Monday, March 29, 2010

Bonanza Column 178 – Boulder Bay and IVGID

I yield to no one about my credentials as an environmentalist. I have been a consultant to both the executives and Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, and consider myself to have been "green" before green was fashionable. This long-standing interest in and commitment to the environment makes the attitude of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Area Sierra Club, and other local groups toward the Boulder Bay project baffling to me.

In other parts of the country, environmental organizations seem to take a fairly rational view of the need to balance progress and change with environmental concerns. Unless there are clear indications that irreparable damage will be done with no compensating environmental benefit, these organizations, the Sierra Club among them, generally work with government and private interests to find acceptable solutions. The environmental organizations here at Lake Tahoe, however, seem to have as their objective to turn everything here back to a "natural" state and to oppose any change that does not simply remove people and human habitation.

TRPA has been very open to input on the Boulder Bay EIS – they have made many changes based on that input and are in the process of one more revision of the draft study. While I don't advocate making environmental or societal decisions based on public sentiment alone, it's worth noting that the input TRPA received was overwhelmingly in support of the project, particularly alternative C, and where substantive questions and objections were raised, TRPA has been responsive. Nonetheless, at what is probably the eleventh hour, a coalition of the League, the Sierra Club, the California Watershed Network and local groups of questionable provenance has come forward with objections, but no alternative solutions.

I question the provenance of the local groups because at least one of them, the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, seems to have been formed for the express purpose of opposing the Boulder Bay project and has had a problematic relationship with the facts in its arguments. The others, "Friends of the West Shore," "Friends of Tahoe Vista," and "Friends of Crystal Bay/Brockway," are unknown to us and we have no indication of who they represent, how many they represent, or whether they know what they're talking about.

The Boulder Bay project, particularly alternative C, is a huge improvement over the current dinosaur on the property, which is an environmental disaster on almost every count you can think of. While the Wittenbergs are great people, I think it's extremely unlikely that they will level the property, plant grass, trees, and flowers, and stock it with Bambi-esque forest creatures. They are business people, and it is a given that they will run a business on the property. That being the case, they have done a terrific job of designing and redesigning a property and amenities that will be eco-friendly, down to plans for bicycles, car-sharing programs, shuttle service, etc., as well as health and wellness facilities and an aesthetically pleasant and non-intrusive design. But it seems nothing will satisfy our local environmentalists. If Roger Wittenberg were a spiteful man, which I know him not to be, he would say to hell with all of them and leave the current monstrosity in place. Thank heavens he's smarter than they are.

On another note, the IVGID budgeting process has been remarkably open and transparent. Still, they have done the unthinkable and are considering an increase in the rec fee, so naturally people are up in arms, with the shopworn argument "I don't use the facilities, why should I pay?" OK, listen carefully, here's why: whether you use the facilities or not, access to them significantly increases the value of your property. If they are not kept up or in some cases renovated, they will deteriorate and so will the value of your property. When you moved here you knew that part of what you were getting was a set of community amenities. Those require maintenance and upkeep. The Board and staff of IVGID are doing everything in their power to keep the budget process rational – let's try to keep the discussion of the process the same.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bonanza Column 177 – The 2010 Elections

Along with Daylight Savings Time and March Madness, Spring brings with it (at least every other year) the beginning of election season.

While 2010 is technically an "off-year" election, this particular off year brings us some interesting and important choices. In Incline Village/Crystal Bay we will elect two IVGID Trustees, at least one of whom will be new to the Board, and statewide Nevada will elect or re-elect a Senator, a Governor, and most of the rest of the State government.

This is important because, even though we are stuck with John Ensign for another couple of years (unless the current ethics investigation results in his removal), we have the opportunity to unseat Governor Jim Gibbons and to return Harry Reid to the Senate for six more years.

Traditionally, turnout for off-year elections is low compared to Presidential years, and turnout for the primaries, which will be June 8 this year, even lower. This is a good year to make an exception to that rule given what is at stake.

