Sierra Business Council takes on Kings Beach controversy
Placer County’s Kings Beach Commercial Core project has sparked controversy, disagreement and dialogue on Tahoe’s North Shore, and through it all one group has been paid by the county to referee the public discussion ” Truckee’s Sierra Business Council.
The business council is a nationally recognized nonprofit that works throughout the entire Sierra Nevada. Bringing communities together to make balanced choices to benefit the region as a whole is an overarching concept that defines the council, according to its officials.
The nonprofit organization, with more than 700 members, works to find a middle ground where developers, environmentalists, small-business owners and local governments can work together to improve communities.
“We hope that with our participation we can help to get beyond the sense and the language of conflict and begin to get to the language of reconciliation and community,” the council’s Vice President for Programs Steve Frisch said. “All of these efforts should build community and should be based on, essentially, love rather than conflict.”
The Truckee-based council’s involvement in the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement project and Homewood’s proposed development ” both of which are high-profile issues that will significantly change the face and feel of each community ” illustrate the organization’s push to “bridge” contrasting groups and opinions to make beneficial decisions feasible.
“The value that we were attempting to support in the Kings Beach process was not outcome, but was to promote healthy debate and dialogue in the community about the most critical issues,” Frisch said. “We need forums in our community to be able to talk about issues and have meaningful dialogue.”
Officials from both Placer County and the council say they were pleased with the workshop’s outcome. The forums provided an opportunity for participants to voice their opinions while retaining their sense of community, Frisch said.
In Homewood, the nationally-recognized council is working with the ski resort to develop sustainable business practices in terms of water use, energy efficiency, and erosion control. Since the Sierra Nevada’s economy is dependent on natural resources ” in this case, Homewood’s snowy slopes ” for survival, environmental preservation is key to community development.
Controversy is nothing new for the council. In 1994, Sierra Business Council emerged during a high point of change for the Sierra Nevada, when resource-based economies were succumbing to tourism and rapid population growth transformed the social fabric of traditional communities.
“In the beginning, we sought to break down polarization between economic growth and environmental stewardship,” said board member Janice Forbes who has been involved with the council since its beginnings. “Now, the population as a whole understands that you can have economic growth while maintaining a healthy environment.”
The council has since doubled its membership and continues to pursue its goal “to be the innovative leader in providing communities the tools and models to balance and grow their social, natural and financial capital,” said Sierra Business Council President David Mattocks.
The council monitors implementation of its vision through a wealth index measuring data such as adult literacy, crop acreage and local wages. The index states that if a social, natural or financial component is lacking, then the entire community is undermined.
Public participation in decision-making, critical to achieving community balance and success, is pursued through four avenues: leadership training, sustainable business practices, environmental conservation and community-based planning, Frisch said.
“All of these efforts should build community and should be based on essentially love rather than conflict,” Frisch said. “We need to flip the dynamic in how people think of these things, think of them as means of building stronger, better communities. That’s really how we approach our work.”
With many staff members well-trained in urban planning issues and an earned income facet in the council’s budget, the organization has further improved its ability to carry out its mission.
Over the years, the council has had many requests from local jurisdictions, agencies or developers to assist projects, but funding those efforts was difficult, Forbes said. The fee-for-service provided the council with the means to accept those requests and expand.
“It’s one thing to write books and reports about how things are …” said Forbes referencing the council’s numerous publications. “But, if you can’t actually develop a practice and put it on the ground and have proof of the financial reward in it, then the philosophy is meaningless.”
Council officials say they plan to keep building their philosophies and the Sierra Nevada’s social, natural and financial capital. The organization has also been used as a model for similar institutions nationwide.
“There is a need for [the council] in our region,” Frisch said. “A need for organizations to act as a bridge [between agencies and the community], and that’s what we’re trying to do … bring communities together to talk.”
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