Sunday, August 28, 2005

Column 48 - Rumors

Much of what I love about Incline is its small-town-ness. And as in any small town, it is very easy here for rumors not just to get started but to be accepted as true, and it’s very easy for those who speak for a special interest or even their individual interest to be heard.

Two recent instances of this involve the Federal Government’s contemplated purchase of property on Route 28, and public comment on TRPA’s Shorezone Regulations, Alternative 6.

With regard to the Denio property, a figure of $27 million that was “penciled in” by the selling agent for the property quickly became “the truth.” Imagine– a selling agent starting out at a ridiculously high figure, particularly when dealing with a deep-pockets client like the Federal Government. It took almost no time at all for this to be transformed in the press and in public opinion to “the Federal Government is going to pay $27 million.” OK, a couple of facts: first, the assessed value of the property on the tax rolls is just north of $2 million. Second, the Federal Government may not, by law, pay more than Fair Market Value for any property it acquires. Now we can argue about what the FMV of this property is, just like we can argue with TRPA’s giving it a builidability score of 825, but it stretches my poor imagination beyond bearing to think that the FMV of these properties will be more than 12 times its assessed valuation.

It should be clear to even a casual reader of these columns that I have not been a fan of TRPA over the years. However, when I listened to a presentation by TRPA staffer Colleen Shade about Alternative 6 and read some of the backup material, it made sense to me – if there is a weakness in Alternative 6 it is that it tries to cover too many bases, but each base seems to me to have good scientific thinking behind it.

Given TRPA’s obviously good intentions and the amount of work and study that went into the proposal, the firestorm of opposition they ran into at the public hearings last week seems odd to me. Not that I think we should accept everything TRPA proposes – ever – but an awful lot of what was reported and printed in letters to the editor seems to me to be very narrowly motivated, down to people who don’t want to give up 8 or 9 days a season of boating in Emerald Bay. Let’s take that as one example: when I first heard about that proposal it sounded trivial and silly to me – how much difference can 8 or 9 days make? But when I saw the figures that went into the thinking behind the proposal, I thought it was at least worth considering – I haven’t heard any of the opponents address those figures and wonder if they’ve bothered to read them.

Another example is the proposed increase in piers and buoys over several years. It seems to me that this is a level of rationality that we haven’t often seen from TRPA – it accepts the fact that boating on the lake is going to increase and rather than try to stop or limit this increase, TRPA proposes to monitor and regulate it so that they have some way to assess and mitigate the environmental impact, yet many who claim to be environmentalists oppose the increase but propose nothing more realistic than limiting or banning boats – ain’t gonna happen, folks.

The point is this: living in a small community is a gift – it gives us a platform to make our voice heard and access to public officials that would be unthinkable even in a small city. That’s a tremendous amount of freedom and power, but as the historian Carl Becker (and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) said, with freedom and power comes responsibility, and I think we need to be responsible for getting our facts straight and taking a larger view than our own opinion or interests.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Column 47 (National) - Cindy Sheehan

The Right has a favorite tactic that, if you don’t have too high a regard for the truth, has until recently been very effective – when there is a setback to what you are doing, change the subject. Richard Clarke says the Administration was inattentive before 9/11? Question his character. Thomas Wilson questions Rumsfeld about armor? Call him a media plant. Karl Rove is under fire? Nominate John Roberts to the Supreme Court ahead of schedule. Public support for the war in Iraq is eroding? Assassinate Cindy Sheehan’s character. Character assassination is a tactic dear to Rove’s heart that has been adopted widely on the Right. It’s not a new tactic, of course – it is a descendant of the “big lie” propaganda technique – tell lies, tell them loudly, and tell them often and a certain number of people will believe they are true.

Cindy Sheehan has chosen to protest the war in a very public way, and others have rallied to her banner at the Bush ranch in Texas. She has made a meeting with the President her goal, and I think that is a poor choice for a number of reasons, but it is a choice she and others are free to make. From the point of view of the Right, however, this makes her fair game for slander. Her marriage, her motives, her dead son all become grist for the vicious mill of the radical right wing press and commentators.

No one can know what is in Ms Sheehan’s heart or her mind, or what was in her late son’s; She has lost a son, and I can only feel compassion for her loss. She has not represented herself as anything but a grieving mother who wants to know why her son died. She has not claimed to represent anyone else, and certainly not to represent other mothers who have lost their children, yet the Right has rallied other grieving parents to say she does not speak for them. – OK, fine. I don’t know how I would react if I lost one of my children, and I would venture to say that that tragedy is something each person must find their own way to deal with. I do not think that the parents who support the war are any righter or wronger than Ms Sheehan – everyone has to come to terms with their loss in their own way.

Yet the Right feels the need to demean Ms Sheehan by portraying her as either a dupe of some mythical radical Left or to distract us from the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are questioning the war. with epithets like “poster child for surrender” and “America’s most embarrassing mother.” The Right is increasingly desperate to make “support for the troops” equate to “support for the war,” and Ms Sheehan clearly communicates that that equation is false.

