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Moonshine Ink's Year in Review 2018

Looking back at the hot topics, and looking forward to what’s next
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Housing

Short-Term Rentals

Short-term rentals have become a flash point any time we talk about the regional housing crisis — it’s a quandary often pitting private property rights against housing solutions. Last April Moonshine tackled a primary question: Who’s renting and why? A data dive showed the vast majority of rentals to be entire homes, and a surprisingly small amount looked to be operated purely as investment properties — multiple listings rented by a single owner. The main contingency seems to be both second homeowners and locals who want part-time access to their property, and have found STRs to be increasingly profitable.

The other side of the coin of our coverage has focused on solutions. Moonshine reporter Sage Sauerbrey kicked off spring with a presentation at the Mountain Housing Council update, zeroing in on what other mountain towns are doing about vacation rentals, from Durango, Colorado to Sedona, Arizona. The council has hinted at a soon-to-be released report on STRs that should be of great interest to the community. Contextual and comparative reporting on this topic will continue to be a focus for us looking forward, especially with a perfect case study for a tough stance on STRs happening right now in South Lake Tahoe — the city’s recent ballot measure ban on STRs in residential areas is currently going into effect.

“Our hope is that we find a balance as a community in honoring and maintaining a tourist-based economy that recognizes second homes as a big part of it. Meanwhile, we need to unlock some of the existing housing stock because we know we can’t build our way out of our current housing situation.” ~ Stacy Caldwell, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation CEO. See article, Who’s Next Door.

Modular Building

Modular building is coming to Truckee, and it’s happening right now. You might look out your window and (hopefully) see snow on the ground, but the first modular boxes were shipped into Truckee in December and are set to be placed at the Coburn Crossing development just north of downtown Truckee this January. Triumph Development says the market-rate, deed-restricted units should be rentable early this summer. Around that same time, the Truckee Artist Lofts affordable housing project at the Railyard will also be going vertical with another batch of modular boxes. If all goes according to plan, that’s about 227 housing units headed for Truckee on trucks — are there more in the works? Stay tuned this year.

“The [construction] industry has been so devoid of innovation for so long — we’re really trying to accelerate that.” ~ Rick Holliday, developer of the Truckee Railyard and co-founder of Factory OS, the modular building company producing units for the Truckee Artist Lofts. See the article, Building Blocks.


Fire

Mitigation

It was a year marked and scarred by fire, and we enter the new year with the state still reeling from the aftermath of the Camp Fire — the most destructive blaze in California’s history. In June we published an article looking at what the Tahoe region is doing to address a very unhealthy regional forest ecology and avoid potential “catastrophic megafires” like the ones that started just a few months later. The main takeaway is it will take creative and well-funded public and private partnerships and a supportive community to protect this area. A topic we anticipate seeing movement on, and will cover further, is the potential for biomass.

“One thing we’ve definitely learned from years and years of fire suppression with probably the best wildland fire crews in the world, is no matter how good you are you can’t prevent the fire. If you start taking tools away from your ability to be able to reduce that fire effect, like prescribed burning and biomass use of these small mills, then it makes it that much harder to get stuff done.” ~ Malcolm North, U.S. Forest Service forest ecologist. See article, Fighting Fire With Fire.

Insurance

A year after we published an article on major insurance companies retracting coverage from the Tahoe area, the state legislature is gaining traction on the issue. In January we reported on a cease and desist order from the California Insurance Commissioner to the California FAIR Plan to terminate immediately the moratorium it initiated on writing new fire insurance coverage in wildfire-impacted areas. At the same time, the Wildfire Safety and Recovery Act was introduced in California in an effort to curb non-renewals for homeowners in wildfire impacted areas. SB 824 prohibits insurance companies from canceling or not renewing any homeowner policies for one year within a declared emergency area. It also orders insurance companies to report detailed wildfire risk data to the Department of Insurance, in order to give a full picture of the insurance market in an era of increasing wildfires. The bill passed and was written into law in September, and we look forward to tracking any real effect it may have for local homeowners.

“‘Will I still have insurance?’ is not a question homeowners should have to face immediately after a wildfire disaster.” ~ Sen. Ricardo Lara, author of SB 824. See article, The Great Insurance Pullout, and our January and October News Briefs.


