Truckee’s garbage can of democracy
The short man with the round, jovial face scooted out his front door and down the path between the lawn and the house. His soft, moccasin slippers made a sliding noise as he shuffled along the front walk. Sierra Avenue was one of the older streets in Truckee, part of those small, homey houses that surround the Tahoe Forest Hospital. It’s a neighborhood known for its Halloween generosity every year, as thousands of children descend on its dark streets to fill those shopping bags with sweets.
George Ticknor held in his hand a large, well-used manila envelope, that was covered in hand-written names, all but one were crossed off. The names were a who’s-who of Truckee democracy in action: Breeze Cross, Kathleen Eagan, George Ticknor, Harry Fariel, Cliff Hartwell, Andy Holmer and many others. As George approached the old, beat-up metal garbage can by his garage door, he smiled, gave a short giggle and shook his head. The flattened lid of the aging receptacle had become the incorporation effort mail box, the ‘drop box’ for efforts to make Truckee a town. In more modern terms, one could call it the ‘chat room’ of Truckee’s citizens. But this was in the very old days of 1991-92, before most of us had e-mail addresses or even computers! Since George’s house was centrally located, his outdoor garbage can and its lid became the means of communicating and exchanging paper documents.
As he glance down at the top of the garbage can lid, he noticed that another envelope awaited him; it was the expected financial analysis from Kathleen Eagan, a partner in the effort to study the town’s future, and he was earnestly looking forward to reading her take on the financial feasibility of the new town. George tucked her envelope under his arm and for maybe the 533rd time that year, placed his outgoing envelope on top of the lid, and turned around. Soon, he thought, Harry Fariel would drive by and retrieve this envelope, which contained a memo to Harry on some aspect of the effort to study incorporating this old town, a town that was 150 years old, but had not yet formed itself into a legal city.
The group Planning for Tomorrow in Truckee (PTT) had set itself up to look into what the people of Truckee wanted to do about issues that concerned them. This small group took a different tack than all the other incorporation efforts: it asked the residents questions and listened to their answers. Prior incorporation efforts had left many citizens full of residual anger and mistrust. PTT asked people to put forth problems and study all options, not just incorporation.
As George Ticknor remembers it, “As the consultant we had from UC Davis said, “The last time I was here, I met with six people in a dark room. This time I meet with several hundred people in the high school auditorium!””
Ticknor goes on, “We kept focused on what was best for Truckee, not just on incorporation. We tried to keep the process open, like the community survey that PTT conducted. It provided so much good information about the citizen’s concerns and priorities (#1 was roads and #2 was land use). We were not interested in rushing towards a goal without everyone having a chance to be heard and to have their concerns addressed. It was a slow process, but open to all.
“It truly was grass roots democracy at work!”
Whether it was the technique of including everybody in the decision making process, or the open atmosphere created, probably both, Truckee successfully incorporated in 1993.
Some might say it was Truckee’s garbage can democracy at work!
Truckee resident Jim Duffy is married to Kathleen Egan, and was involved in Truckee’s incorporation process.
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Olympic House was empty but for some maintenance workers and all those ghosts.