After a rocky road, Truckee’s first town council gets a grip on local government.
When the dust settled – the elections were over and incorporation had been achieved after six prior attempts – Truckee was left with a brand new government.
How that government would function was sometimes a mystery to the town’s citizens and their fearless leaders. Four months after the November 1992 election, when voters decided to make Truckee an incorporated town, five new council members took the helm – with more than a few questions.
“We asked ourselves, literally, ‘Where do we get a typewriter? Where do we get a desk?” said Bob Drake, one of Truckee’s first council members. Drake, who voted against incorporation in November 1992, left the council after being appointed to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors district five seat, but later returned for another shot at the council.
“Everything was a first,” said Steve Carpenter, Drake’s replacement. “We couldn’t go back to precedent on decisions, we just had to debate until 2 a.m. sometimes.”
But after Truckee’s first few baby steps, the bigger issues that had led to incorporation started hitting home.
The Hatfield-and-McCoy-like relationship with the county continued, and to the council members’ surprise, the county decided to provide only police services to the town. And with land-use planning and road maintenance now the town’s responsibility, the council was in for a bit of a shock.
“We fully expected to contract with the county in the short term,” said Kathleen Eagan, Truckee’s first mayor. Eagan said it’s typical for newly incorporated towns to contract county services until the town is on its feet.
Instead of being able to pay for continued county services for planning, road maintenance and snow removal that first year, the town brought in consultants from other cities who had worked with newly incorporated municipalities.
Like Truckee transplants from the coastal regions, one of the biggest concerns that first year was preparing for their first winter.
“All we had to remove snow with was a bunch of old dilapidated equipment that the county no longer wanted and a group of very dedicated employees that wanted to get the job done right,” said former Councilman Breeze Cross.
Working with the interim staff – who hailed from outside Truckee – was a challenge as well, leaving only the council and concerned citizens the voice of the town.
“There was a core group of less than a dozen people who made it to most meetings,” Carpenter said, as he continued to list a couple of names of loyal council meeting goers. “The were always there and very helpful with input.”
(Even if Carpenter can’t remember every name, he can go back and check his notes and files: He has about 15 file cabinets filled with documents from his four years on the council.)
Ten years later, the town’s accomplishments are easy to recognize.
Drake said that breaking off from the county was an accomplishment in itself. “The county (government) is mired in the Jurassic Age,” he said. “They were an equal opportunity non-worker.”
Drake is convinced that if incorporation didn’t happen Truckee’s roads would be the same today as they were 10 years ago – complete with jokers on Jibboom Street dipping fishing poles into potholes, trying to catch the infamous “pothole trout.”
Eagan agrees and uses a qualitative approach to her analysis: “The number of pothole jokes in the follies. There aren’t any pothole jokes anymore.”
Still an opponent of Truckee’s incorporation, former Councilman Joe Aguera Jr. is disappointed that another layer of government was created, and feels the town often overreaches its boundaries.
“They [town government] think they can fix the world and change everything,” he said. Aguera said too many people use the town to fix a problem that could easily be solved on their own.
“I think they’ve accomplished a lot,” Aguera said. “We accomplished a lot just becoming incorporated. They’ve just got to listen.”
The town grows up
This week Grass Valley celebrated its 110th birthday and last Sunday Reno celebrated its centennial. In the grand scheme of things, Truckee is a very young town, but most feel the growing pains are over.
“It’s like watching a puppy grow,” Eagan said.
“The community has a sense of self-determination in a way the never had with the county,” Cross said. “I feel a sense of, ‘We can do something about this.'”
Citing the construction of the McIver undercrossing to ensure that more train traffic wouldn’t clog up Truckee, Cross said there are definitely situations where local government got something done that wouldn’t have happened if the county were in charge.
With Truckee’s continuing growth – the town’s population almost doubled in the last 10 years – most agreed that incorporation was the best thing that could have happened.
“I don’t even want to think about what shape our land-use planning would be in with all this development pressure and not having a staff focused entirely on it,” Eagan said.
Aguera, who grew up in Truckee and remembers hunting and fishing where Tahoe Donner and Glenshire are today, feels that Truckee since incorporation has lost touch with its past.
“We’re a dirty little railroad town,” Aguera said. “Nobody likes the train, nobody likes the lumber industry, nobody likes what Truckee used to be.”
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Olympic House was empty but for some maintenance workers and all those ghosts.