2021 Vision

Central issues for our community, how they were covered in 2020, and what to expect this year

By Moonshine Ink Editorial Board

Almost nothing could have prepared us for 2020. Early in the year, a global pandemic threw us way off balance, then before we could get our bearings a wave of racial unrest rushed in, and nearly in lockstep, a crippling wildfire season assailed the West. All of this topped with a nerve-racking, highly contested election.

In the year that promised clarity of vision we ended up more universally bewildered and disoriented than we have been in recent memory. At least no one will forget this year.
Actually, there is one key thing that helps us in such calamitous times. It’s the Scout’s motto: Be prepared. For that, we need to have knowledge of what came before.

In this vein, here’s a look at the central issues in today’s Tahoe/Truckee community, how the Ink covered them this year, and what to keep an eye out for in 2021.

Use the arrows below each topic to navigate to our carefully curated reference list of articles and interviews to connect the dots in history.

Lasting Legacy of the Virus

The January onset of the COVID-19 pandemic set the tone for the entirety of 2020. As to be expected, Moonshine’s coverage was heavy on the COVID-front; in fact, we substantially ratcheted up our online reporting in response. Life as we knew it was sent into a tailspin and by a quarter way into the year, we were all learning to live in the “new normal.”

Parents were thrust into the role of homeschool teacher while trying to get their own work done and kids ended up with more screen time than they could have imagined. Full-time residents feared a drain on local resources due to second homeowners seeking refuge in their home away from home during stay-at-home orders. Panic shopping and kinks in the supply chain resulted in product shortages.

But as bad as things seemed to be at times, there was always a positive side of the coin to be found. A marked drop in automobile traffic numbers led to a decrease in air pollution. With the art and music scene stifled, artists literally took to the streets to share messages of hope, inspiration, gratitude. As the pandemic goes on to influence all aspects of our lives, Moonshine will look at everything from its effects on mental health to the ongoing plight of small businesses like restaurants and personal care services, still fighting for survival. We will continue our fight for transparency in the numbers game and accountability for those running the show.

Move Over, Tourism, Here Comes Something Different

A beautiful place
With lots of space
Has long made us home base …

… for tourism. Even before this year, the industry has been in turmoil. Concerns about over-tourism, visitor-caused traffic, stressed infrastructure, and teeming trash bins have been bandied about for quite some time.

In COVID’s long ride, these issues have been exacerbated. It begs the question, if not tourism, then what? One common response is the inflow of remote-worker residents. To support this industry, broadband is crucial and right now, it’s not reliable. In 2020, Moonshine reported on why this is so and explored the region’s options. We will continue to delve into this infrastructure that is becoming as necessary as electricity and water.

Even so, a vibrant economy requires diversity. From forest management to cottage industries to food system innovations, in 2021, we will focus on ways the local community is finding footing in economic diversification.

It’s important, though, to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Tourism will remain. Several online-exclusive stories focused on the nebulous answer to a seemingly basic question: How many tourists are there? How can we manage visitors sustainably and yet protect the reason they come? There’s lively and active discussion out there on this topic, which remains strongly on our coverage radar.

Our Poly-Armed Government

There are a lot of tiny governments scattered around our coverage area — almost two dozen, in fact. These special districts were established to wrest local control from faraway county seats, and have served the community well, but they weave a tangled web of governing boards, property taxes, and service charges.

For example, the complexity of our local government remains a barrier to solving the ongoing trash issue. It’s worth noting that many special district board member seats were not contested in the 2020 election; a few (Donner Summit Public Utility District, North Tahoe Fire Protection District, among others) didn’t even have enough people running to fill the seats. In 2020, we reported about the executive-level vacuum at the Town of Truckee due to the sudden departure of the town manager and police chief; that morale among staff is currently low at the sanitation agency and the Truckee Donner Public Utility District; that the hospital was found in violation of state rulings in a patient case; and that the Truckee postal office is facing crippling challenges on several fronts.

