better educated. I’m reading, listening and watching to become more aware. Last week I listened to some of the weeklong Aspen Ideas Festival. Some of the speakers touched on the racial turmoil of today and the roots of it. I’m also listening to the “1619” podcast project from New York Times Magazine. I’ve participated in one small Black Lives Matter protest in Stateline, Nevada.

Movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks include:

  • Althea
  • Anita: Speaking Truth to Power
  • Barry
  • Becoming
  • Black, white + us
  • Bud Fowler and the Page Fence Giants
  • Chisolm ’72: Unbought & Unbossed
  • Little White Lie
  • Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP
  • Same kind of different as me
  • 13th.

Some are more intellectually stimulating than others; still, I learned something from each one. These were on either Amazon Prime or Netflix. I recommend them all.

I recently finished the book “Me and White Supremacy: Combat racism, change the world, and become a good ancestor” (Sourcebooks, 2020) by Layla F. Saad. My friend’s book club read this and has been discussing it over the course of several weeks. The book is divided into four week segments, with questions to answer at the end of each day. The book club opted to take one week at a time. The discussions have brought the topic to a deeper level than I achieved reading the book on my own.

Until reading this book I thought being color blind was a good thing. I now know that is a fallacy. Saad writes, “The promise of the Church of Color Blindness is that if we stop seeing race, then racism goes away. That racism will go away not through awakening consciousness of privilege and racial harm, not through systemic and institutional change, not through addressing unbalances in power, not through making amends for historical and current-day harm, but instead by simply acting as if the social construct of race has no actual consequences—both for those with white privilege and those without it.”

One chapter talked about anti-blackness against Black women. Guilty as charged. During the height of the #MeToo movement I remember reading stories about how Black women wanted racism to be part of the story and they were pushed down in favor of promoting the women part of the fight. I agreed at the time. Now I know better. I can leave my skin color at the door because it’s not a reason I’m discriminated against in most parts of the world. I don’t think about my skin color. That’s white privilege. Black women are discriminated against for being Black and a woman. They probably never stop thinking about their skin color because of us—what we say and do, or don’t say or don’t do. Saad said, “(Misogynoir) is a term that describes the place where anti-Black racism and sexism meet, resulting in Black women facing oppression and marginalization under two systems of oppression—white supremacy and patriarchy.”

This book made me think. I didn’t agree with everything. Seldom do I with books like this. By like this I mean a self-help book. I don’t know if Saad would categorize her book as such, but it is my definition.

Another issue that came up for me in the book is that Saad capitalized the B in Black and lowercased the w in white. It bothered me, like the author was trying to needle her readers. (The author is Black and the intended audience is white.) This wouldn’t be the only time I was made uncomfortable reading the book; which in part was the author’s intent. Since reading the book the Associated Press, the manual I go buy as a journalist for most writing, has changed its policy so the B in Black is uppercase. This New York Times article delves deeper into the capitalization issue.

On Day 2 of the Aspen Ideas Festival William McRaven, a retired four-star naval admiral and former chancellor of the University of Texas system, was interviewed. He was asked about what he is concerned about today. Quality K-12 education was his response. Those youngsters are our future and if they are not well-educated, and critical thinkers we are all going to be the worse off, he said.

This made me reflect on my book club that has several educators in it. In one session it was revealed that history books throughout the United States may all have the same cover, but the publisher has provided different content for various states. This is so incredibly alarming. Thinking about the discrepancies makes me shudder.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow up not seeing people who looked like me on TV, in the movies, as characters in books. What about real life role models? It makes a difference. I know this as a woman.

It was in 1962 that Crayola changed the “flesh” color to “peach.” However, I remember “flesh” as a crayon choice and I wasn’t alive in 1962. There are so many colors that flesh represents they could fill a 64-Crayola pack. To have ever thought there is only one color representing flesh is beyond wrong. The problem is that still to this day there are so many that think one skin color is better than another. Even a simple biology lesson won’t convince them we are all equal. I don’t know what will. What I know is BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) have been marginalized for too long.