It's too early to make judgments about most of the offices, but I think it's fair to say that there is the opportunity to make some important changes and also to keep some very good people in office. The field for the Governor's race is, as usual, broad and colorful. We have the hapless Mr. Gibbons running for re-election and a whole bunch of Republicans challenging him in the primary including the very well-qualified Brian Sandoval who gave up a lifetime appointment as a Federal Judge to try to unseat the Governor. On the Democratic side there is Rory Reid who, while not widely known in Northern Nevada, looks like a good choice as well.

I've written before in this space about the importance of returning Harry Reid to Washington. We have in Washington right now a junior senator who has shown so little personal integrity that he should resign, yet he refuses to. If we are foolish enough to defeat Reid, then Nevada will be represented by a brand-new junior senator and a senior senator who is under an ethical cloud. Why would we trade being represented by the most powerful member of the Senate for that? Reid has done a good job for Nevada, most recently in the areas of jobs and tourism, and we should retain him and find him a working partner who will do a better job than the feckless Mr. Ensign.

Locally we have Frank Wright of Crystal Bay running for State Senate. Apparently Mr. Wright finds no inconsistency in bringing suit against IVGID and running for public office himself. We'll see if the voters agree. And speaking of IVGID, we have Gene Brockman running for re-election and while most of the rest of the field have not distinguished themselves by local service, there is the surprising entry of Dennis Oliver into the race. Dennis will have to establish an identity for himself as an Incline resident that is separate from his job as spokesperson for TRPA, but if he can do that he could bring a fresh and important perspective to the IVGID Board.

So we'll see how it goes. The first milestone in the various races will be March 23, the last day for candidates who have filed to change their mind and remove their name from the ballot. Then for most races there is the primary election to narrow the field on June 8, after which the races will be on in earnest leading up to election day in November. Hopefully we'll see some real debate on the issues rather than partisan appeals, name-calling, and negative ads and we'll have the opportunity to do some good for our community, state, and the nation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bonanza Column 176 – IB Resolved

When I first heard about the IB program being planned for Incline's schools I was uncertain about my view of it. On the one hand it sounded like a good program – very good, actually; on the other hand I have worked with the AP program at HIS, particularly our nationally ranked We the People program, and was unsure of what value IB would add. So I set about talking to people on both sides of the issue and reading up on the pros and cons of IB, and I made no secret of my being undecided – in fact, I devoted several columns to it. I also partnered with the Bonanza to propose a community forum the ground rules of which were designed to ensure a debate on the merits with minimal unsupported opining. The group in favor of IB responded enthusiastically to this proposal and provided a surplus of potential panelists. The group against IB was nominally enthusiastic, but failed to propose a panel despite numerous concessions. In the process they accused me of being biased in favor of IB and, in demanding someone else moderate, called into question my fairness and integrity. At the end of the day, though, despite getting everything they asked for, they failed to take the field and the forum was cancelled. Now that same group wants to know "What do we need to do to stop the madness and have the community discussion that is so badly needed?" Huh?

Well, I've made up my mind. I am for the IB program in Incline schools. I'll tell you why in a minute, but indulge me in a short digression. I haven't been able to find who first said "a person is known by the enemies he/she makes," but I've always hesitated to subscribe to that idea. Still it's an appealing idea – Joe Lieberman infamously invoked it to justify his opposition to the public option – liberals were for it, and that was enough for him to go against it. I've found myself tempted by it in this IB debate. So much of the opposition to IB ranges from ignorant (it will compromise separation of church and state because it's a religion-based program – it must be – there are Baccalaureate Services in churches at graduation time) to ridiculous (it's a liberal plot to have the UN take over our schools in service of creating a world government to rule over the US) that I have to struggle not to just favor IB because it's opponents are either plain silly or so far out in the tea party sea of the Right that they can't see land. If you don't believe me, look at this column on line on and read the comments. I mean, I don't read them but I guarantee they'll be there.

