Two Key Races

In pivotal times, we need good leaders. While the eyes of the masses are cast upon Capitol Hill, your community elections are arguably just as vital. The local Tahoe/Truckee boards and council dictate how and where your utilities come from, what priorities a town should have, and how your taxes are spent. The impact when checking those boxes on your ballot is significantly greater at a local level, where your voice is louder.

A few of the local races on the ballot this year are contested (while several are not), and though all deserve coverage, our bandwidth at Moonshine Ink mandated we choose. For this print edition, we focus on two agencies that are in critical stages — Truckee Town Council and the Truckee Tahoe Airport Board.


The airport board has been quite contested the past few election cycles, and that is due largely to two factors — questions of noise abatement and where a bank of taxpayer money not needed for the airport’s operating budget should be spent.

In this round, incumbents Teresa O’Dette and Rick Stephens face challengers Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden, and David Diamond. Plus, find out who watches what bingeworthy show (and who may not in favor of our beautiful outdoors). Reminder to visit for all the candidates’ answers. Visit the candidates’ websites (linked in the online version of this article) for details like occupation and platforms.

Editor’s Note: Golden and Aronson are running their campaigns jointly, and chose to answer our questions as a team.

Under COVID-19, air traffic has remained pretty constant, but Hardy Bullock told Moonshine in an email that while peak air volume is reduced, he saw “more midweek and overall steady volume of air traffic” this summer. Is noise from the airport currently an issue for the community? Why or why not?

Teresa O’Dette:

Yes, noise is an issue for some but not all of the district. It is not a well-known fact that greater than 50% of the taxpayers, land mass, and voters reside on the lake side of the district. The noise and annoyance issue is not felt evenly as neighborhoods in Truckee bear the lion’s share of the noise. We report regularly the comments we receive from the community in our Monthly Operations and Comments Report. In August 2020, we had 76 households that complained and none of them were from the lake side of the district. To sum up my answer, yes, noise is a huge and devastating issue for some and little or no issue for most of the constituents of the TTAD. The answer to why or why not is simply proximity. That said, we really are focused on how we can ease the noise and annoyance issue and are always open to any ideas that might help. It is in our mission statement to “strive for low impact on our neighbors.”

Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden:

In certain neighborhoods, aircraft noise is an issue, has been an issue, and will continue to be an issue until the current airport board sees the benefits of previously proposed infrastructure upgrades. The upgrades would allow aircraft operators greater flexibility in arrival and departure corridors. Infrastructure upgrades have been proposed for several years. The board needs to focus on viable solutions.

David Diamond:

Air traffic has increased three-fold since 2005. It’s important for people to understand that the airport cannot legally refuse traffic, impose curfews or otherwise hinder access to it; this is federal law. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a plan for addressing increasing traffic that works within those laws.

A diversification of flight paths will not make planes quieter, but it will reduce the repetitive noise exposure to those on the ground. Our tower can help here, but we also need creative and ongoing pilot education, not just about how to fly a noise procedure, but about why that’s important.

As chair of the Airport Community Advisory Team, I introduced an emergency landing guide that shows pilots our safest emergency landing areas. These areas happen to require departures off our most community-friendly runways. It is an example of noise abatement that benefits everyone. And we must do more.

Rick Stephens:

Noise from the airport is a big issue for the areas of the community that are directly affected by it. With the implementation of ADS-B in January 2021, I hope that the tower can direct planes to fly quieter routes from runway 29; however, it would help if the cross-wind runway (02-20) were used more by widening and lengthening, but this is wind dependent.

Transportation is a major issue in the Tahoe/Truckee region. The airport district has supported free public transit rides in the past. What other ways do you see the district furthering a vision for solutions?

David Diamond:

Our region needs a holistic approach to transportation. By solving one part at a time, it’s difficult to achieve our intended results. For example, TART is now free, but this has not lured most drivers out of their cars. If we want locals on public transportation, we need solutions for parking and neighborhood shuttles. If we want tourists on public transportation, we need a large-scale centralized parking structure, and shuttle service to the locations tourists want to visit.

The airport owns land just north of the runway intersection that is large enough to house a transportation depot, a multi-level parking structure, and industrial space. If we were to partner with other districts and agencies, we could see that holistic plan start to take shape. But without those partnerships, we’ll just continue to hear folks say, “we need better transportation,” without a plan of action to get it done.

Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden:

For the district to further the vision of transit solutions, we’d support investing in the expansion of parking lots (to park for free) at the airport for people to park and ride. We’d also support putting in electric charging stations for electric buses and shuttles. We also foresee partnering with other agencies to one day have a designated transit lane to and from resorts, lodging properties, recreational locations, and so on. Someday, the airport could develop into a mobility hub, a place where there is connectivity for different modes of travel: walking, biking, flying, taking the bus/shuttle, and more.

Teresa O’Dette:

All of the existing board members have voted in support of regional transportation solutions. Working with our neighboring special districts, there are infinite ways we could collectively make a difference. My hope is that we can do just that: work together to pool our funds to make a significant difference. Danielle Hughes who is running for North Tahoe PUD has some really great ideas worth exploring!