The fact is, (and even Trent Lott gives testimony to this in his new book,) that President Bush invaded Iraq because he was determined to invade Iraq, and then made up a thin tissue of justifications for his actions. He continues to do this by linking the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, and by insisting that those who oppose the war are advocating that we “cut and run.” This is an administration that is becoming increasingly desperate in the face of waning public support and a President who is incapable of admitting he is wrong. As a result he has flip-flopped on key promises he has made (e.g. on the Valerie Plame issue and the Transportation Bill), and the strategy of fighting a war while hiding and obfuscating the true sacrifices involved is backfiring. To quote Frank Rich, “this White House no longer has any more control over the insurgency at home than it does over the one in Iraq.”

Column 46 - Post Office Call to Action

Aside from the perennial issue of dog waste, little in recent memory has stirred up as much local interest and comment as the relocation of the Incline Village Post Office. What’s interesting is that there has been very little controversy about it – everyone who has commented publicly and everyone I’ve spoken to is, to a greater or lesser extent, against it.

In a series of four articles in the Bonanza, USPS spokesperson Dee Dee Tarrano seemed to take a carrot and stick approach, on the one hand touting the benefits of a new PO and on the other making not very veiled threats of cutbacks in service if community opposition proves to be sufficient that the USPS changes its mind. What Ms Tarrano never addressed is the source of the opposition – I haven’t spoken to anyone who objects to a new or even a larger Post Office – the issue is, as they say in the Real Estate business, location, location, location.

Let me make it very simple so that even a bureaucrat can understand. First, there are serious objections to the Village Boulevard/Incline Way site that the USPS has not addressed. Second, the IVGID Board of Trustees, the Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) and Washoe County are engaged in a planning process for the village as a whole.

Ms Tarrano makes a number of points in her articles that are, at best, dubious. First, she says the current PO has only 40 parking spaces. I am at a loss to see how she arrived at this figure. According to Art Hoff, the owner of the Village Center, there are more than 300 parking spaces in the lot, and all are available to PO patrons, not to mention some 10 spaces that are specifically reserved for USPS delivery vehicles. She objects to TRPA saying a new PO needs a minimum of 47 parking spaces, and says “As I drove around Incline Village, I don’t believe I saw any single business locations that had 47 parking spaces.” (I guess she missed Raley’s.) Her argument continues that it makes no sense for TRPA to require 47 spaces when the current PO is allotted 40 in the TRPA documentation. This is specious reasoning at best – the 40 spaces are for the current building, which is less than half the size of the building being proposed, so she is comparing apples and oranges.

When we look at traffic issues, on the one hand things get more complicated and on the other Ms Tarrano’s statements appear even more disingenuous. First of all, in her articles, Ms Tarrano is at pains to say that Tanager Street (site of the new Fire Station) should not even be discussed – according to her the new PO will only use Village Boulevard and Incline Way. The USPS commissioned a study by LSC Transportation Consultants on the impact of the proposed new PO on traffic and air quality. The Bonanza has obtained copies of this study, the main part of which is 37 pages long (66 pages with appendices) and which is too technical to go into in detail in this column. A few points, however. First, the study specifically includes Tanager Street and the increased traffic it will see. Second, despite Ms Tarrano’s assertion that Incline Way is the “least traveled street in Incline,” the study shows that on average almost 2,000 vehicles use Incline Way every day. That may be the least in Incline (I doubt it) but it is not a small number. The study also shows that the new facility can be expected to have over 5,000 “vehicle trip ends,” i.e., vehicles coming to the PO every day. Figures for the impact of the new facility on air quality and on parking are equally serious, yet Ms Tarrano seems to want us to believe that the new PO will have minimal impact on the village. I don’t think so.

In her second article, Ms Tarrano acknowledges the value of the PO to the businesses in the Village Center and goes on to say “While we understand the economic hardship that this might create for some businesses, it should be noted that the Postal Service is not responsible for maintaining or subsidizing private industry.” If Ms Tarrano ever leaves the USPS, she should consider employment as a scarecrow maker – she is masterful at setting up straw men. No one has suggested that the USPS be “responsible for maintaining or subsidizing private industry.” What is being suggested is that, the USPS consider its responsibilities as an important part of the community and not take actions that may be deleterious to the community’s well-being.

The simple fact is that the USPS could accomplish what it says it wants to accomplish while staying in the Village Center. Art Hoff has said, as he reiterated in his letter to the Bonanza last Friday, that he is prepared to negotiate any reasonable terms to keep the PO in the center. I understand that this could include selling the USPS one of the buildings in the center which they could remodel or rebuild to suit their needs. Ms Tarrano’s articles, however, make it clear by implication that, as far as the USPS is concerned, this can only turn out one way or the community will be punished with further curtailments of service.

In addition to all the very valid questions that have been raised, there is the matter of community planning. Incline Village is a small, very compact community. We are essentially built out, so growth (and by extension increased PO needs) is not an issue. Over the years the community has grown organically and without any real integrated planning except where recreation and certain services are concerned. Now IVGID, the CAB, and the County are taking steps to look at what this community wants and needs as it continues to develop. There are already a few “stakes in the ground” that the planning bodies will need to take as fixed points in their process. The schools are already located and will not be moved. Likewise the new library, the ski area, the golf courses, and the fire houses are fixed points. If the Post Office moves to the proposed location, smack in the middle of the village, there will be that many fewer degrees of freedom in the planning process, particularly given the volume of traffic, parking needs, etc. that the PO entails. If the USPS is at all interested in the needs and wishes of the community of which it is a part, the least they could do is to wait until the planning process is complete and recommendations are forthcoming. Absent significant public pressure, it seems to me unlikely in the extreme that they will do that.

