It may seem like a simple problem, but especially during the pandemic when takeout is the norm and travel’s so restricted that Tahoe vacations are juicier than ever, trash isn’t easy. With continued community concern as the North Shore’s trash volume seems never-ending, we spoke with the Placer County public works department and executive office to wrap our heads around why we just can’t seem to solve it.
How does the county manage trash now, and what are plans for the future of litter solutions on the North Shore?
I oversee a few different divisions that get involved with trash up in North Lake Tahoe: our parks division [and] our environmental utilities division that manages the franchise agreement with the Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company, where all of our trash in the North Lake Tahoe area goes. We, as Placer County and the public works department, we interface with a lot of agencies up at North Lake Tahoe for trash management across the lands that they manage, including state parks, the North Tahoe Public Utility District, the Tahoe City Public Utility District, and then … we built the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project a few years ago. We formed what’s called the Kings Beach Benefit Assessment District, an area within downtown Kings Beach where the property owners agree to pay for things like snow removal on their sidewalks … landscape maintenance, and trash removal.
We have county beaches that we have long-term contracts with; for instance, the [NTPUD] in the Kings Beach and Tahoe Vista area. We have Commons Beach, which is also a long-term contract between Placer County and the [TCPUD], and all of those public lands, as you probably know, have public trash receptacles that need to be serviced.
This summer … because of the COVID shutdown and the restaurant businesses, where most of them have a lot of to-go orders, [we’ve seen] in town centers an uptick in trash volume and we’re doing our best to keep up with that in terms of talking to our partner agencies about increasing the frequency of trash pick-up. To give a quick example, in Kings Beach … we’ve increased from once or twice a week pick-up … to now three times a week and going from just during the week to now on a Saturday.
We are exploring our existing trash bin infrastructure. It’s a double-edged sword: We have to have those bins protected from wildlife like bears and because of that, some of the bins that are out there today clog easily. So we are exploring different types of cans that are still wildlife-protectant but [make it] easier to dispose of your trash.
~ Peter Kraatz, assistant director, Placer County public works department (North Lake Tahoe)
So it sounds like the decision to increase the frequency of pick-up in Kings Beach was made based on trash volume rather than community feedback?
It was both … The increased volume is not the same throughout North Lake Tahoe; it varies by area. I’d say that Kings Beach … has had some larger, more significant issues around trash for a variety of reasons and so we placed additional dumpsters in that community. But even doing that wasn’t enough and so that’s why we pushed working with TTSD for a weekend pick-up. It’s at least twice as expensive, if not more, than the other days during the week combined, but we pushed for it and decided to do it particularly because of the issue in Kings Beach. We don’t have that weekend pick-up in Tahoe City because we haven’t seen the same need for it.
So, a lot of that has been monitoring, but yes, also community feedback. A lot of the photos that we’ve been seeing that people are posting online showing trash surrounding receptacles, not actually in receptacles — I think there are a few reasons for that. One is that, in some cases, the receptacles have been full. I think, in others, people will assume it’s full and so they don’t put anything in there because there are times where we will open up a bin and there’s trash surrounding it but there’s not much inside it.
And the third is I don’t think people are as comfortable touching trash cans right now … in light of COVID. To Peter’s point, also the increased trash from takeout has been huge. Really significant. So there’s a variety of things that are contributing.
~ Erin Casey, principal management analyst, Placer County executive office (North Lake Tahoe)
We have been monitoring community feedback closely, social media, things we’re hearing from our business associations and the chamber, things we’re hearing directly from community members. We are also in the area; I live in Kings Beach, so as we’re going through, we do keep a check on what’s going on and see how we can make improvements.
So to summarize, some of the main improvements we’ve made this year were three additional dumpsters in Kings Beach, two of those are at the state recreation area, one at Secline Beach. We changed the dates of service in Kings Beach so there’s that Saturday pick-up, which is almost twice the cost of what we were previously paying.
Tahoe City does not have a benefit assessment district set up yet. Tahoe City has a more complicated solutions history; TTSD was donating service for a while for the Tahoe City downtown trash cans. They notified us and the PUD [two years ago] that they were no longer going to do that, so the PUD took the interim service. In 2019, the TCPUD paid for it and then billed the property owners directly, and then beginning 2020 there was a message sent out that the property owners needed to take on that service directly themselves through TTSD.
That was not proving effective this year with the additional visitors for COVID (among other reasons, probably) and the county went ahead and paid for the downtown trash service of those Tahoe City downtown bins temporarily.
We’ve also started an ambassador program with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association to recruit volunteers to hand out masks and hand sanitizer, hand out trash bags, and pick up litter. There’s a good amount of interest … and we’re going to be coordinating more with the League to Save Lake Tahoe because the league has an existing program and they have a lot of volunteers on the North Shore which we didn’t realize … While we are hopeful that residents will be interested in participating, we also are looking for ways to engage visitors in this program and so that includes really promoting this program to our business community and lodging operators to make sure that their guests are aware that this option is available to them. A lot of people, when they go on vacation, are open to volunteering, so we want to get our visitors involved in solving the problem.
We’re [also] putting additional signage on our public trashcans through our downtown corridors that ask people to put the trash inside the bin, and if it’s full, take it to a different bin or pack it out … It’s kind of a how to dispose of your trash 101.
… Our short-term rental ordinance does require trash services for those households and bear boxes, and earlier this summer/spring the county went ahead and looked at all of our houses that had collected TOT and went ahead and reinstated TTSD services if they were not currently getting service. So we are enforcing that short-term rental ordinance.
~ Emily Setzer, senior management analyst, Placer County executive office (North Lake Tahoe)