Rick Stephens:

In 2021, the airport will spend $363,477 on transit. $160,000 for the TART free fare project; $92,977 on the Free Night Rider Transit service so that employees can ride the bus home after work; $40,000 for community event shuttle programs (Truckee Thursdays, Fourth of July, and December holidays); $67,000 for the 267/Kings Beach to the Airport route; $3,500 for the Airport North Lake Tahoe service. Much of these expenditures were voted on in 2020. The airport needs to monitor the results of all of these programs (together with Placer County and the Town of Truckee) to see what else needs to be done. This is a substantial expenditure of airport property taxes on transit. The airport is a transit center.

The district’s current operating budget for the 2020 fiscal year is $19.3 million, $6.8 million of which comes from property taxes. Are taxpayers getting the best bang for their buck?

Ken Aronson, Leigh Golden:

This question is best answered by reviewing the 2017 Economic Impact Study of the Truckee Tahoe Airport. According to the study, on and around the airport, there are approximately 45 businesses that estimate the airport’s operations account for around 22% of their business revenues.

In 2017, revenue passengers utilizing the airport brought approximately $30 million of direct spending to the local economy. Altogether in 2017, visitors spent $6.6 million on accommodations (2.9% of district activity), and $9.7 million on food and beverage (6.7% of district activity).

A priceless benefit to taxpayers is that the airport provides a base for life-saving services such as fire fighting air support, medical air ambulance support for trauma incidents — car, ski and wilderness, in addition to transporting patients to medical facilities such as Stanford. Helicopter patient transport time is vastly quicker than road travel time.

Rick Stephens:

In 2016, I ran for airport board to help keep the airport safe, work on noise and annoyance, and spend more of the property tax on the communities who pay it.

Property tax contributions have allowed the airport to expand the tower to year-round ($900,000 per year) and install ADS-B, the new air traffic control system ($1 million one-time). These two improve safety and give the tower more positive control of where airplanes fly (noise and annoyance control).

Property taxes have also been used to contribute significantly to transit, support trails and recreation, programs for local kids through the Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, and other community partnerships and sponsorships. The airport district has also taken a more active role in supporting workforce housing by participating in the Mountain Housing Council, contributing funds to local housing projects, and helping to form the Tahoe Truckee Workforce Housing Agency.

David Diamond:

No, they are not. The airport has done an admirable job of investing in the community, by way of land acquisitions and grants. On the surface, this looks generous. But the lack of a strategic approach to regional investment leaves many outside the scope of these benefits.

I want the airport to partner with other districts and agencies to fund region-wide benefits, such as a program to provide matching funds or grants for defensible space. We need to make it easier for folks in Truckee and North Tahoe to keep their properties fire safe. By contracting with local firms for the heavy work, and building teams of citizens and high-schoolers for the lighter jobs, we keep those tax dollars in the region, while we prepare ourselves for fire. Truckee Fire Chief Bill Seline told me that such a program would address a major concern of our fire districts.

Teresa O’Dette:

Oooh, this is my favorite question!  The property tax dollars estimated for 2021 are $7 million, of which $4.9 million is from Placer County and $2.1 million from Nevada County. I am not certain all taxpayers would say they are getting the best bang for their buck. That said, per the economic impact study that TTAD conducted in 2018, the dollars generated in the district as a result of the airport, both directly and indirectly, are in excess of $80 million per year. More simply put, our community would lose $80-plus million per year if the airport were closed or gone. With that in mind, yes I do think the property taxpayers’ contributions of $7 million per year generates an excellent rate of return.

Full 4-Year Term (vote for three)

Ken Aronson

Outdoor activity of choice? Bike riding, flying, and sailing

Dream vacation? Tahoe

Binge-worthy show? I’d prefer sitting on a sailboat, without a motor, watching the beautiful waters of Lake Tahoe!

David Diamond

Outdoor activity of choice? Flying animal rescue missions for Pilots N Paws, playing outdoor venues with my band, Berlin

Dream vacation? A summer in my Truckee home, free of smoke and the fear of fire

Binge-worthy show? “Schitt’s Creek,” hands-down, without question!

Leigh Golden

Outdoor activity of choice? Resort skiing, backcountry skiing, and climbing Mt. Shasta

Dream vacation? Burning Man

Binge-worthy show? I’d rather play live music in front of people again

Teresa O’Dette

Outdoor activity of choice? Mountain biking

Dream vacation? Tropical Beach with my family

Binge-worthy show? Ozark

Rick Stephens

Outdoor activity of choice? Hiking and backpacking

Dream vacation? Did it last year, hiking 65 miles on the Haute Route in Switzerland with 15,000 vertical up, then down

Binge-worthy show? None, I would rather be outside, which is why I love Tahoe/Truckee


  • Becca Loux

    Becca Loux relocated to Truckee on a mission to tell stories that are fact-checked and data-driven without sacrificing the human element. She is an avid hiker, biker, skater, surfer, boarder, kayaker, sun-worshiper, and all other important "-ers" relating to the outdoors. Becca's wolfpack recently expanded to include a teenage husky named Koda.

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