So what is there to do? Letters to the Bonanza are fine, but I would suggest that this is the time for anyone with an opinion to voice it directly to the USPS. I urge you to take Ms Tarrano up on her request for comments by emailing to her at or by writing to Dee Dee Terrano, Manager of Consumer Affairs, United States Postal Service, 1001 E. Sunset Road, Las Vegas, Nevada 89199-9655. I would also urge you to copy the Postmaster General, John. E. Potter at or John E. Potter, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260-0010. Only fast and massive community pressure has a chance of diverting the USPS juggernaut.

Column 45 - Incline Vision

At a party recently an acquaintance mentioned he was going to be traveling to Aspen soon and how much he liked the small-town atmosphere of Aspen. He wondered why we don’t have a similar setup here – “it seems like there is nothing doing in Incline” he said. Recently a letter-writer to the Bonanza voiced a similar complaint in terms that were uncomplimentary to our little space in the woods.

On the one hand, they’re right. As Gertrude Stein didn’t really say about Oakland, “there’s no there there!” I've been coming to Incline since long before I moved here, and it always seemed to me that I must have missed it. At the same time that’s kind of nice. We don’t have a “downtown” like Truckee or Aspen, with shops cheek by jowl and people jostling just to walk on the sidewalk. We didn’t even have sidewalks until not so long ago. And it’s not like there is nothing to do here, it’s just not right here – we can go a few miles south to Shakespeare at Sand Harbor, a few miles west to concerts put on by the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, to films put on by the film festival, and if we get tired of the restaurants here, ranging from the rotisserie Mexican cooking of T’s to the gourmet fare of Le Bistro, Frederick’s, Big Water, and the Lone Eagle with everything in between including some of the best Thai food I’ve had outside Bangkok, we can go a few miles to take in over 70 restaurants – more if you count South Shore.

I’ve written positively about the effort of the IVGID Board and the CAB to create a vision for Incline’s future, and that effort is just getting underway. The Bonanza has asked us to sound off on what we want Incline to be like in the future on the North Tahoe Living web page, and the last time I checked, the responses were pretty sparse. Do we want a “village center” with stores and the look and feel of an Aspen? Or do we want to hide the businesses and stores even more than they are? Let your voice be heard – silence on important issues gets what it deserves and costs us the right to complain later, a right we all hold dear here.

On another front, it looks like we are going to be the proud (part-) owners of Incline Lake, and we may get our cross-country ski area back. Personally, I think that’s great – how do you feel about it?

And last week President Bush signed a transportation bill of gigantic proportions (despite having sworn to veto anything that big, but that’s a subject for a Sunday column), and it included $8 million for Tahoe water-borne mass transit. I rode high-speed hydrofoils and catamarans in Greece and thought they were amazing – I don’t like to go to South Shore, but I probably would go just for the fun of riding one of those craft, and what about getting to Tahoe City or the West Shore in a shorter time than you could drive it, with none of the summer traffic hassles? Of course this will entail putting in better mass transit to move people to and from the ferries, etc., etc. How do you feel about that.

One of the most precious freedoms of our democracy is the freedom to sound off and be heard – take advantage of it. Go to and make your feelings known. Oh, and enjoy the rest of this glorious summer.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Column 44 - Gibbons (3)

University of Nevada Chancellor Jim Rogers, a Republican who was thinking of running for governor, recently described Gibbons as someone who’s not very bright and might look for simple solutions to complex problems, such as the state’s higher education budget. This remark caused a major flap, at least in Northern Nevada, most of which centered around Rogers’ position with the University. It seems that, for those who back Gibbons, a University Chancellor has no right to characterize another public figure, and to do so is in some way to fail to live up to his august position.

I don’t have much use for characterization, and as at least one letter-writer pointed out, Gibbons’ background, a B.S. in Geology and a M.S. in Mining/Geology from the University of Nevada at Reno, suggests Chancellor Rogers was probably incorrect in his assessment of Gibbons’ intelligence. Still I think he has a constitutional right to say it, and if he wants to say that the institution he heads graduated someone who is not too bright, and twice at that, I suppose there is a degree of accountability in that.

What amazes me is the flak Rogers caught, including calls to members of the Board of Regents demanding that the Regents do something about this exercise of First Amendment rights by the Chancellor. It seems that if you are of the far-right persuasion, as I assume Gibbons’ supporters are, your boy can say anything. (By way of review, Gibbons called those who questioned lavish corporate donations to the 2005 inaugural festivities "communists", then he called people who opposed his position on the Iraq War "those liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals" who “would be put to death at the hands of Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden…it's just too damn bad we didn't buy them a ticket" to become human shields in Iraq.”)

So when Gibbons, a far more public figure than Rogers, characterizes people who disagree with him with epithets that are much stronger than “not very bright,” that seems to be OK with his followers, but when someone else characterizes Gibbons, that person should, at the very least, face censure from those to whom he is accountable in a job that has nothing directly to do with his political ambitions.

This is characteristic of the current thinking of the far-right in Nevada and throughout the United States. Reason and facts play little part in their thinking, and name-calling and characterization rule the day. Like the late unlamented Senator Joe McCarthy, Gibbons has no hesitancy in calling people with whom he disagrees Communists, or plagiarizing a speech someone else gave to talk about liberals, hippies, and human shields. Rogers is equally willing to smear and characterize, he’s just more judicious in his tone. The Right had no compunction about smearing mud on John Kerry’s war record, and was not bothered at all that there were no facts to back up their allegations, and there are those who still insist there were WMD’s somewhere in Iraq.

