Major changes may be coming to South Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe may be rich in natural beauty, but its economy is in trouble.

"The community here has imploded, schools have closed, the population has declined, it's really a tragic situation," Mike Bradford said.

Bradford owns Lakeside Inn, a casino at Lake Tahoe. For 50 years, casinos were the economic engines that drove the Tahoe area. In fact when the casinos were built, the idea was to make visitors forget the lake was even there.

"Everything was inside the casino building; it was undesirable to have anyone go anywhere else because that was lost revenue," Bradford said.

But now Indian casinos have lured away most of the gambling customers.

"They are not coming here, nor are they going to come here so we are left with a product that's no longer viable," Bradford said.

Bradford is leading a coalition of businesses hoping to remake the area, focusing on natural beauty and turning it into a world class outdoor recreation center.

"Transform this place into a more environmentally appropriate use of the lake, that's economically viable, that allows the community to recover," Bradford said.

The businesses have put together what they call the South Shore Vision Plan -- turning the ugly casino corridor into an upscale, walkable town and easy access to the lake.

Most of the money for the make-over would come from private investment.

The idea goes hand in hand with a government plan to reroute Highway 50 -- the main road through South Lake Tahoe. Instead of going right down the middle of town, it would be moved to run behind the casinos and farther from the lake.

The estimated cost is $65 million.

"Well we have a choice to make, are we going to make investments in our future or are we just going to sit here and watch it degrade around us," Carl Hasty said.

Hasty, with the Tahoe Transportation District, is working to get a combination of federal, state and private money.

The road is part of an effort to improve transportation all over the lake.

Another key proposal is for a ferry service to take people between the north and south shores without their cars. And officials are working on new segments of a bike path that will link with existing paths and eventually ring the entire lake.

The make-over is getting a good reception from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which oversees development. The agency says the plan is critical, not just for the economy, but for the environment.

"We want to maintain that character, but we need to bring our infrastructure up to 21st century standards," Julie Regan, spokesperson for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said.

Tahoe is full of aging roads and buildings put up before there was any environmental regulation. The new vision would replace some of them with open space and greener development concentrated in just a few areas. That would mean less sediment and pollution going into the lake.

"This is how we get water quality improvement, this is how we get air quality improvement," Hasty said.

But first they have to get the money.

The environmentalists ABC7 spoke to were optimistic about the concepts, but as always, they say, the devil is in the details. The earliest the highway could be rerouted is 2015.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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