Development

Squaw Valley Village

The Village at Squaw Valley goes beyond a simple year in review — it’s been seven years of controversy Moonshine has covered since the project was submitted in 2011. Although the project plan itself hasn’t changed in two years since it was approved by Placer County, this last year was a big one. Two lawsuits were filed by Sierra Watch in 2016 and 2017 against Placer County’s approval of the project claiming CEQA and Brown Act violations. The lawsuits were denied in July and August, and as of now the village development moves forward.

“The county conducted an exhaustive and thorough environmental review for this project, which was validated by the court’s decision.” ~ Placer County Deputy Counsel Clayton Cook. See our September News Briefs.

Martis Valley West

We already mentioned wildfire was one of the big topics this year, and it was a fire-related issue that threw a wrench in the Martis Valley West development plan earlier this year. A lawsuit was filed against the project by Sierra Watch, League to Save Lake Tahoe, and Mountain Area Preservation in 2016, taking issue with multiple parts of the project — specifically, a series of CEQA concerns and impacts to the Tahoe Basin, which the project borders. The judge denied six out of the suit’s seven claims, but sided with the petitioners that the project did not adequately address wildfire evacuation concerns. The worry of the environmental groups is that should the project move forward, it could set a precedent for projects evading basin regulations by building just outside the rim.

“The EIR identifies the area as a very high fire hazard severity zone but then fails to present a sufficient analysis to address impacts of the project on emergency evacuation procedures. The EIR lacks a meaningful discussion on the issue, relying more on conclusions than facts.” ~ Placer County Judge Michael Jones’ case ruling. See article, Martis Valley West — Stuck in Traffic.

The Railyard

It’s been almost 15 years now since visions of the Railyard development in Truckee first materialized, but it wasn’t until this last year that Holliday Development first broke ground on the project. We’ve been covering its status and changes to the plan throughout the year, including the loss of an original grocery tenant and a change to the building style and design of the Artist Lofts project. We will continue these updates in 2019 as the project goes vertical for the first time. Developer Rick Holliday says he’s hollowed out a time slot in late spring of next year to build the modular units for the Lofts off site, and they’ll start stacking units on site by August.

“We’ll wait and see if there’s a way that we can get a full-service grocery in and if we can’t after a while we’ll have to adjust and see what our other options are. Everything about the project is going ahead — all we are is disappointed about the grocery store.” ~ Rick Holliday, developer of the Truckee Railyard. See our April You Asked. They Answered. A Future for the Railyard? Was this a Miracle March?

Coburn Crossing

The Coburn Crossing development — including a Marriott hotel and 138 market-rate, deed-restricted workforce housing units — moved through the town process at a relatively rapid pace. We covered the project from when it was first set for a hearing with the planning commission in December 2016, to exactly two years later when the first units for the project were shipped into town by truck. One of the interesting things to watch about this project will be how the locals-only deed restrictions that were implemented into the project over the last two years play out.

“This is a local’s housing project in perpetuity.” ~ Steve Virostek, developer of the Coburn Crossing project, at a December 2016 planning commision meeting. See latest article, Building Blocks, online, or throw it back to the beginning with our 2016 article, Housing Project Targets “Missing Middle.”

Kings Beach Center

Four years ago, Placer County acquired 3.5 acres of prime real estate across the street from the Kings Beach recreation area. We covered the issue just before the sale in February to C.W. Clark to be developed as the Kings Beach Center. The process and sale angered a few Tahoe residents who believed that local builders weren’t given a fair shake in the proposal process, but the deal stands and the developer is still in the process of ironing out his vision for the property.

“In 2018, the Kings Beach Center held a public listening session which was attended by over 100 local residents, launched a website [kingsbeachcenter.com] where interested citizens can ask questions, and are in the process of acquiring an additional commercial lot known as the Eastern Gateway parcel in Kings Beach that is envisioned to help provide workforce housing. We are working with our architect on renderings and look forward to moving the project forward in 2019.” ~ A recent update from Craig Clark, partner, Kings Beach Center LLC. See the original article, Lack of Transparency or Lack of Understanding?