Looking forward, as is the charge of the fourth estate, we will keep a critical eye on our local governments, considering effectiveness and efficiency, and report on when they work in concert and when in opposition. We will also highlight the Town’s general plan update.

Home Is Where the Availability Is

Housing is that itch we can’t scratch. The novel coronavirus pandemic inspired more people to move to the region; meanwhile those who’ve rented here for years and years are finding themselves pushed out by a hot real estate market.

A recent survey of employees at local agencies cited housing insecurity as a main reason they would consider leaving their jobs. In 2020, we reported on the many workforce housing projects coming online (Truckee Artist Lofts, Coldstream Commons, Frishman Hollow II), but will it be enough?

We’ll keep following the innovative approaches sprouting up, such as the joint powers agency that seeks housing solutions for staff at the hospital, school, airport, and Truckee’s public utility districts. The impacts and ongoing attempts at regulating short-term rentals are of course on the 2021 docket, as well as examining the regulatory obstacles to getting affordable housing off the ground.

Like Wildfire

Unfortunately, California hit national news in 2020 regularly because we were on fire.

Last year saw five of the state’s top 20 largest wildfires in history, and more than 10.3 million acres burned compared with 4.7 million acres in 2019. The Ink’s investigative series, On Fire, delves into this critical issue for our region and times. In 2020, topics ranged from the newly instated open-fire bans in the area to a trail-host program that was sparked due to an increase in illegal campfires; from why we’re seeing an “unprecedented” number of red flag days and mega-fires to the fact that a staggering 95% of the state’s blazes are human-caused. We reported on the proactive steps being taken to protect the overall health of our vital woodlands, known as the Green Bubble, the last true green forest in the Sierra.

Solutions include a massive effort called the Tahoe Central Sierra Initiative that aims to restore 2.4 million acres, building biomass plants to convert collected forest materials into renewable energy, and maintaining a system of cameras to catch blazes early. Moving into the new year, we plan to keep a close eye on the progress of the initiative’s vital efforts, what we predict will be an explosive growth in biomass, and how officials manage to mitigate the “human” factor.

This Land is Whose Land?

The Ink’s coverage area is a land of rich biodiversity, resources, and humans. It is the land that drives the news in our region, with diverse opinions on how to best make use of it.

The valley-soon-to-be-formerly-known-as Squaw is always a news headliner, and in 2020 the ski resort village proposed development was again challenged, the name itself was slated to be retired in honor of past land users, and neighboring White Wolf plans were unveiled. Campaigns to revitalize Donner Summit and to preserve the land east of Glenshire also figured prominently in our coverage this year.

All of it speaks to an ongoing debate between conserving the resource-rich land, housing a growing population, and developing infill sites and tourism facilities. As the year rolls forward, we will keep looking at the land zones mentioned above as well as delve into the unique challenges of land use in the Lake Tahoe Basin. We will follow up on the aforementioned development projects on the horizon, proposals to preserve our land for future generations, such as Truckee Springs and Martis Valley West, and the degradation that has happened from past development, such as cables leaking lead into Lake Tahoe.

Cultural Standards

The year 2020 afforded Moonshine many opportunities to share stories about life as we know it here in Tahoe/Truckee. A handful of our community’s youth raised their voices, with high school writers sharing wisdom and insight beyond their teenaged years.

Moonshine cartoonist Mike English made us LOL with his humorous take on little slices of Tahoe times. As the pandemic silenced music and arts, we covered how that scene is working to survive. Photo essays showed Truckee/Tahoe joining the rallies for race equality and passing our COVID summers. In Think Local, we highlighted thriving Latinx-owned businesses, and in Sports & Outdoors, the predicted frenzy of backcountry skiing this winter.

Looking ahead, as life during the pandemic continues to twist and turn, we will chronicle the lasting impacts on our community’s art and music as well as find more ways to inject much needed humor in our lives. We are committed and seeking to publish an increased number of youth and minority perspectives, and will follow those projects that invoke stronger community ties, such as the proposed Truckee Library.