I don’t know why the recent string of Black deaths at the hands of white people, some law enforcement, some not, has me more aware, more caring, more desirous of change. All I can say is that it’s long overdue. It’s time for me to lose some of my privilege to help create equality.

Masks and COVID-19 testing should be routine for everyone

COVID-19 testing at Lake Tahoe Community College is free through at least July. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not a big fan of doing anything involving the medical profession. It’s a short, boring story dating back to when I was a kid having to get weekly allergy shots. Come to find out what ailed me was migraines. I share this because I willingly got a COVID-19 test at the end of June and assume I will do so again.

Why? The question should really be, why not? Free tests are available at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe through at least July. Nevada residents at the lake and people in Alpine County can get tested there as well. Results are recorded with the person’s respective county no matter the testing location. Where the state has not set up free tests people can get them through their local health care system. Do it, then do it again, and again. A negative result is only for that moment in time.

The San Francisco Chronicle on July 1 reported how Harvard scientists say California needs to double its testing to contain the coronavirus. Nineteen counties (not El Dorado or Placer) are starting to shut down again because of a surge in cases. While the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region is bustling with activity like it’s a normal Fourth of July weekend, it’s anyone’s guess what the numbers locally will be when the out-of-towners go home. Are workers going to be infected from tourists and then spread it to their families and friends? Will visitors take the virus back to their hometowns, first spreading it to passengers in their vehicles and people they were lodging with?

The uncertainties provide more reasons to get tested after you have been vacationing. You just don’t know who has what, or if you are the carrier. Being in contact with so many strangers is a good reason for locals to get tested, too. That long swab up my nose was no big deal. It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t all that uncomfortable. I was in and out of the college gym in a matter of minutes.

With more people getting tested it took a full week for me to receive my results. Negative! I had some dizziness and achy muscles, things on the list of possible symptoms for the virus. Now I need to figure out what caused those ailments; or maybe I’ll just keep living with them since I’m not big on the whole medical thing.

With the spread of COVID-19 now being in communities and so many people being asymptomatic, it’s a smart idea to periodically get tested if one is leaving their home. I’m leaving home. Even though I’m pretty good about the 6-foot rule while playing tennis as well as using sanitizer, I’m guessing in doubles there are times I’m closer to my partner than I realize. Plus, who really knows what others are doing off the court. I’m hiking, but mostly with the person I’m living with. When there are others, we are 6 feet apart. Hiking with poles helps with separation. I’m masked up at the grocery store and post office—the two indoor venues I frequent the most.

I love that the governors of California and Nevada now mandate masks be worn indoors and at times outdoors. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t love wearing a mask. The longest I had to wear one was when I recently got my hair cut. Brooke had it worse. She had to wear it all day. I got to take mine off as soon as I left the shop.

A vaccine will help, though even if everyone were to take it, it won’t be a 100 percent guarantee. No vaccine is. “The best we’ve ever done is measles, which is 97 to 98 percent effective,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “That would be wonderful if we get there. I don’t think we will. I would settle for (a) 70, 75 percent effective vaccine.”

For those more worried about the economy than public health read this Washington Post story about how if there were a national mask mandate, it could save 5 percent of the gross domestic product.

Until the health crisis is over, the financial crisis won’t be solved. Governments can only do so much. It is each individual who has to be involved in fighting this virus. Wear a mask. Get tested. Be 6 feet from others.



The United States in name only

How the United States looked in part of the 1800s. (Graphic: Quara)

“Go back to where you came from.” What an ignorant, racist comment. No one can tell where someone or their ancestors came from based on skin color. On top of that, white people are not native to the United States and they are the ones spouting this hateful sentiment.

How many realize that much of the land encompassing California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico used to be part of Mexico? The irony in telling many Hispanic people to go back to where they came from is that they are living where their people came from. It’s the white people who are new to the land.

The Mexican-American War from April 1846–February 1848 ended with the United States taking possession of more than 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of land that Mexico had owned. The war started after a dispute in 1845 about the boundaries of Texas.