Grocery

Raley’s

If you’ve attended a town council meeting in the last year — or made small talk with anyone in town for that matter — it should be no surprise some of our most-read stories covered the multiple grocery store plans lined out for the Town of Truckee. The topic even inspired our hands-down favorite headlines of the year: Store Wars and Store Wars Episode 2. Here’s where things stand now — Nugget Markets pulled out of the Railyard due to town council approval of the Raley’s at Joerger Ranch, but developer Rick Holliday plans to continue to build the 35,000-square-foot grocery space as he looks for a new tenant. Raley’s developer Art Chapman plans to go vertical with the 36,000-square-foot store as early as spring 2019.

“Most people in the town — certainly Town Hall — were pretty surprised that we would get three … proposals for grocery stores literally all at once. It certainly [presented] a challenge that the Town of Truckee staff had not faced before.” ~ Truckee Town Manager Jeff Loux. See articles, Store Wars and Store Wars Episode 2.

Grocery Outlet

After multiple appeals and consecutive town council hearings, the 17,000-square -foot Grocery Outlet near Truckee’s Gateway neighborhood was approved during a passionate town council meeting in November. While arguments from residents nearby the site of the proposed project were loud and clear each time the store came before the town, each council member agreed unanimously they could not find a legally defensible reason not to approve the project.

“Every land use project that has ever gone to the council is going to impact someone. My job, as I see it, is to make decisions based on what the impact is on the town as a whole.” ~ Former Town Council Member Patrick Flora. See article, Store Wars Episode 2.


Government

Placer County

In February 2018, we looked at how Placer County and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association have fared since the county initially broke the news to the association that its budget would be effectively cut in half two years ago. While the county made the change to increase efficiency, some argued it was more of a power grab — taking back responsibilities originally given to the association when the county had less of a foothold in Tahoe. Since the story broke, the committee created from negotiations between the county and the NLTRA to take over some of its former capital projects duties has become fully formed and functioning, and we’ll continue to track its progress.

“At this time, we’re contracting for over $20 million in grant funds for capital projects so it’s pretty significant, and really, to expect a nonprofit organization with a small staff to manage that size of effort, it was expecting a lot.” ~ Placer County Deputy CEO-Tahoe Jennifer Merchant. See the article, Placer County Powerhouse.

TTSA

Our eyes are still fixed on the happenings at the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency as the unionization efforts of some agency employees continue. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) efforts encountered static in the fall when TTSA discovered previously unknown agency rules from 1993 for the set-up of potential union bargaining units that differed from the union’s plan. The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) ruled with TTSA that the 1993 rules must be complied with, but the union believes the rule’s units makeup is inherently flawed because it lumps management with regular employees, and would lead to problems, according to Rick Thompson, IBEW organizer. At our last update, a series of unfair practices complaints filed over the last two years were being heard by PERB. The hearing process began in spring and has continued until now. Expect a thorough update in 2019.

“For anyone following the news about TTSA employees wishing to unionize under the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), you are likely to find more information about the issue reading Moonshine Ink than if you were to attend a board meeting at any member district.” ~ an anonymously submitted My Shot opinion piece from our October edition. See more in our May News Briefs.

Impact Fees

Fittingly, as we started this review with housing, we will also end there. We’ve been regularly covering the efforts of the Mountain Housing Council and its partners to try and open up housing units in the area, and are looking forward to seeing what innovative strategies pop up in 2019. In late 2018, the council released a report investigating the effects of impact fees on housing development and we asked Seana Doherty, its project director, a few questions about what the organization found. An exciting aspect to watch at work is the council’s coordination of the 18 different fee-charging special districts. With report in hand, the council has been approaching each agency about introducing scalable fees based on square footage rather than a flat charge, as well as other strategies. The Town of Truckee adopted the practice for its traffic and facility impact fees at the beginning of 2018.

“Fees do not typically hinder the building of achievable local housing, but they can influence where development occurs and the type of housing constructed; lowering of fees could contribute to breaking down the barriers to achievable local housing if combined with other cost-lowering strategies.” ~ Seana Doherty, project director at Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe-Truckee. See our December You Asked. They Answered. Why are Gas Prices So High; Are Impact Fees Curbing Development?.

 
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January 10, 2019