Potential Tahoe land swap leaves beach in limbo | SierraSun.com

Potential Tahoe land swap leaves beach in limbo

The North Tahoe Public Utility District is keeping a close eye on a pending land swap between the California Tahoe Conservancy and the California State Parks because of what the property exchange could mean for the future of its operations in Kings Beach.

In an effort to better manage its properties, the conservancy recently submitted a proposal to the state parks to exchange ownership over a series of parcels in the Tahoe Basin, including a proposal to make the conservancy the sole owner of the Kings Beach State Recreation Area.

“We both think [the swap] is a great opportunity to better consolidate our holdings,” said Executive Officer Patrick Wright of the conservancy in a phone interview Thursday. “That’s really what it comes down to.”

In the proposal, which is currently under review by state park executives, state parks would acquire conservancy land that abuts its properties, including parcels adjacent to Burton Creek and D.L. Bliss state parks.

“The conservancy’s proposal is so that properties can be managed more efficiently” said Superintendent Pam Armas of the Sierra State Parks District, noting that the two agencies have similar goals and work well together.

In return, the conservancy would gain ownership over a handful of state park properties throughout the Tahoe Basin, in particular the state parks’ half of the public beach in downtown Kings Beach.

The Kings Beach State Recreation Area, while owned by the two state agencies, is operated and maintained by the North Tahoe Public Utility District. The conservancy pays the district a sum of money to cover the cost of maintenance, and state parks allows the district to operate beach concessions and the parking lot to bring in enough revenue to clean the beach.

The district’s contract with the state parks, however, will expire at the end of the year. And the conservancy, if they gain ownership over the property, is throwing around the idea of relocating the beach parking lot in order to expand the beach, aligning the public area with the community’s vision.

“If you take the parking away then the district doesn’t have the money to maintain the beach,” said district Legal Counsel Neil Eskind, noting that the parking lot is also critical to the operations of the North Tahoe Conference Center.

“It would be very unfortunate to disturb this without having some sort of a financial alternative in place,” he said.

Wright said that if the conservancy acquired full ownership of the state beach they would look into a similar operating agreement with the district that the state parks enacted ” extending the district’s ability to operate concessions and parking.

But looking down the road to the future, Wright said the conservancy wants follow the community’s vision by improving the state recreation area. Dialogue between the conservancy, the community, state parks and Placer County revealed the desire to build a pier and a ferry dock and expand the beach ” which would mean relocating the parking lot.

“We want to be in a position to support the community’s vision,” Wright said. “If that vision ends up being a larger beach and a pier ” we’ll work hard to do that … but that will require us to recognize the parking issues and the future of the conference center.”

The conservancy met with the utility district on Wednesday to discuss the future of the district’s role for the state recreation area. At the meeting, Wright identified two key areas that need to be addressed ” parking and involving the community in the process as the state recreation area evolves.

“We really need a fairly open and transparent process,” Wright said, “so that nobody’s surprised with what’s moving forward.”

Both agencies said they want to give the public opportunity to comment on the land swap when the time comes.

“State parks is going through the process to determine if this is in the best interest of all parties,” Armas said. “[The public] may think it’s going to impact their recreational opportunities, it may also be invisible to them.”

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