With this being Fourth of July week when we celebrate the 244th birthday of the United States, let’s pause to understand how our country came to be. It’s much more than the original 13 colonies. We just took land from others. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 wasn’t just about that state, it wasn’t just about paying off France. It meant taking a large swath of land inhabited by Native Americans, you know, Indians—another marginalized group still today.

There was a time when it was a good thing to call the United States a melting pot of so many people from so many lands. However, “melting pot” translated to getting rid of one’s culture and uniqueness to become homogeneous, or more white. A better analogy is to say we are a tossed salad with each ingredient (aka individual) essential to making the whole (salad/society) complete. (I’m borrowing the salad description.)

The white section is the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. (Graphic: Wikipedia)

We in the U.S. like to call ourselves Americans. We need to remember Mexico and Canada are part of North America, making Mexicans and Canadians equally able to call themselves Americans.

Those in the West in particular should consider how many names of places are Spanish. This points to how the history of the United States is so intertwined with Mexico. Think of all the food we eat that is all-American like tacos, quesadillas, mangos.

Any city with “San” or “Santa” in its name is Spanish. They are short for “santo” meaning saint or holy. Think San Francisco, San Jose, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Ramon and so many more. Many cities are religious in nature, as they are the names of saints. San Mateo honors St. Matthew. Sacramento means sacrament in Spanish; which is a ceremony in the Catholic Church. Cruz as in Santa Cruz means cross. Merced means mercy.

Other city names are more whimsical like Los Gatos meaning the cats for all the feral felines that once inhabited this Bay Area town. El Cerrito means hill, Los Altos the tall ones, Palo Alto is tall stick, Dos Palos is two sticks, Pescadero is fishmonger.

For us to really be a country of united states, everyone needs to become more tolerant, better educated about the past, and accepting of those who look different than ourselves, don’t talk like us, or worship a different god. The United States won’t be the best she can be until we are more inclusive and understand that our differences can be strengths.

Liberty Utilities prepping for dangerous fire season

Parts of Liberty Utilities’ territory are in a critical fire danger zone. (Image: Liberty Utilities)

Liberty Utilities says it is doing what it can to not be responsible for starting a fire. This includes trimming trees around power lines, improving infrastructure, installing weather stations, and having plans in place for potential power shutoffs.

“At the end of the day it is incumbent upon Liberty Utilities to make sure our equipment does not start a fire,” Pat Dillon, fire protection specialist for the company, said. He along with others from the utility spoke June 25 during a webinar. Dillon is a retired battalion chief with North Tahoe Fire Protection District. He said a power shutoff is the last resort to protect customers.

While shutoffs are troubling for businesses and residents, they can prevent a catastrophe. The Nov. 8, 2018, Camp Fire in Paradise started because of faulty Pacific Gas & Electric Co. equipment. The Bay Area-based company had contemplated shutting off power that day but didn’t. The aftermath included more than 80 deaths, the town of about 27,000 people being wiped out by fire, with 14,000 residences reduced to ash. It will be years before this town is whole again. It will forever be changed.

On June 16, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter stemming from the Camp Fire. The company will pay a $3.5 million fine for not having properly maintained a transmission line. Through bankruptcy court the company is expected to come out with a $13.5 billion plan to help the people of Paradise.

No community wants to go through the fires that have ravaged both ends of California in the last few years. Tahoe knows its own pain with fire even though the 2007 Angora Fire was not utility related.

Liberty on Jan. 1, 2011, took over NV Energy customers on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin, Truckee and Alpine County. Even so, the company took 20 years’ worth of data to determine how often in that time frame a power shutoff would have been like. Every five years was the answer. Liberty in fall 2018 turned off electricity in a small service area—Fallen Leaf Lake and Emerald Bay. High winds and dry conditions led to this action. In 2019 weather conditions came close to calling for a shutdown, but they subsided. Contributing factors for a shutdown include a forecast of sustained wind and gusts, low humidity, dry fuel conditions, and red flag warnings.

