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Town ignored its directives with purchase

Bob Tamietti, Guest columnist

I read with equal parts disappointment and disgust the story in last weeks Sierra Sun detailing the town’s decision to purchase the old Truckee River Bank building near the airport, and to locate the town offices, and the town council chambers in what amounts to Placer County. Disappointment for what might have been – disgust at the hypocrisy of the planning policies of this town and the activists that gave birth to them. What an unbelievably bad mistake.

We spent years and tens of thousands of dollars developing a General Plan and a Downtown Specific Plan to ensure that the character of our community would not be lost to suburban sprawl. This is a laudable goal that most Truck-la-dytes support. Now, at the first opportunity for government to spend its (our) money to implement that policy. the seat of our government flees to the suburbs its elected leaders and professional staff decry.

Imagine a headline that the Town had unveiled a plan to construct a multi-million dollar office/retail/residential complex on the Truckee Rivcr as a demonstration project for the redevelopment of the riverfront that is the hidden jewel of our community. Or imagine a headline that a multi-million dollar Town Square project built cooperatively with the railroad would create a non-commercial focal point for the historic downtown community like those that anchor our neighboring communities of Nevada City and Quincy. Instead, we decide to take a privately owned suburban office building off the tax rolls, and government becomes a for-profit landlord for its excess space in competition with private property owners who pay property taxes to support their competition.

The justifications for this move are apparently (a) the lower cost of buying an existing suburban building; (b) the time pressure imposed by the loss of the space currently rented from the TDPUD; and (C) the temporary nature of this flight out-of-town. With respect and affection for the friends I have (or used to have) within town government, and with a tip of the hat to TR, Bullfeathers.

Of course it is cheaper to buy an existing building in the suburbs. The town’s own development and planning process are a large element of that increased cost. Cost never seems to be an object for the town when private property owners attempt to navigate the labyrinth of planning, zoning and historic preservation processes. We justify those increased costs to private owners because they are essential to preserve the character of our community. But, citizens lose all respect for their government when government demonstrates its unwillingness to shoulder the burdens it imposes on its citizens. Cost is, of course, a valid consideration, but it should not be the only consideration.

The time pressure felt by the town to locate a new home for its operations is no great surprise. We have known since the day the town moved into the PUD Building that the PUD wanted the building back, and the sooner the better. Despite this obvious looming need, we let ourselves be distracted from meeting this essential need by a string of less important projects that could have waited.

In addition, we could have used the pressure of this necessary move to help sell the taxpayers on the cost of building a town hall that would be the centerpiece of Truckee’s redevelopment. The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. is a perfect example of how this works.

Built during World War II, it was government using the pressure of the moment to accomplish a noble objective that would have been difficult, absent that pressure. By relieving the time pressure with this flight to the suburbs, we have missed the opportunity to turn that pressure to our long-term advantage.

Through this decision, we have lost the opportunity for the town to be the anchor tenant of its own redevelopment project. We have fumbled the opportunity to use several million tax dollars, money that had to be spent anyway, to prime the pump of the revitalization of the center of our town. These opportunities only come along once or twice in the life of a community. It is a shame that we have blown this chance to do something bold and creative for our community.

But wait, say the decision makers. This location is only a temporary solution to a short-term problem. We can still build a town hall where it belongs in the future, they say.

Well, this flight to the suburbs is temporary like Bill Clinton testified truthfully, and like 0J was an innocent victim of a police conspiracy – only in the minds of those willing to suspend disbelief. Name a single time that a government, any government, moved out of a building that was twice the size it needed, and that could not be replaced for the same price. I can’t think of a single time.

Yes, my voice was silent during the decision-making process, and here I sit firmly ensconced in my armchair recalling the plays for those who sit through the interminable meetings. Guilty as charged. But I am not alone. The voices of those local activists that helped frame the town’s planning and development policies imposed on all private property owners within the town were equally and thunderously silent in the run up to this well-intentioned, but completely misguided decision. Shame on them, and on me. Shame also on our leaders, for fumbling this best opportunity to lead.

I recently bet my neighbor, Truckee’s inaugural mayor, $100 that the town would still be in its new suburban offices 10 years after the Town buys the building. I will happily eat crow and pay off the wager on the steps of Truckee’s riverfront or downtown town hall. More likely, I’ll use the $100 to buy dinner downtown on May 11, 2010. I already have the reservations.

Bob Tamietti is a Truckee attorney.


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