Why Now is the Time to Incorporate North Lake Tahoe

Chris Gallagher
7 min readJan 8, 2021
Placer County vehicles covered in snow parked at the Jackpine Street Parking lot located behind Placer County Administrative Building — 775 North Lake Tahoe Blvd, Tahoe City 96145

I remember the first time I mispronounced Placer County after seeing it on the side of a Sheriff’s patrol vehicle en route to Tahoe City for the 1st time during July 4th weekend over 15 years. Flash to today, where Southern Placer County COVID rates have dictated how Eastern Placer County businesses in North Lake Tahoe can operate. The lack of actions to stop the spread of COVID-19 by residents of the foothills have determined if businesses in North Lake Tahoe are able to serve food or open their doors to customers at all. *

‘It will never completely go away.’ New details emerge on COVID’s toll in Placer County — Sac Bee (updated 1/13/21)

Even though I live and pay taxes in Placer County, I have never had any feeling of community with Placer County and I believe most full & part time residents of North Lake Tahoe share the same feeling. I am reminded of Placer County’s control everyday when I drive past the Jackpine Street Parking Lot in downtown Tahoe City, which was originally constructed for overflow public parking, but is regularly filled by brand new barely used Placer County vehicles that are always covered in snow in the winter.

Most longtime residents agree that North Lake Tahoe has not been fairly represented by decisions made by Placer County staff members, who even get paid extra to make the long drive to service their neighbors on the lake. As far as Placer County staff are concerned all North Lake Tahoe residents do is ski & snowmobile all winter long, then swim & waterski on the lake for the summer. Roseville’s population of 139,000, which is located 100 miles from the shores of Lake Tahoe and 5,000 feet lower in elevation presents entirely different challenges to the foothill community. *

Historically, North Lake Tahoe has generated a disproportionate share of taxes compared to the population with revenue generated in North Lake Tahoe being spent on the other side of the mountain out of Placer County’s $1B+ general fund. Now is the chance for the next generation of North Lake Tahoe residents, business owners and second homeowners to stand up and start having a voice in major decisions from housing development and the environmental regulations to how often the bus route runs and how often the trash gets picked up.

Red line represents current Placer County boundaries

For the first time in a long time, North Lake Tahoe has someone on the Placer County Board of Supervisors representing our mountain community. Local residents now have the opportunity to put the right initiative forward that includes the ski resorts, lakeside hotels & restaurants along with everything else in between.

Despite the state of California’s population increasing by 2 million residents, no new cities have formed in California since 2011. The last city incorporated was Jurupa Valley in July 2011 and SB 89 upended city incorporation efforts in California by taking away Vehicle License Fee (VLF) without any public hearings and gave control to the state to make up for gaps in the budget. SB 130 corrected this mistake in May 2017, which provided a fix for future cities to become incorporated by allocating shares of property tax to offset the amount of VLF revenue they would have otherwise received. *

I disagree with the tactics used to attempt to push the proposed TBID tax through and I am not in favor of increasing taxes on full time residents with the cost of living around the lake reaching San Francisco levels. Ultimately, if TBID funds lead North Lake Tahoe towards incorporation and away from decisions being completely controlled by Placer County it may be worth it for the long term future of the local community. The process of beginning to incorporate requires a strong voice from the local residents and proper oversight on how to determine where and how the locally generated tax revenues should be allocated. *

Does North Lake Tahoe really need to continue to pay for traditional advertising to attract people from certain zip codes on the map, or should we produce our own content and tell people who chose to travel to North Lake Tahoe what the experience will be like before they get arrive?

In 1993, the town of Truckee was incorporated with 70% of the vote with a focus on: land use planning, snow removal & road maintenance (specifically repairing potholes on Jibboom St.). Even though, Truckee’s governance today is still based entirely in the county foothill offices of Auburn and Nevada City, they now have a say in directing locally generated tax revenues rather than merely giving a recommendation to the county that can be ignored by the county staff. At the time of incorporation, the town of Truckee was given only 3 weeks notice by Nevada County to organize a local government and manage local services. Today, those services would be contracted out with Placer County until a new plan was put into place by the newly elected local government of North Lake Tahoe. *

In 2015, Olympic Valley previously failed to incorporate itself along with Alpine Meadows which totaled only 859 residents. At the time the small ski areas were estimated to generate over $13M a year in taxes and those numbers have only increased over the last 5 year with the growth of season passes throughout the industry. * *

The Olympic Valley Incorporation proposal did not include the greater North Lake Tahoe areas of Kings Beach, Tahoe City and down the west shore, which I am proposing should officially begin the process of incorporation and leave Placer County. Incorporating a larger part of North Lake would create a better balance between the ski resorts and lakeside hotels & restaurants from future fluctuations in the economy and leisure travel market.

Tahoe City c. 1957

Current North Lake Tahoe stakeholders and business owners need to become more personally involved rather than sending middle management proxies to represent the views of the company. The next generation of North Tahoe business owners need to get involved and join local Municipal Advisor Councils (MACs), until North Lake Tahoe can vote to break free from control of the staff of Placer County.

When the economic boom turned to bust in the early 2000’s locally funded government agencies in North Lake Tahoe had to cut staff, but that is not the case locally now when our country is facing even greater economic challenges.

My last article published in Moonshine Ink (The California Tourism Advertising Industrial Complex) explained the outdated practices of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and I believe the local business owners have a lot more control to shape the future of the NLTRA and it’s staff than anyone working for Placer County.

Today, North Lake Tahoe generates over $100M in tax revenue, which is controlled by Placer County. The area TOT tax generated $20M in 2019 and only $8M of those TOT funds were spent in North Lake Tahoe while the rest were distributed by Placer County staff. With property values around Lake Tahoe increasing by more than 25% in the last year in the area, funding will be available through local property and sales tax. *

After an incorporation election is held and passed, a real town council can be elected by the residents of North Lake Tahoe and the local community can finally have a voice in the future of how North Lake Tahoe can be shaped and the town will no longer be controlled by county offices 100 miles away or the ever expanding local public utility districts.

Rather than the average construction project taking 10-20 years to complete with local autonomy North Lake Tahoe would be able to expedite development projects in the future without county interference from outdated practices to excessive permitting fees that do not encourage workforce housing development when compared to luxury housing projects. *

Forest Service and environmental initiatives to make North Lake Tahoe the greenest zip code in America is the only type of marketing that needs to be done to continue to have a healthy tourism economy. Successful programs like Clean Up The Lake are great examples of local residents recognizing a problem and facing it head on through public & private fundraising and organization.

Next time I drive by a police car in town it would be nice to actually know the name of the local policeman rather than merely being serviced by them. *

~ Chris Gallagher is a self-employed marketing analyst who has been living in Tahoe City for four years after visiting for the last 15. Prior to moving to the mountains he worked as a marketing analyst for creative and data driven advertising agencies in San Francisco. Currently, he manages digital marketing for Sierra Relief Kitchen, which has served more than 13,000 meals funded by over $55,000 in donations through GoFundMe.

Click * for references

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Chris Gallagher

Chris Gallagher is a marketing analyst who moved to Tahoe City in 2016 after visiting from San Francisco for the last 15 while working for advertising agencies