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.

No comments: