Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Column 77 - An Historic Week

Monday the Place-Based Planning (PBP) process kicked up into full gear. In the afternoon the consultants met with the “Working Group” to plan the evening session, and in the evening over 100 people came to the Chateau for the first of three working sessions that will form the Washoe/IVCB part of the ultimate plan that goes to TRPA.

The Working Group are the 12 person committee that was the focus of the “pay to play” controversy earlier this year. After clearing up some miscommunication it turned out that IVGID had only 6 seats on this committee, and Washoe County the other 6. Commissioner Jim Galloway appointed the 6 from the County, including several from IV/CB. (I’m an IVGID appointee to the Working Group) The Working Group will provide the continuity between the Community Workshops, provide a direct link for the community into the process, and will work directly with the consultants to ensure that the output of those workshops is retained and translated into the final plan.

That 100 people came Monday evening for a three-hour working session is testimony to the work that Incline Vision has done since the Community Meeting in November. The people at the meeting said what they thought were the most important places in the village and also what they saw as the greatest opportunities for improvement over the next 20 years. Given the high degree of agreement among the ten teams working independently, what they came up with was probably pretty representative of thinking in at least one segment of the community.

Still, there is work to do. Unlike November’s meeting, Monday’s workshop was populated, largely by older, established residents. Missing were young families and their children, Latinos, renters, and probably part-time residents as well. The Working Group needs to make a concerted effort to collect and communicate these groups’ input to the consultants and to have these groups represented in large numbers at the second and third Community Workshops.

It’s important to remember that this is a process that is intended to be as inclusive as possible. If you feel that you or some group of which you are a part is not being heard or represented, don’t wait for the Working Group to find you – contact us to ensure we get your input. I can tell you for sure that all the data collected by Incline Vision and that will be collected in the workshops is being kept, listened to, and will be included in the end product, which will be a report and recommendations from the consultants to TRPA. At the end of the day what will translate all this into a real, concrete future for Incline and the Basin is new regulations, ordinances, and thresholds on the part of TRPA, the counties, and the communities and the consultants’ report will presumably be the basis for these changes.

The next Community Workshops are on May 22 and July 17 – mark your calendar now and plan to be there with as many of your friends and neighbors as you can bring.

The other big event this week is the IVGID Board meeting Wednesday night, where the Incline Lake purchase will get its final hearing and be put to a vote. After considerable study and thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a gamble worth taking. A million dollars is real money, to be sure, and anyone who thinks our payment as residents will end with a one-time assessment of $125 is probably na├»ve. Notwithstanding that I think we should take the opportunity. A Nordic ski area for the winter and another recreation area for summer use are probably a good bet to produce revenue and, as importantly, enjoyment for residents and increased tourism income. If the negotiations with the Forest Service don’t work out, the added investment over the initial million will not have been great and the land is likely to be salable at a profit that will match any other prudent investment of the money.

Maybe it’s the circles I travel in, but I haven’t spoken to anyone who opposes the purchase. I suspect opposition is out there and waiting for the Board meeting to come forward. If so, then Wednesday’s meeting should produce some interesting debate; if not, then those who attend will be present for an important piece of Incline’s history.

Column 76 - Iraq

Wars do strange things to presidents – they often become insular, defensive, and paranoid about dissent. This phenomenon is not limited to presidents of either party or to the current president. We saw it, for example, with both LBJ and Nixon during the Vietnam era.

This President, and his advisors seem to have a view of the war that fewer and fewer people share with them. This has been true to some extent for most of the three years since we invaded Iraq. The President has his own set of facts that often do not coincide with what is observable to others, starting with WMD’s and yellowcake from Niger, and now including “victory” and “civil war.”

Mr. Bush said this week that we will stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, and clearly expects this involvement to extend well beyond his administration, but he has yet to define what he has in mind by “winning.” If the goal was to bring democracy to Iraq, they have a democratically elected government, and a recent poll of the Iraqi people found that 87% of them want us to leave. Democracy would seem to indicate that if we leave at the request of a government that represents the will of its people, we’ve won - Zbigniew Brzezinski has proposed just such a plan.