It’s time the American electorate took off whatever ethical and moral blinders have made this campaign of lies, deceit and name-calling tolerable to us. The far Right has a philosophy that the end justifies the means, and that kind of thinking has never led to freedom, human rights, or the moral high ground. Let the Republican gubernatorial hopefuls self-destruct and look at what candidates such as Dina Titus have to offer for Nevada. Oh, and watch for the storm of name-calling and vilification this column sparks from our local right wing. That should be fun.

Column 42 - (National) Supreme Court

This month Jim and I decided to write our “national” head-to-head columns on the Supreme Court. For my part, I am not going to address the nomination of John Roberts, not because I particularly like the President’s choice but because the nomination is, at this writing a done deal and even those who are not particularly happy at the prospect seem to think that Roberts will be confirmed.
Actually, I am not quite so unhappy as many of my liberal brethren about the nomination. Not because I particularly like Mr. Roberts, and not because the President might have nominated someone much worse, but because I have a lot of faith in the system of government our founders set up.
To review, the US Constitution is almost unique in having set up a system of government self-regulation called “checks and balances” that is designed to ensure that, over the long haul, no one branch of the government can dominate or take over. The President must operate in major areas such as appointments with the advice and consent of the Senate, and cannot, for example, go to war in a major way without either a declaration of war by the Congress or at least its tacit support. The Congress can make laws, but without the President’s signature, passing these laws requires overwhelming support in the Congress, and if the President does not operate within Constitutional bounds, the House can indict him and the Senate try him and possibly remove him from office.
And overseeing all this we have the Supreme Court. So the Legislative Branch is the primary check and balance on the Executive and vice versa, and the Judiciary oversees it all and protects the integrity of the Constitution, while its members are nominated by the President are vetted and approved by the Senate. The only way the Supreme Court can be overruled is by the intentionally ponderous and difficult process of a constitutional amendment, and so the Federal Government moves forward with each branch watching over and balancing the others, a system that has, overall, kept the US government from long-term excesses and abuses of power for 329 years – a world record for constitutional government.
The job of the Legislative Branch is to make the laws, the Executive Branch enforces those laws, and the Judiciary applies and interprets the laws, chief among which is the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. That document, with its original ten amendments that were inserted to ensure individual rights not addressed in the main text, is the charter for the US democracy and forms a body of constraints on all three branches, constraints that cannot be loosened without a great deal of public debate and support.
That system is what I trust – history has shown that anyone appointed to the Supreme Court quickly comes to find that the supremacy of the Constitution is the bedrock on which the court stands, and we have seen time and again Justices placing their limitations of the Constitution senior to their personal and political views. Nominee Roberts has already done that in stating that, while he does not necessarily agree with Roe v. Wade, he would uphold it as the law of the land.
I will say, though, that it seems odd to me that the Right, which has made such an issue of what they call “judicial activism” in the past seems so anxious to have judges appointed who will be active in pursuit of the Right’s, and particularly the “Religious Right’s” agenda. Judges that will tear down Roe v. Wade, oppose gay marriage and stem cell research, etc. While I find precious little to appreciate about President Bush and his policies and actions, I have to applaud him for withstanding, at least to an extent, the pressures of the right-wing constituency that put him in office and nominating a candidate for the Supreme Court whose record suggests he can be trusted to put the Constitution first and agendas second. We can only hope he continues to do this as future seats on the Court open up.

Column 43 - TRPA Culture

In my “national” column on Sunday, I wrote about the Constitution and the system of checks and balances – that I trust that system and am not too worried about the Supreme Court nominations. That got me thinking about how that system works or doesn’t at a more local, personal level.

The Federal Government handles all the big stuff, but the decisions that affect our day to day lives are made more locally and very differently. Legislatures, down to the local level, make the laws, the Executive branch, from the President to the local mayor or commissioner enforce them, and courts, from the Supremes down to Jim Mancuso interpret them and judge those who transgress. That’s fine as far as it goes, but throughout history there has been a parallel structure that administers the laws, enforces policies, and interprets the policies to you and me, and that is the government bureaucracy.

Now sometimes that works pretty well. In the case of IVGID, the Board of Trustees function in the executive capacity (the legislature and judiciary are at the County level, which creates a whole host of other problems) and the IVGID staff, under the able leadership and direction of Bill Horn administers the District. It works pretty well for the Fire District as well, again due to capable leadership by Jim Linardos and a staff that understand their job and do it well.

In the case of TRPA, the results are more mixed. TRPA falls under the Executive Branch – it is appointed by two governors and the President – and its job is to enforce the Compact, regulating activities that would impact the clarity of the lake and (as amended) the scenic quality of the lake. Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. You see, where the executive branches of government have a whole body of laws and cases to tell them exactly what it is they are to enforce, TRPA’s compact is written in very general terms and leaves it up to the agency to determine what will and will not fall within its purview. That’s where the bureaucracy comes in.

TRPA is governed by its Board, and its day to day work is done by its staff. Unlike IVGID and the Fire District, TRPA’s Board has a history of deferring to its staff and being dominated by its former Executive Director. Unlike the generally mature and professional staffs of the other two organizations, TRPA’s staff tends to the young, idealistic, and doctrinaire – in short, it is a classic bureaucracy government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority; a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation (dictionary).

