Activists create North Tahoe group | SierraSun.com

Activists create North Tahoe group

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun
Emma Garrard/Sierra SunTahoe Vista resident Jerry Wotel started North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance to reflect citizen concern with new developments fitting the character of Tahoe.
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Grassroots activism is sprouting in North Tahoe.

Several residents have created the nonprofit North Tahoe Citizen’s Action Alliance, seeking to represent the typical resident, property owner and taxpayer from Kings Beach to Tahoma.

Frustrated by development its members believe does not fit North Tahoe’s character, the group plans to lobby government agencies, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Placer County, to adopt plans that reflect community desires and needs.

“None of these [governing agencies] speak for the ordinary citizen,” said Paul Vatistas, a founding member of the group’s board of directors. “This organization has been set up for the ordinary citizen, and the ordinary homeowner … to make sure their voice is heard.”

Not to be confused with the Kings Beach Business and Citizens Alliance, which formed in response to redevelopment plans in Kings Beach, the North Tahoe Alliance hopes to unify North Shore communities that lack local representation beyond public utility districts, which regulate water, sewer and parks. Most of the North Shore faces similar development pressures.

“We’re not a town council; we’re not elected,” said Vatistas, a Tahoe City resident. “But we are providing an outlet, an organized outlet.”

The Alliance is demanding accountability for citizen tax dollars. They want to see public money spent where it is needed, said board President Jerry Wotel. The county is spending $14 million on a new parking garage in Tahoe City, but is not addressing the blight in Kings Beach, he said.

“We really want to help key decision-makers better understand the citizen’s viewpoint, and to make all government servants more accountable to their constituents,” said board member Dave McClure in a written statement.

The group’s hope to unify, represent and amplify the voice of North Shore communities surfaced during the environmental review public process for a Placer County transit center in Tahoe City in 2005. Placer supervisors approved the project despite significant opposition, evident in a petition that attracted more than 2,000 signatures, Wotel said.

“We and others … did not feel like we were being heard as individuals,” Wotel said. “So we decided to organize.”

Wotel went on to start the North Tahoe Yahoo! groups list-serve in 2005, a community e-mail forum, which led to the Alliance founders meeting this spring.

The Alliance has three board members: Wotel, Vatistas and McClure. They have a secretary, a treasurer, an advisory board and 55 members, but they’re still looking for two additional board members and aiming to enroll 500 members.

The volunteer group is funded through $20 membership fees. Wotel said the group will also seek grants.

In addition to its activist efforts, the Alliance plans to inform North Shore residents about future projects through e-mail and newsletters, organizing the facts to allow residents to be informed and determine what they want, Vatistas said.

“We are not, like, a special interest group that has a particular agenda,” Wotel said. “What we want to do is represent the citizen’s voice.”

The group is currently gathering information about JMA Ventures’ proposed development for the Homewood Mountain Resort.

Wotel said they would determine what the citizens are saying through membership polls. If opinion is leaning toward one direction, the Alliance would endorse the community’s position. If opinion is divided, as is the case in the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement project, Wotel said the group would remain neutral.

“Residents and homeowners from Homewood to Kings Beach have made it very clear that they want projects that are matched to scale and character of their existing community,” Vatistas said in a written statement. “Neighbors are banding together to protect the future of their communities because they feel that the agencies have failed them before, and fear that they will do so again.”