By Andrew Ryan
Special to Moonshine Ink
When I ask myself what a resilient community looks like, a few things come to mind: There is opportunity for entrepreneurs; there is diversity; there are housing options; there are environmental protections; there are options for education and betterment; and there are mechanisms in place that keep revenues local. Taking a step back, I ask, “How does a community foster resilience to arrive at those milestones?”
To get there, a community needs to interact. Neighbors and guests need to connect and the things “we” care about need to be discussed, decided, and celebrated. A key platform where we need all hands on deck is local government. We have no shortage of local agencies, be they the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, utility districts, town, school districts, counties, and more. The hardest part of being an engaged community member, anywhere but especially here, is the volume of effort that it takes to understand and weigh in on the issues. Just the time to attend the various public meetings is measured in days and weeks we do not have. Modern life is busy and full of distractions or needs that pull us away. But effective local government requires our participation. What’s a community to do?
You hold the answer in your hands. Vetted and quality journalism brings us into the governing halls when we can’t get there ourselves. It shows us the varying angles on a topic, while the opinion pages host discussions about the issues that matter to us.
An important part about journalism is that it allows what I call “bottom-up solutions” to come to light. While staff at agencies and governments do their darndest to address community problems, even the best intended policies are typically top-down solutions where a one-size-fits-all decree or ordinance is overlaid on a community, and its members must adjust their hopes, needs, or dreams to comply. Many of us end up feeling disenfranchised as most agency actions take away our abilities to achieve our goals, or they inhibit our ability to act on a problem we would like to fix.
Here’s an example I’ve seen play out in Kings Beach, my home for more than 20 years: Blanket policies have stymied basic upgrades in our downtown for decades, resulting in buildings with collapsed roofs, plywood over windows, and chain link fences encircling their borders. Walk the main strip and you’ll see; this dilapidation has become a ubiquitous part of the town.
In some cases, the policies that led us here are pass throughs from state or federal levels, but the majority evolve through decisions made at the department levels, meaning they are designed and implemented by department managers and, more often than not, there is not rigorous public outreach; there is no engineering report or findings to demonstrate the need; and the detailed decisions on how to implement policies are made in vacuums with only input from partner agencies or departments. These are “top-down solutions” to a problem.
The more affluent a person, the less damage these policies create, as they typically do not scale with project size. The bigger the project is, the easier it is to absorb costs. But the small projects, the mom-and-pop owners, typically take the brunt of the impact, making their plans less financially viable or more like fiscally insane. Hence, commercial remodel and redevelopment are stalled.
A bottom-up solution would include the community members on the frontline of the problem. The mom-and-pop owners would be empowered to define the issues and design solutions that work within the identity and visions of the community. Bottom-up solutions restore personal or human agency. When there is human agency there is resilience. Where there is resilience there are answers to crises, regardless of the type: housing, job creation, overtourism, trash, etc.
A key component to citizen empowerment and the creation of bottom-up solutions is an informed populace. That is why a trusted, independent, and local media is crucial — without it, a community goes adrift. And this is why I am a Guardian of Moonshine Ink.
With a job and two kids at home, I cannot attend every meeting or read every plan or document to stay informed. I need help from a trusted source. I appreciate that Moonshine Ink covers issues that are important to my community and helps us to stay engaged, and that I can hear both, nay all, sides of an issue. I encourage each one of you to offer what you’re able for Moonshine’s member campaign, to ensure we keep the dialogue open and work together with our governments to find bottom-up solutions that build equitable resilience for all members of our community.