News analysis: Perception of neighborhood changes through the darkness
June 18, 2009
When I moved to Lake Forest in August 2007, it seemed a far cry from the panicked scene which unfolded in the little Tahoe City neighborhood Wednesday when police locked down the area after John McKnight threatened residents with a gun.Sure, my roommates, neighbors and I would joke about the place, known to some of its residents affectionately as andamp;#8220;the ghetto in the meadow,andamp;#8221; was the home to hippies, some of the lowest rents in Tahoe City and good people who maybe had a screw or two loose.On the surface it’s like any other Tahoe City neighborhood. The residents are a mix of full timers and vacation-home owners, enticed by the short walk to Skylandia Beach in the summertime. Look closer, though. Unlike most neighborhoods, Lake Forest is surrounded by pockets of businesses which don’t rely solely on tourist dollars. A lumber yard, furniture shops, contractors and an auto body business circle my neighborhood. People who work with their hands for a paycheck and make the items necessary to live in this area year-round work here.Those who live here year-round, that I know, live paycheck-to-paycheck, relying on fairly steady work to make rent or the mortgage each month. They’re people not unlike McKnight, who need Tahoe’s very symbiotic tourist-and-locals economy to click, or the wheels start to fall off.
Workers at the businesses on the East side of Lake Forest Road were panicked late Wednesday afternoon when McKnight, an allegedly intoxicated 61-year-old Lake Forest resident posted a sign reading andamp;#8220;Kill all Jewsandamp;#8221; and allegedly waved a handgun in the air.It’s more excitement than the neighborhood andamp;#8212; more used to bear emergencies than bared weapons andamp;#8212; usually sees.Workers in the area, like Jon Uher at Boulder Ridge Sash andamp; Door and David Best at the Tahoe Furniture Outlet were taken aback by law enforcement response to the reported crime. Speeding through the neighborhood in search of McKnight, dressed in protective helmets, their presence shocked the two.andamp;#8220;I was thinking andamp;#8216;what the (expletive) is going on’ when I saw those guys pull up,andamp;#8221; Best said. andamp;#8220;I came outside and saw them, walked back into the furniture store and they came in guns drawn looking for him.andamp;#8221;Residents, employees and business owners alike were outside, buzzing about the events and the sheer number of uniforms roaming the normally quiet streets.
The singular incident woke me up to a new view of the place I call home.Tim Barker, who works in Lake Forest, said the neighborhood’s small businesses have fallen on hard times. Barker said he knew McKnight didn’t have work, a fact both friends and his landlord confirmed.andamp;#8220;I’ve seen him around here for forever in that gold truck,andamp;#8221; Barker said. andamp;#8220;The people and businesses who are left here are hurting bad. They’re kind of desperate, but this is crazy.andamp;#8221;Late Wednesday night, I took a walk with my roommate through our neighborhood, and began to see it in a different light, even through the darkness. Where there were houses I’d never looked at on our long, lazy strolls to the beach, I saw residents trying to hang on to the Tahoe dream. I saw, for the first time, renters and landlords working to keep the mortgage paid. I saw the human side to this paradise, to my vacation home turned full-time residence. I saw the people I’d passed on hurried winter mornings to get to the ski areas. The real people, the carpenters, the ski instructors, the cooks and the secretaries who have to worry about keeping food on the table.I saw my neighborhood for the first time not as a vacation destination where some people live, but simply as a place where people live and deal with the problems people everywhere else do. The same dilemmas, the same, bizarre crimes of a man like you’d see in any city or small farm town. Unique as it is, Lake Forest is just another neighborhood among many.Kyle Magin is a reporter for the Sierra Sun who lives in Lake Forest. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.