When possible people will be given 48 hours’ notice before the power goes out. The length of the outage is dependent on weather conditions and when workers can inspect the lines to ensure powering them up will not cause a fire. The problem when power is cut is that it takes more than flipping a switch to get it going again. That is why Liberty and all electric companies cannot promise when power will be restored. All lines impacted by the shut off have to be inspected, and some of those transmission lines are in remote locations, including in the forest.

Most of Liberty’s outages are unscheduled in the winter when snow takes out a line.

Liberty crews are in Meyers now working on vegetation management. In South Lake Tahoe all poles and other equipment are being inspected. Three of the 10 weather stations being installed this summer will be in the South Lake area. Areas in the tier 3 fire danger zone have annual inspections. (Part of South Lake Tahoe and Truckee are in tier 3.)

Over the course of the next few years Liberty will be installing covered conductors, testing and replacing aging poles, replacing conventional fuses with limiting fuses, and enhancing grid topology.

SLTPD defends its practices as others question them

An officer with a gun is intimidating—even when all you’ve done is your job. And you did it well and accurately. He didn’t like what I had to say about his wife who was on the South Lake Tahoe City Council at the time. He let me know in no uncertain terms I needed to back off. I didn’t. I kept writing the truth. That’s what journalists do. Other than as a kid being yelled at by my dad, this was the only time I’ve been scared when I got my ass chewed. Like with my father, I knew not to talk back and to just take the tongue lashing.

I kept notes about this El Dorado County sheriff’s lieutenant who was based in South Lake Tahoe for years. At the time I told a couple people about the incident in case something were to have happened to me that seemed suspicious.

Officers know they have the upper hand no matter what. A gun does that. So does a taser, a club, cuffs and the power to arrest. To say law abiding citizens have nothing to fear is naïve and ignorant.

I can’t imagine what it is like for people who are targeted by law enforcement officers because of their skin color. That is a privilege I have being white. I don’t look suspicious in the eyes of a racist person. To them, I am one of them. They are so very wrong. I’m not. I may look like their racist selves, but I don’t think like them. I don’t think every cop is racist. But the ones who are prejudice against anyone—be it skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion or some other reason—are the ones who need to be cast aside, maybe jailed, certainly fired, and made an example out of as who should not carry a badge and weapons.

I don’t want to praise the ones who aren’t prejudice, who don’t racially profile, who don’t use excessive force, who do their job admirably. That’s just doing your job. Remember, you volunteered for this job. Being a police officer also does not make you a hero. There may be times you are put in a position to do something heroic, but clocking in every day isn’t it.

Racism is alive and well on the South Shore. This story in the June 23 Tahoe Daily Tribune about a black doll found hanging from a power line is evidence. People can say blue lives matter until they are blue in the face. The truth is that until black lives matter, all lives don’t matter.

I’m not anti-cop. I’ve had more positive encounters with law enforcement than negative. One of my favorite cousins retired in the last year from the Scottsdale (Arizona) Police Department. A former roommate is retired from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. I do believe all professions can improve. When it comes to where taxpayer dollars are spent, that should always be questioned. Any government employee who has a problem being accountable to the public should look for another line of work; go start your own business and see what that’s like.

This armored vehicle joined the South Lake Tahoe Police Department fleet in 2014. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I listened to the June 22 town hall meeting hosted by the city of South Lake Tahoe about community policing. One-hundred thirty people were on the line, 65 comments were submitted before the meeting, while 39 people spoke that night. City Manager Joe Irvin, interim Police Chief David Stevenson, and Lt. Shannon Laney all read prepared statements. It was noted that the police chief recruitment started June 12, with the application deadline being July 10. (Brian Uhler left the department earlier this year.) A community panel will be part of the hiring process, along with a virtual town hall on July 23. On June 17, the local department suspended the use of the carotid control hold. However, this technique is still in the department’s online policy manual. The City Council on Aug. 20 will be asked to purchase body cameras for officers.

I don’t want to literally defund police departments. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a world where law enforcement isn’t needed—that utopia doesn’t exist and doubtfully ever will. Still, that doesn’t mean dollars shouldn’t be reallocated. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t ask questions whether these public dollars are going toward the proper resources.

In the town hall the 30-year-old CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program was brought up as a possible model. Crisis intervention teams help deescalate issues instead of armed officers. How this might be a resource locally is with mental health related calls. Lt. Laney said when he started with SLTPD county mental health officials were at the scene. Today they show up at the hospital, leaving officers who are not trained social workers to be the ones to make initial contact. Mental health is a division of El Dorado County. Their funding has taken a hit through the years. The now-defunct Lake Tahoe News in 2016 did a multi-part series about mental health. This is the story involving law enforcement.

On June 4, this writer asked the public information officers for the city, El Dorado County and Douglas County to provide the budget for each of their respective law enforcement agencies for the last five years and what those figures represented in the jurisdictions’ overall budget. The city’s PIO never responded and when the question was posed in the chat session at the town hall meeting the city clerk said those questions would be answered later on the city’s website. I haven’t seen an answer. El Dorado County’s PIO had an automatic response to the email saying she was too busy with COVID-19 to respond to an email. Douglas County said to check out this link.  It shows the budget for the sheriff’s department under multiple line items including administration, records, jail, cops grant, general investigation, patrol/traffic, vehicles, grants, coroner, school resource officer, operation/patrol, and Tri-Net (the drug task force).

The budgets are difficult for a non-numbers person to decipher. It was disappointing that during the city’s town hall that even a cursory overview of the police budget wasn’t provided. The current budget, which goes through Sept. 30, is online.

Maybe sworn officers should not be taking reports for non-criminal incidents, like routine traffic accidents. Maybe they shouldn’t be involved in parking issues. Maybe they shouldn’t be enforcing vacation rental issues. Maybe owning armored vehicles and the expense they pose should be rethought.

At the online meeting it would have been helpful if the city employees would have talked about the race makeup of the police department. Does it represent the community? According to the Census Bureau, the city is 63.4 percent white, 27.4 percent Hispanic/Latino, 5.9 percent Asian, 1.3 percent black, 0.3 percent American Indian or Alaska native, and 0.2 percent native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

A divisive topic was whether an armed officer is necessary at South Tahoe High School. This position is primarily funded by Lake Tahoe Unified School District. Officers, a former principal, and former school safety coordinator were advocates of this position. Community members and at least one former student said this officer is a detriment. It is clearly a topic that needs further, more in depth review.

Some who spoke this week talked of rebuilding the local police force without citing why that needs to be done. A couple people spoke of negative interactions with officers. What wasn’t presented is the number of complaints filed against the department through the years, the number of officer involved shootings, how many times officers even draw their weapons, the race of the suspects, the race of those arrested, locals vs. tourists.

It was noted further training is needed and will occur when it’s possible in this pandemic environment. Biased based classes and crisis intervention are available courses for cops.

Some people asked for a civilian review board without explaining why they felt the need for this. Others want further dialog and regular meetings. This one, though, had no real agenda and didn’t seem to be more than an opportunity for people to sound off. As was pointed out, the public can comment at any City Council meeting—as is true at respective county level meetings. Those online wanted more input from people of color and not just white folks. Making that happen could be tricky when the city knows who is talking, their email and/or phone number. Retribution happens—even here.

Laney, as the department’s public information officer, admitted he hasn’t done a good job of getting facts out to the public. As a reporter in this town for years, I can tell you getting details out of the local law enforcement hasn’t always been easy. They seem to still forget so much is public information. That is where the public needs to get involved—demanding information from the cops (SLTPD, EDSO, DCSO, CHP, NHP). There’s a local FBI office here, not to mention the U.S. Forest Service having law enforcement officers too.

Collectively, the amount of money being spent on law enforcement on the South Shore is astronomical. Is there that much crime to justify it? Let’s look at the books. Then look at when they get to retire (age 50) and how much their pensions are. We are paying these people to stay home to do nothing; sometimes their full salary in retirement. That is what is criminal. They are raping the taxpayer. The changes I would like to see are with police unions, law enforcement retirement ages, and the amount they are paid in retirement.

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