Parking pains | SierraSun.com

Parking pains

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
David Bunker/ photo illustrationThe proposed Tahoe City parking garage has raised concerns about the proper use of redevlopment funds, the proper siting of the structure, and other community issues.
ALL |

The North Tahoe community continues to question Placer County’s use of an estimated $14 million of Redevelopment Agency funds to construct a Tahoe City parking structure, even as the county pushes forward with its building plans.

Following parking studies first conducted in the 1990s and again in 2003, the Placer County Board of Supervisors named parking as a pressing Tahoe City need.

“The board at that time had to make a judgment call on what was stopping Tahoe City from growing, not so much bigger but keeping up with the times, keeping up with the market,” said Deputy Director Rae James of the Placer County Redevelopment Agency. “People will not come to Tahoe City unless it’s more pedestrian friendly. In order to keep the businesses going, people have got to get out of their cars ” they’ve got to park.”

Both the county and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approved in 2005 a master plan for the Tahoe City Marina area that included plans for both the public parking structure and the marina’s private expansion.

“It just meant we were looking at them both together in terms of impact on the environment,” said Jim LoBue, the Placer Redevelopment Agency’s program coordinator. “Since then we’ve been pursuing respective projects … separately.”

The county can only work with willing property owners, James said, and the county has not been approached by others to address the parking deficit. If the marina had not offered to partner with the redevelopment agency, the 45 spaces that will be removed for the garage would remain privately owned and operated by the marina, James said.

“We took those spaces, made then publicly owned, and added more,” she said.

The redevelopment agency has reserved $14 million for the Tahoe City parking structure, but the Placer Department of Public Works is estimating construction costs at just $8 million, with a $2 million contingency fund.

Associated easements, public art, signage and other related costs are projected to be another $3.4 million, according to county officials.

But the parking garage is not the only redevelopment project in North Tahoe slated to be built in the next few years, James said: “The marina is not keeping us from doing other things.”

Because roughly $9 million is projected for the marina project, and $26 million has been earmarked to be spent in North Lake Tahoe over the next year, the remaining $15 million will be spent on the Kings Beach commercial core project and other surface parking lots in Kings Beach, James said.

“You can always debate whether every decision is the best decision for spending those particular dollars,” said LoBue. “This is not the end-all and be-all for Tahoe City … this is just part of the equation for trying to revitalize the community.”

But many North Tahoe residents and business owners disagree with the use of the redevelopment money.

“I’m certainly supportive of the marina expansion … I have qualms with the fact that $14 million in tax money is going to be invested with what I consider to be very little net gain to the downtown,” said 35-year Truckee-North Tahoe resident and former Tahoe City business owner Mike Dunsford. “I have a struggle with RDA funding in developing new if it’s not replacing something old … it is not eliminating an eyesore, it is not eliminating an unproductive piece of property, it is not eliminating the negative.”

Some community members have expressed suspicions about the relationship between the Tahoe City Marina and Placer County, but the county defends its position as equally assisting Tahoe City downtown business as a whole.

“We are partners, but that doesn’t mean everything we’re doing is because of what they need,” LoBue said. “We have separate projects. We have our public park structure which is a stand-alone project which we are doing regardless of whether the marina expands or not.”

Tahoe Yacht Harbor LLC, the company that owns the Tahoe City Marina, dedicated land valued at $650,000 to the redevelopment agency in 2006 to build a public garage.

“Will we benefit? Of course we’ll benefit because we’ll have a parking structure here on site … but it also provides for everyone else,” said Tahoe City Marina general manager Jim Phelan. “There’s a perception out there that it’s being built strictly for our benefit, but that’s entirely not true. We are trying to demonstrate a spirit of community here … we’re deriving an indirect benefit, but that’s not the whole purpose of this.”

None of the 137 parking spaces are dedicated specifically to the marina, or any other business, but are free and available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis, say county officials.

But in receiving the land, the redevelopment agency has agreed to cooperate with both Placer and the marina to credit 87 parking spaces to meet requirements for the marina property and proposed expansion, according to the written agreement.

“That pledge is the same pledge we are making to anybody … you may use our parking,” LoBue said.

“The truth is, every time you build a public parking facility … the people who are right next door are, of course, more likely to benefit more than someone who’s a mile away … it doesn’t mean we’re doing it for the one property.”