Former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi stated unequivocally this week that Iraq is in a state of civil war, but the President denies it while admitting that there is a “significant insurgency.” This is mincing words at best, and when Donald Rumsfeld says that leaving now would be like turning post-war Germany back to the Nazis, it seems to indicate that (a) there is a civil war and (b) we are propping up the weaker side, but the President denies that there is a civil war.

This week President Bush said “if I didn’t believe we would win, I would not send our young people over there,” and I believe he is sincere in that statement. What bothers me is that this President is willing to send our troops in harm’s way based on his private belief, a belief that is not shared by military strategists that are far more expert than he is.

The President’s justification for our long-term commitment in Iraq is based in his “War on Terrorism” which, as Brzezinski has pointed out, is a euphemism. War is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations,” but terrorism is not a nation or state, it is a strategy of killing people to alter the political process.

Notwithstanding this, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld continue to use this “war” as a justification for an unprecedented accretion of power to the Executive Branch, and when others object, they again redefine reality. For example, no serious Democrat has, to my knowledge, advocated eliminating the use of surveillance against suspected terrorists – they have objected to doing this illegally, particularly when fast, effective legal means exist. Yet the President in last week’s news conference said that if the Democrats are against using these weapons against terrorism, they should run on that platform, blithely ignoring the key factor, namely his breaking the law.

At the end of the day the issue is not whether we should be in Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis and an increasing majority of Americans say we should not. The issue is why we are there and how we will exit, and this president seems to think we should trust him on the first and to be content to leave the second to future presidents to work out.

Lastly I’d like to take a few things out of the conversation. I am unequivocal in my support for our armed forces. My opposition to the war does not in any way disrespect those who are, in line with their commitment in joining the armed forces, prosecuting it to the best of their ability. Second, I reject any imputation that dissenting from the administration’s policies or actions is in any way unpatriotic –I concur with Jefferson’s statement that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

That I have to say all that, to me, speaks to the sorry state that political dialogue in this country has come to.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Column 75 - We Ain't Had Our Best Day Yet

People sometimes ask me if it’s hard to write a weekly column. My stock answer is that it’s not, if I have a topic – the hard part is coming up with something to write about each week that will be informative and, hopefully, stimulate some thinking beyond the reflex attack that comes when someeone’s pet ox is gored.

This is one of those tough weeks. It seems like everything is either settled or on hold, and all of it has been discussed to death – Incline Lake, Place-Based Planning, the Shorezone standards, workforce housing, the tax revolt, timeshares – I for one don’t have anything new to say and don’t see the point in rehashing old conversations. I had hoped to devote this column to the County Democratic Convention, to which I was to be a delegate, but a combination of business and family matters precluded my attending, and so I don’t know what went on there as I write this.

Seems like the most interesting thing going on is the season premiere of The Sopranos, and even that’s not “local” in focus.

I’ve had occasion these past several weeks to spend more time than usual in the Bay Area, specifically in San Jose. I’ve been struck all over again with all the reasons I moved to Incline over ten years ago. The traffic, which I honestly thought could not have gotten worse, has. Last week Emy and I made the mistake of going shopping at the Valley Fair Mall at about 4 pm on Saturday. First of all, I’m quite sure there were more people in that mall than live in Incline. The parking lot, which is two levels and about the area of Tyrolian Village, was jammed, and every driver seemed to think he or she had a right to a parking space within 50 feet of a mall entrance. I also noticed something I’ve observed in airports, namely the number of people who seem oblivious to the fact that there are other people around, and that those other people actually occupy physical space and, when they walk or drive, have a certain momentum on a certain trajectory. Many people move as if they are alone in the world or, at least, others should make way for them.

Now I’m not saying that none of that happens in Incline, though I confess to a bias that has me, when someone acts this way in Raley’s, to seek evidence that they are flatlanders visiting and not locals. I do know that, even when Raley’s parking lot is jammed on a weekend, people with Nevada plates seem generally polite and cooperative, and the only thing I’ve seen that is close to a traffic jam is leaving the ski areas at 4:30.