John Singlaub, TRPA’s new Executive Director took the job with a declared commitment to changing the culture. So far his results in this regard are mixed, at best and instances of the staff ignoring his and the Board’s directives to do what they feel should be done continue. I am told by people who work with John that “culture change takes time.” As one who has made a successful career of facilitating culture change efforts in business and non-profits alike, I would be the first to say it doesn’t happen overnight, but I have found the “it takes time” mantra to be an excuse for footdragging and ineffectiveness more often than not. Several things make organizational change move faster:

1. Strong, consistent leadership that talks about, lives, and promotes the new culture 100% of the time.
2. A strong commitment on leadership’s part that members of the organization are either on for the new culture or they will be gone
3. A demand for clear, unfiltered communication both within the organization and with the outside.
4. A commitment to break down hierarchy and silos so that everyone has all the information they need at the same time.
5. Clear alignment of the culture change with the organization’s vision and mission so it is clear to all that this is not the “management flavor of the month”
6. Unequivocal Board support for the change and the executives leading the change.

I wish John well in his efforts, and want to remind him that this is a case where speed counts – a slow culture change effort will not succeed and will be ground down by bureaucracy, whose main mission is to maintain the status quo.

Column 41 - Post Office 2

We are in the final stages of having the new post office location on Village Boulevard shoved down our throats.

The drawbacks to this site seem to make a no-brainer case against building there, yet the USPS is marching on and local opposition seems isolated and muted. One has to ask why, and the answer is likely to be found in Deep Throat’s advice, “follow the money.”

My sources tell me (and I have not verified this) that some influential local people own lots that will be bought by the USPS for the site. Given the USPS has committed itself to the site, if I were selling land that they need, I would expect to get top dollar for my lot and would stand to hold the USPS up if they offered less than what I wanted – the only limit would be my own greed. Also, it may be in some people’s interest to have the post office move out of the Village Center, which could lower the value of the center and make it easier for someone who was interested in developing that area to buy it.

To review: The proposed site is in an area (Village and Tanager) that already sees a lot of traffic, and locating the post office there will only increase that traffic. It will back up to the fire station and unless Tanager is widened could interfere with the Fire District’s responding efficiently in an emergency. The Fire District has not weighed in publicly on this, but again it seems to stand to reason that increasing traffic flow in this area could hinder fire response.

Locating the PO away from other businesses means that people who need to go there will need to make an extra stop, increasing gas usage and pollution. Moving the PO out of Village Center cannot help and will probably hurt the businesses there.

The Board of Trustees and the CAB have formed a committee to create an integrated community plan. If the USPS moves forward with their relocation as planned, any community plan will have to work around the new PO, a setup for a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. The USPS failed to consult the community when they made their plans several years ago – they can make up for that insult now by putting off their plans until the community plan is formulated.

As I’ve pointed out before, the USPS is cutting services and raising prices (tried to find a Post Office on Saturday lately?) while failing to compete for reliability, predictability, or speed with Fedex and UPS. At the same time they have arrogantly ignored and bypassed the community in their plans while telling us they are relocating to provide better service.

The potential negative effects on traffic, parking, emergency services, and local business, in my view, far outweigh the benefits that the relocation might provide. The Postmaster has left (coincidence?) and we can expect him to be replaced by someone who will toe the USPS line. The PO staff don’t want to move, there is at least some opposition to the move in the village, and what is predictable is that the USPS will move ahead regardless, since they are not accountable to anyone here and no one here can stop them. Notwithstanding that, it is time for the community to be heard. I call on the IVGID Board, the Fire District, the Sheriff’s office, and the public to weigh in. If the problems I and others have cited are not real, show us that. If they are, then show us where Incline, not just the USPS or some narrow interests, will benefit. Otherwise, wait until the Incline Vision project has made recommendations, and integrate the USPS’s plans with those of the community.

Column 40 - Shorezone

TRPA just can’t catch a break. When they initiated the Pathway 2007 project, despite serious misgivings I wrote about at the time, I decided to lay off them and see if maybe they might be seriously committed to being more responsive, community-based, etc. The jury’s still out on that one, but I have to say that the early returns are, at least, hopeful.

The one area where I’ve always said that TRPA can and should be an important environmental force is on the clarity/purity of the Lake. The Shorezone Environmental Impact Statement has gone through a lot of revisions and has generally been presented in such a ponderous, bureaucratic form that it was hard to tell what it was really supposed to accomplish. Recently, though, Colleen Shade, a TRPA staffer, presented and discussed the latest version of the Shorezone EIS, and I think I got to understand it better.

The clarity of the Lake was TRPA’s original charge, and it seems to me that it is a particularly difficult one. Lake Tahoe is, for sure, a natural wonder. At the same time it has for many years a recreational venue. This creates a host of problems with regard to preserving the Lake’s clarity and purity, including some that have to do with the use of powered watercraft.

I love boating in any form – I’m rarely happier than when I’m on the water in a craft of some kind, whether it’s a kayak, a motorboat or a sailboat. As an environmentalist, that poses a problem for me just as does driving a car or using my fireplace. I have to find a moral middle ground between not doing any of these things that I love and sometimes need to do and doing them to the extent that I end up harming the environment. In the newest iteration of the Shorezone EIS, TRPA seems to be making a genuine effort to do the same, and some people are not going to be happy about it.

When TRPA banned two-stroke engines on watercraft in 1998 there was an outcry and people were very ready to blame anyone from Steve Wynn to manufacturing interests rather than to look seriously at what the two-strokes were doing to the lake. Now a few years later, it is clear that this action made a big difference in gasoline and exhaust pollution in the Lake.

In the new EIS, the plan is actually to increase access to the Lake for boaters by increasing the number of piers and buoys, while regulating and cleaning up the huge number of unlicensed buoys now on the lake. They plan to limit private boats’ access to Emerald Bay for fewer than 10 days a season, and some commercial boating interests are trying to cast these actions as somehow directed at them or irrelevant to the Lake’s clarity. That is just plain silly. The sellers and renters of boats and other watercraft have a responsibility to do their best to keep the Lake clear as do the rest of us. Yes, fertilizers and road sediment play a major role, but that is a separate problem and needs to be attacked alongside, not instead of the watercraft issues.

I for one support TRPA’s efforts here – certainly this makes more sense than worrying about house colors or about guard rails miles from the Lake. Let’s not let our historical exasperation with TRPA get in the way of supporting them when they are doing something right. I’m not saying we should just buy this latest EIS alternative lock, stock, and barrel, but let’s approach it in the spirit of working with TRPA to do something worthwhile and not be swayed by parochial interests or by a knee-jerk reaction to anything the comes from TRPA – get hold of the EIS (you can get it online), read it, and give TRPA your input in the spirit of partnership and the Lake we all love and cherish.

Column 39 - County

Last Thursday I went to the airport and picked up some friends who live in New Jersey and have a second home here in Incline. While they have had a home here for some years, first a condo and now a house, they have only recently become interested in Village affairs, partly because they are coming close to making this their first home and partly because it’s hard to be around me for any length of time and not get into a conversation about Village matters.

We drove up the hill and had lunch at the Grille at the Chateau. They had not been to the Chateau before (they are, mirabile dictu, not golfers) and were marveling at the building that has already become commonplace for many of us who are here full time. This led to a conversation about the governance of the village and its history, and provided an opportunity for me to take a fresh look at a number of issues that, for me at least, had faded into the background over time.

The key thing that my friends seemed to have trouble wrapping their minds around is that, as a GID, Incline is neither fish nor fowl governmentally. We are less than a city and more than a non-GID unincorporated area. IVGID has the authority and responsibility over recreation, water, sewers, and waste management, but for other vital services, e.g,, schools, roads, public safety, fire, we are dependent on the County, the State, the Fire District, etc., and the IVGID Board of Trustees, in turn, is dependent on public support or at least tolerance when they venture into areas beyond their basic four.

On the whole, this system has worked well over the history of the village, but as has been discussed in this column and in this newspaper many times, it has also fostered a number of problems. The services Incline Village/Crystal Bay receives from Washoe County are disproportionately low in comparison to the taxes we pay. The Washoe County Board of Education has been less responsive to Incline’s needs than many of us would like and seems to be biased toward the schools in Reno at our expense. We have fine police and fire services, but we do not have any direct control over these, and our representation on the County Commission, while perhaps proportional to our numbers in the County population is out of proportion to our tax contribution and inadequate to represent us to a County that seems to see IV/CB primarily as a nice recreation spot and a cash cow to be milked regularly.

This has left us in the same difficult position that led the Founders of the Republic to revolt against England – taxation and governance without adequate representation. There has, in fact, been one successful revolt against Washoe County’s predations on the property tax front, showing that, with persistent, determined, and effective leadership we can organize to defend ourselves. The greater revolt, however, is yet to come and is sorely needed, and that is the recurrent recognition that we need to form our own county and take control of our destiny.

The IVGID Board renewed General Manager Bill Horn’s contract last week, which I consider an outstandingly intelligent move. Almost throughout his tenure as GM, Bill has been a strong advocate for county-hood and did an outstanding job of educating us as to the issues and the facts. When it became clear that the matter should be brought to the residents and, hopefully, to the Legislature, IVGID correctly bowed out and the initiative passed to a committee of residents of which I am a member. Now, with IVGID’s initiation of and participation in the attempt to formulate a comprehensive vision for Incline’s future, hopefully Bill and the Trustees will once again become involved in the County question and we will begin to mobilize community support for it. Congratulations to Bill and to the Board – I for one am very glad that we will have Bill’s continued leadership in our village, and hope he will resume the effort to lead us to becoming a county.

Column 38 - Independence Day

I’ve been too much of a world traveler these past eight weeks or so. I wrote earlier about my experience of being in Bangkok and the contrasts I found between the gentility of the people there and what I encountered when I came home. Now I’ve been in Greece and had almost the opposite experience – particularly in Athens I found many people abrupt, brusque, and decidedly uninterested in anything that did not fit in my wallet. Now I’m home, jet-lagged, and deeply tired of traveling.

This is a good time to be here at the Lake – the summer tourist onslaught has not arrived yet and the weather seems (knock wood) to have turned to summer. At the same time, I came home after being gone for almost all of the past eight weeks, to find things unusually quiet compared to when I left. The Board of Trustees seems to have put the dog park issue to bed for now, Incline Vision is too early in its development to have caused much controversy yet, the tax revolt is basking in some degree of victory, and even TRPA seems unusually quiescent (unless you feel that unlimited weekend access to Emerald Bay by speedboat is important).

One has to wonder if this is the calm before some storm or other. For sure, the tourists will hit this weekend (giving rise to the old question of why they call it tourist season) and we will not see the last of them until late September. Three of our major religious institutions will see new clergy arriving in the next couple of months, and with Incline’s resident population at its annual peak, we can expect to see some rampant opinionating before long.

Still, it’s nice to enjoy it right now – the calm, the quiet, the available tee times, courts, and beach spaces, all of it. Oh, sure, we have road construction to deal with, but that’s a necessary evil in these climes, and we have the occasional earthquake to liven things up, but overall, it’s not bad.

As I travel all over the US and all over the world, the standard question is “where are you from?” When I respond that I live at Lake Tahoe, whether I’m in Bangkok, Burbank, or Belarus, people usually have heard of our part of the world and even if they’re not altogether sure where it is they know it’s beautiful and an enviable place to live. I tell them it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Kidding aside, though, I for one don’t pause often enough to reflect on the extraordinary privilege it is to live in the US and particularly in this unique part of the US.

So no controversy today, no rancor, no needling of the other end of the political spectrum. Call it jet lag, call it the opposite of homesickness (homewellness?) but, temporarily at least, I can’t find anything to fault. Oh, I know it’s out there – the Iraq adventure continues and the Downing Street memo continues to be ignored, John Bolton will probably be sent to the UN, and the Bush gang will continue to disassemble (“well, it depends on what you mean by ‘throes’”), but for a couple of days at least I don’t care. After weeks of pad thai, green curry, rice, grape leaves, moussaka, olives and baklava, I’m going to grill myself a good old New York steak, crack open a beer, and be glad that we live in a country that was founded 229 years ago by people who did their best to ensure that I can write these columns and that those who don’t like what I write can write in and say so. Have a safe, happy, and free Fourth.

Column 37 - (National) Howard Dean

As you might expect, Jim Clark and I collaborate on the topic for these monthly “national” columns, and when we chose Howard Dean for this month’s columns, I imagine Jim saw it, in baseball parlance, as a low slow one over the middle of the plate. It’s so easy to make fun of Howard – the “I have a scream” speech will be replayed longer than Dwight Clark’s immaculate reception, and every time I see it I cringe with embarrassment for him, for the party and for myself.

American politics is a “one strike and you’re out” game. Nixon is remembered for Watergate, not for opening relations with China, Eagleton will be remembered for depression, and Clinton for Lewinsky, and Howard Dean will be remembered for the scream heard round the world. One prominent Republican has called Dean a “gift to the Republican Party,” and I guess in many ways he is. He’s a soft target for sound bites, particularly if that’s all people listen to.

I was acquainted with Howard when I lived in Vermont and have watched his rise in National politics with interest. If I were a Republican I’d make the most of Dean’s “loose cannon” image, but that’s not all there is to the man. As a Democrat I consider him a gift to the Democratic Party as well, particularly at this juncture in American political life.

The most frustrating thing for me since Gore’s 2000 candidacy and on through Kerry’s disappointing performance is the failure of my party to define itself in the face of the Bush Administration’s hypocrisy and pious dissembling (or as Bush has put it, “disassembling”). No one since the hapless Clinton has stood up to say “this is what we are FOR” as Democrats – it is not enough to point out the lies and failures of the administration or to snipe at the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice team’s persistence in spinning and ignoring facts they don’t like. If you are against something your focus identifies barriers to the success of what you are against; if you are for something your focus finds opportunities for action that will advance what you are for. The Democrats’ greatest failure in my view has been to allow ourselves to be defined by what we are against.

Whatever Howard Dean’s failures, he is for a Democratic Party that defines itself. Yes, he is excitable and can shoot from the hip, but much of what he is saying is an attempt to bring form to an increasingly formless party and to take a stand in the face of the middle-of-the-roadism of Kerry, Lieberman and other party “leaders.” Kerry lost (narrowly) in 2004 because he was seen as wishy-washy, and rightfully so. You may not agree with Dean, but at least he gives you something to disagree with and the Democratic Party needs that now the way a diabetic needs insulin.

Howard Dean won’t be the Party’s nominee in 2008 – he buried his presidential hopes under that ill-considered enthusiasm that led to the scream – and I don’t know who will be. Right now I don’t see anyone on the horizon who will provide what it will take to break the Right’s grip on the government and on the media. A group of people came to Incline not long ago for a workshop sponsored by Karen Sage of Corporate Visions to work on a new message for the Democratic Party in a grassroots effort to revitalize the party and to focus it on what it stands for. The work they did was valuable, and I don’t know if this effort will be successful or not, but the one shining hope on the horizon for me is that this is the sort of effort that Howard Dean will listen to and it may give him and the Party what we need to locate a Lochinvar who will come from the West and save us all.

Column 36 - The Man Who Would Be Governor

In Kipling’s classic The Man Who Would Be King, an uneducated British soldier finds himself among primitive tribespeople in South Asia, and through a combination of bombast and trickery becomes king of the tribe. In the end he is, of course, found out and meets a bad, if colorful, end.

