My Turn: The economy, environment, community triad | SierraSun.com
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My Turn: The economy, environment, community triad

Ed Miller

The economic viability of any community can be based on many contributing factors such as tourism, manufacturing, industry, etc. Our economy at Lake Tahoe, for the most part is tourist based. The writer of the guest column Economics vs. the environment in the March 21 Sierra Sun suggests that this is a mistake. Our efforts should be to find some other basis to sustain our economy that would have less impact on our environment, and therefore deny all development.The writers assumption is that a viable tourism industry, a healthy environment, and economic development cannot coexist to mutual benefit. Our reality is we live here now with an economy that is deeply rooted in tourism, and our visitors are drawn by what our natural environment has to offer.TRPAs Pathways 2007 study and the neighborhood-driven Place-Based Planning workshops have determined through overwhelming response form all sectors of the area that what will best serve our Lake Tahoe communities is a well-balanced triad of a healthy sustainable environment, a vibrant and successful economy, and a happy, energetic and supportive social center. Without these three facets working closely together and supporting one another, our communities will not thrive.I cannot speak for the other two projects named in the column, but I do know that consideration for a well-sustained triad is exactly what is at the core of the Villas at Harborside project in Homewood. The Villas will provide an opportunity for high-end timeshares in the central downtown commercial core of Homewood, with an environmentally aware consciousness, and in a construction manner sensitive to the overall ambiance of this micro community.Some of the neighbors have lost track of what was originally on this property. Where Mr. Topol would like to build his California Craftsman-style, timeshare cottages once stood a selection of miss-matched, run-down vacation cabins in varying states of disrepair, seaplanes and an FAA seaplane airport (fuel storage tanks, aircraft maintenance facility), the original seasonal West Shore Caf housed in shacks, and an old pier. He will also be removing a less-than-attractive cinderblock motel and returning it to open space.The surrounding commercial core of downtown Homewood consists of several business including but not limited to, Michou Jewelry & Import, The West Shore Caf & Inn, Old Tahoe Caf, Homewood Mountain Resort, Obexers Market, Obexers Marina, Homewood High & Dry Marina, West Shore Sports, Swiss Lakewood Restaurant & Lodge, Tahoe Water Ski School, Chris-Craft of California, Homewood Import Repair, a boat restoration business, four real estate offices, two hair salons, , several contractors, plumbers, Blacktop Paving, as well as a myriad of home-based service businesses not obvious to the casual observer such as catering, floral design, interior design, cleaning services, landscaping, computer service and design, internet sales, insurance agents, stockbrokers, accountants, and marketing folks, just to list a few.These businesses are part of what makes the lower West Shore so desirable, so loved by its residents, and accounts for the feeling that it really is a small town, not just a bunch of subdivisions or zip codes.Each of these businesses (and business owners who all live on the West Shore) is dependent on a consistent and dependable stream of clientele to sustain them. The business community in Homewood plays a serious, significant role in the overall sustainability of the community. It is here to provide those services required by our visitors and our community members.Our local businesses serve our visitor-dependent economy including the seasonal influx of second homeowners. But no business can survive without a core clientele of local-fulltime residents. Ask any restaurant owner, anywhere, in a seasonal business climate and you will hear the locals sustain us in the off season. Who are these locals? The business owners and their employees, who in turn are each others customers. This fragile balance can be easily disrupted. Without a large enough customer base, businesses fail, close, owners move away, and the economic balance spirals downward, ultimately affecting more businesses, sense of community and support for the protection of our environment.Obexers Market experiences a bustling summer season. The second homeowners have come to depend on having their coffee and chats on summer mornings. But what happens when theyre gone? Fulltime locals continue to support Obexers in the shoulder seasons, ski season is brisk but sporadic, but they are still compelled to close for two to eight weeks in the fall. What would happen if they werent there at all? The recent closure of Homewood Hardware has had a measurable effect on the environment. Vehicle trips have increased because of having to travel to Tahoe City for a home-repair project (or worse, Reno), creating more traffic, more emissions.Are the Villas at Harborside the answer to our economic woes? Certainly not in and of itself, but it is the most amenable solution to a given set of circumstance within the confines of TRPA and Placer County redevelopment regulations.The Villas property will not be left undeveloped. Expecting that of any property owner is complete naivet and absurd. Expecting that the Villas at Harborside will best serve the community is realistic and is Mr. Topols goal. Ed Miller is a 30-year West Shore resident.


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