So overall I think we have it pretty good here, issues notwithstanding. I had to miss the opening meeting of the basin-wide Place-Based Planning group to which I had the honor of being named, but I’m optimistic about the process. I’ve heard good arguments both ways on the wisdom of the land purchase at Incline Lake, and have enough confidence in the IVGID Board to feel it will turn out well, and overall I think the future looks pretty good.

There’s an old Peanuts cartoon where Lucy, in her advice booth, tells Charlie Brown that it stands to reason that, at the end of the line, there will have been one day in our lives that will have been the best day we had, and one that will be the worst. Then she asks Charlie Brown “What if you’ve already had your best day?” For me, it’s an article of faith that my best day hasn’t happened yet, and I think that’s true for us as a community as well. If you had told me ten years ago that 350 people would come together and launch an active planning process I would have thought they were nuts, yet here we are.

So this is a column about nothing (hey – it worked for Seinfeld!), the point of which is “we ain’t had our best day yet!”

Monday, March 06, 2006

Column 74 - Timeshares

Anyone who has lived in the Bay Area will be familiar with the radio and TV commercial for a dairy called Berkeley Farms that ends with a bovine voice exclaiming “Farms? in Berkeley? Mooooo!” The local version of this at the moment seems to be Timeshares? in Incline? Noooooo!”

To make it clear at the outset, I’m no big fan of timeshares, and neither do I consider them a blight on the universe. Actually, aside from assiduously avoiding getting hooked into listening to marketing pitches on them, I don’t have much opinion either way on timeshares (though by way of full disclosure, I did attend a presentation years ago at South Shore and came away with a really nice set of cheap, shoddy luggage).

I am a fan of reason, though, and it seems to me that the current brouhaha over the issue of timeshares in Incline is lacking in that fine commodity.

There may be some fine point of law or regulation that distinguishes between a time share and a house that is rented out as a vacation rental, but in practice I can’t see the difference. If I (or my brother, my cousin, and my friends Ed and Don and I) buy a house, use it for ourselves for a few weeks a year and rent it out to vacationing families the rest of the year, that seems pretty much the same thing as a time share to my untrained eye.

Now here’s the joke: There are houses and condos all over Incline that are rented out on exactly that basis. Timeshares in Incline? We’ve always had them!

Now here come Paul Zahler and Phil Gilanfarr wanting to put them up near Diamond Peak and you’d think somebody was proposing affordable housing or something.

What I’ve heard from the anti-timeshare side is concerns about traffic, parking, noise, and the like. OK, those are valid concerns for anyone in any neighborhood, but from my understanding what is being proposed is not a high-rise or condo development but a number of single family homes. Again, I think the concerns are legitimate, but they are not, I think, concerns that are unique to time shares. When my neighbor across the street put his house on the market and, while it was being sold, rented it out in three sections to groups of young, unrelated people, I had the same concerns, and had recourse if I wanted to pursue it under the CC&R’s of the neighborhood. How is this different from a timeshare, and how is it different if Messrs. Zahler and Gilanfarr went in and built a bunch of houses that they then sold? Particularly if the purchasers then rented them out as vacation rentals?

Somehow I think there is more involved here than meets the eye. For one thing, Paul Zahler has been subjected to some personal attacks on the issue that I think are out of proportion to a relatively simple zoning dispute. I don’t know Paul well, we don’t socialize, and we don’t agree on a lot of political matters. I have, however, served with Paul on a number of committees and boards and have had occasion to scrutinize his performance in public service on the CAB and the Fire Board and it’s my view that he is an honest man, however misguided he may be politically, and that he has a big and authentic commitment to the community. Those things alone, in my view, make ad hominem attacks a particularly egregious form of opposition. I’ve met Phil Gilanfarr in a business context and have no reason to think that either Paul or Phil are up to any nefarious business here – they’re just doing what architects and developers do – looking for an opportunity to develop something – that’s their profession.

The point is, once again, that we live in a community and that living in a community means that (a) there are laws and regulations that apply equally to everyone – they aren’t something to be invoked when the ox being gored is yours and (b) Sometimes, as Mr. Spock said, the good of the many may outweigh the good of the few, and some people are not going to like something that, under our laws, is perfectly legitimate to do. Let’s decide this issue in the realm of laws and regulations, not in the court of public attack.