Wednesday Jul 15 2009
Placer County taxpayers fleeced one more time
By: Dave McClure
With the economic “reset” hitting the private sector hard Placer County supervisors show little regard for fiscal discipline. Welcome to Kings Beach on the North shore of Lake Tahoe, where a simple downtown sidewalk and beautification project has turned into an absurdly expensive public project with no end in sight for Placer County taxpayers’ financial liability. Tahoe City completed its sidewalk project in 2000 at a cost of about $12 million. Kings Beach was next for sidewalk and beautification upgrades estimated in 2006 Placer County documents to cost about $20 million. According to the project’s Environmental Impact Report in 2007, the estimated costs rose to about $30 million. But that’s not the end of the story. The Placer County CEO’s office, led by Rich Colwell and Jennifer Merchant, orchestrated an elaborate campaign at public expense to “demonstrate” support for the most expensive alternative, i.e. reducing State Highway 28 from four lanes to two through lanes and installing two single-lane roundabouts in the middle of Kings Beach. Caltrans stated in a letter to former Supervisor Bruce Kranz that retaining the four-lane capacity is the “superior alternative.” But Placer County staff is eager to spend taxpayers’ money endlessly to try and reduce the negative consequences of congestion, traffic cutting through residential neighborhoods, and loss of parking for businesses on the highway. The current cost for this alternative is now estimated at $50 million and rising. Placer County staff cannot verify total dollars spent so far on the project, but some estimates exceed $5 million. What began as a highway infrastructure project including sidewalks, streetscape and water quality improvements has morphed into a self-contradictory redevelopment vision for the whole town. Placer County is increasing densities through vertical subdivisions while reducing the capacity of Highway 28 through town. By ignoring average summer daily traffic of 24,000 vehicles and all the consequences of reducing highway capacity, the small group led by Jennifer Merchant and Theresa May Duggan in 2003 continues pushing for the lane reduction because “we want the town the way we want it.” Jennifer Merchant was appointed to the Placer County CEO’s office in April 2005. The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved staff’s recommendation for the lane reduction as the only way to “revitalize” the town. The CEO’s office has been buying loyalty from a few key redevelopment interests, controls the board of directors of the North Tahoe Business Association, and lures others with promises and misinformation to bolster support for their choice regardless of cost or consequences. Still half the businesses and property owners in downtown Kings Beach oppose Placer County’s decision, and if a vote were taken that included taxpayers the message would be clear. Paying for the excessive administrative costs and increasing environmental costs of the impacts and collateral damage all fall on the taxpayers. When can the taxpayers of Placer County expect accountability of public expenditures? Why should Placer County taxpayers be burdened by an open-ended, risky financial commitment? Is this Placer County’s version of the “bridge to nowhere?” Dave McClure is the president of the Kings Beach Business and Citizens Alliance.