Sen. Boxer discusses local issues at forum | SierraSun.com

Sen. Boxer discusses local issues at forum

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer met with elected officials and representatives from agencies across Placer and Nevada counties in Truckee on Wednesday, Aug. 26 to discuss what the federal government could do to help the region.

Boxer was presented with a laundry list of requests, though most boiled down to appeals for increased funding and policy changes.

The round table discussion at Truckee’s Town Hall focused on three areas: the need for more affordable housing, transportation, and how to address declining water quality in Lake Tahoe and surrounding watersheds.

Boxer, who took notes and asked questions while listening to close to a dozen presentations, said she was eager to learn what participants felt the federal government could do to assist Placer and Nevada counties.

“I’m here today to pledge to work closely with you to meet (local) needs,” she said. “I think this area has been neglected, and that’s why I’m here.”

But twice, Boxer referred to constraints she felt had been placed on the federal government by President Bush’s tax cut.

“The money we thought we had seems to be dissipating. It is related to this meeting, because, I will fight (for more funding), but our hands are tied,” she said. “I can’t tell you how it disturbs me to sit here and listen to these issues and not be able to do anything about it (because of the tax cut).”

Several officials, including Truckee Mayor Don McCormack, Town Manager Stephen L. Wright and Placer County CEO Richard Colwell, cited the lack of affordable housing as the most pressing issue facing the region.

“Housing issues are critical,” Wright told Boxer. “Anyone you could put us in touch with, so we could get more specific, we would appreciate that.”

McCormack said the “Aspen-ization of Truckee” is driving working, middle-class people people out of the area before explaining to Boxer why Truckee had to return a $500,000 federal home grant for affordable housing.

“We weren’t able to use it because real estate prices skyrocketed,” McCormack said of the grant for first-time home buyers. Applicants had to earn 80 percent of the Nevada County median income or less to qualify.

But qualified candidates in that income range would only be approved for homes in the $150,000 to $160,000 range, while most homes in Truckee sell for over $200,000.

Colwell said policy changes by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department could help meet affordable housing needs by allowing HUD money to be used for building employee housing.

Currently, there is a prohibition on the use of HUD funds for commercial employee housing, and the idea of changing the standards drew a lukewarm response from Boxer.

“If the commercial interest (building the development) wanted to, they could (build) it.” Boxer told Colwell. “But it would preclude the use of federal funds.”

Colwell also asked Boxer to look into relaxing the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s environmental regulations and bans on subdividing land if the parcel is going to be used for affordable housing.

Placer County Fifth District Supervisor Rex Bloomfield told Boxer that federal funds will be used to continue converting buses from diesel to compressed natural gas through the Placer County Compressed Natural Gas Bus Program.

“We are converting all the buses in Tahoe to compressed natural gas,” Bloomfield told Boxer.

Boxer used the transportation topic to “highly recommend” the use of gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

“I drove up here in a hybrid vehicle. It gets over 50 miles per gallon with very little emissions,” she said.

Boxer was also briefed on water quality issues by Lisa Wallace of the Truckee River Water Council, Nevada County Supervisor Elizabeth Martin and TRPA Executive Director Juan Palma.

“Scientists tell us we have about 10 years to arrest the decline of clarity in Lake Tahoe. After that, it won’t happen again in our lifetime,” Palma said.

In her closing comments, Democrat Boxer again referred to the impacts of the president’s tax cut.

“It took us so long to get our arms around the deficit and establish a surplus We had (a surplus) and in eight months, it’s gone,” she said.

Boxer also encouraged agencies and officials to work together and pursue regional solutions to the issues facing the two counties.

“If (issues) are fleshed out on the local level, it’s easier for me to advocate on your behalf.”