Our Representative in Congress, Jim Gibbons, reminds me more and more of Kipling’s anti-hero.First, he called critics "communists", then he said people who opposed his position on the Iraq War should be used as "human shields.” Recently in a speech to the Las Vegas Rotary he continued his campaign of purple prose, demonstrating either cluelessness of epic proportions, contempt for the intelligence of Nevada’s voters, or both. Worse, Gibbons seems to be counting on the Right’s campaign of demagoguery to rally Nevada Republicans to his campaign for Governor, assuming they are gullible enough to be taken in by his ranting and will ignore his gaffes. For example:
• Gibbons does not know the minimum wage - he told the Rotary group it was unnecessary to raise the minimum wage from $6.25/hour—the actual minimum wage is $5.15/hour.
• During his speech Gibbons said that people have forgotten about 9-11 and claims the terrorist attacks are “merely a dot on the horizon of our rear-view mirrors”.
• Gibbons said he is glad the U.S. House does not have the filibuster procedure because getting in “down and dirty” arguments makes for “great times in the House.”
• Gibbons also claims (inaccurately) that filibusters are used by the Senate to increase spending. The reality is that the procedure has only been used a handful of times recently to maintain a system of checks and balances regarding presidential nominees.
• Finally, Gibbons seems to have delusions of being some kind of middle-aged sex symbol – he told the group he was going to wrap up his speech “so you don’t start fantasizing about me”.
Now before those who have made it their mission to go on the attack every time I point out the Right’s feet of clay (to be generous) hit the macro that generates a letter calling me a liar, I have documentation of each of these points and will be glad to send the links to anyone who contacts me through the paper and asks for them.
Jim Gibbons wants to be Nevada’s Governor. According to an old adage, people get the government they deserve, and I shudder to think that we deserve someone with Gibbon’s reckless mouth, disregard for the facts, and contempt for the voters’ intelligence and sensibilities. In the Republican ascendancy of the past five years we have seen increasing indifference to and even distrust of intelligent discourse (at least when it disagrees with right-wing orthodoxy) and decreasing regard for individual liberty, rights, and the Constitution cloaked in flag-waving and dubious references to 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, and the dubious mission to impose democracy (oxymoron alert!!) on the world whether it is wanted or not. Now we have running for Governor of Nevada a hothead who speaks without apparent benefit of thought and who shows little regard for those he was elected to represent.
It’s time to start an ABJ (anybody but Jim) campaign for Governor. I suggest the Nevada Republican Party start the ball rolling by disavowing Gibbons’ intemperate remarks.

Column 35 - Community

I just got back from a two-week business trip to Thailand,. When I travel to other countries I can’t help but notice contrasts between those cultures and the US, and particularly our local culture here in Incline and in Nevada.

Thailand is no paradise – most of the people there live in very poor conditions, the economy is not strong, and unemployment is high, while the education level is low. Bangkok is crowded, not overly clean, and seems to be in a permanent traffic jam. And yet the people there seem genuinely happy, are courteous to a fault, deeply religious (the country is 97% Buddhist), and move through their lives with very little apparent friction.

A couple of days after I came home I was at the customer service desk at Costco in Reno and witnessed an extended exchange between a man who wanted to return a rather expensive item he’d bought some time ago and a customer service clerk. I have always found the Costco customer service people courteous and willing to go the extra mile more often than not. The clerk was explaining to this gentleman that, because he did not have a receipt and it had been a long time since he’d bought the item, she could not give him a cash refund but could give him a store credit. The “gentleman” was irate, demanding cash and refusing to accept anything else. He became abusive to the clerk and to her supervisor. Needless to say after the gentle atmosphere in Bangkok, where even bargaining at street stalls is done with good humor and a sense of “we’re all playing the game together,” I experienced a degree of culture shock at this exchange and wondered, why the difference?

An Incline resident recently asked me why I was so in favor of a community plan for the village – he and I have both been here about 10 years, and his view was that things were progressing OK on their own. I had to think about it, and realized that, for me, the need for the community to come together to plan its future stems from something I hadn’t realized until my friend asked – I don’t like it here as well as I did 10 years ago, and I don’t like the direction we’re going as a community. Too many of us, in my view, act like the man at Costco – we want what we want, and the hell with anything else. I’ve watched as the “upper social stratum” of the Village has grown more and more distant from those who live here with less, this despite the fact that the demographic of the village is growing faster at the lower end than at the upper.

So many people here have specific agendas, whether it’s golf, tennis, real estate, tourism, or just keeping the growth down. Too much of the debate has become mean-spirited – the question of what to do with the old Chateau quickly became polarized, with neither side listening to the other very much. The Chateau, the golf course, the high speed quad were all done after extensive input from the community on the Recreation Plan, yet those who opposed these vilified and mischaracterized those who were for them as committed to their own interests rather than to the community. IVGID’s highly capable and dedicated Executive Director is subjected to constant attacks and vicious rumor campaigns for having the temerity to look toward the good of the community as a whole rather than some individual’s or Trustee’s special interest.

Save the “love it or leave it” letters. I’m not saying Thailand is a better place than the US or that Bangkok is a better place to live than Incline. I am saying that we could learn something from people who value community and live a philosophy of concern for others and some degree of graciousness and if we don’t, we are in danger of continuing to be polarized along economic, social, and political lines. To this end,I urge everyone to get involved in the community planning process and to look to see how we can make Incline a more congenial place for everyone fortunate enough to live here.