Now back to our story. Why am I coming down in favor of IB? Not, as you might think, because of its benefits at the High School level. I'm still not sold that it will add value where AP doesn't already. I see its greatest value at the Elementary level where the IB curriculum, including dual-immersion language programs, seems to me to be clearly superior to any other public school curriculum I've seen. It will send our kids to Middle and High School with a really solid educational foundation on which to move into AP, IB Diploma, or for that matter Technical or Business Programs, and it will give English Language Learners real skills and power in English and English native speakers the same foundation in Spanish. I think that's a really good thing, particularly given the data on the benefits of early language education and bilingualism on learning in general.

Brian Sandoval, a Republican candidate for Governor endorsed IB in a speech to local Republicans last week. Sandoval is a member of that endangered species, moderate Republicans, but he is clearly a Republican and a Conservative. Hopefully that will put the lie to the crazies who keep trying to pull a McCarthyesque red scare in opposing IB. The school district has said that IB is a done deal – it will be here. In that case, it seems to me it behooves us as a community to (a) learn the facts about it and (b) get behind it – the people we elect and those we pay to make decisions on education for our kids have given the opinion they are accountable for. Let's move on.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Bonanza Column 174 - ARC

For the past few years, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most dynamic and inspirational young people I have ever met. Year after year, participants in the ARC (Adventure, Risk, Challenge) Program amaze me with their courage, determination, and commitment to their future, their family, and their community.


ARC is a program for ELL (English Language Learner) high school students that combines summer leadership and literacy immersions in the outdoors with year-round mentoring and academic support. Working with students who lack access to enrichment of any kind, ARC has guided 80% of its graduates to pursue some form of higher education, a remarkable outcome for this population.


As part of their work, ARC participants prepare video essays on topics of concern to our community. This year's video essays will be presented by the kids at ARC's annual Food for Thought Tamale Dinner on March 13, 2010, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the North Tahoe Boys & Girls Club.


ARC participants' video essays are the result of the students' actively exploring and examining their personal lives, their families, and their neighborhoods to identify issues that directly affect them and their community. Over the course of the project, as students have explored critical concerns within our community, they have generated a rich collection of stories and have developed multiple literacy skills using digital media tools to express their voice and content through writing text and incorporating sound, images, and graphics.


ELL high school students in the Tahoe/Truckee region have a multitude of obstacles to overcome: they have identified literacy gaps, come from families living below the poverty line, and in many ways live in the margins of our community. They lack access to local resources due to language, transportation, and economic barriers. Many of their parents lack formal education, are ill-equipped to support their children's learning at home, and cannot help their children navigate the public school system. This results in academic failure, making higher education opportunities inaccessible. Students who fail high school lack incentive to further their learning through vocational or academic training, and have little chance for self-sufficiency. Essentially, there is no pathway to living wage careers that could ultimately break the cycle of poverty for the next generation.


ARC began in 2004 to address these significant barriers with a curriculum that incorporates the study of self, family, and community action, gearing participants toward meaningful civic contributions as they transition into adulthood. ARC links wilderness to academics, adventure to leadership, environmental science to literacy, and confidence to activism.


Like most programs of its type, ARC is continuously raising funds, both from foundations and from local sources. Events like the tamale dinner help, but they're not sufficient – if you or someone you know wants to support this worthwhile program, let me know and I'll see that they contact you.


The food at this dinner is great - homemade tamales, rice, and beans as well as soft drinks will be served at the dinner, with all proceeds benefiting the program.


Tamales can be ordered (by the dozen) in advance by visiting the ARC website ( and downloading an order form. ARC participants have requested that guests bring two cans of food to support Project Mana, and in return, they will receive a free drink. The students also will be collecting spare change to send to Haiti. Immediately following dinner, they will premiere their video essays. This event is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there.