ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — It seemed, at first, a sublimely simple--and profitable--proposition:
Annex this scenic lake-front village to the glittery, casino-studded town of Stateline four miles away and call the resulting mini-megalopolis Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Local business leaders figured the new municipal moniker would literally put them on the map--and finally make it easy for tourists to find them.
Unfortunately for them, they did not figure on the fighting spirit of Zephyr Cove, population 1,000. A lot of people here are fond of the name Zephyr Cove. Very fond of it.
Nor did they figure on the powerful bureaucracies that would have to agree to any change. These include the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Postal Service--two agencies that one wag noted are accustomed to thinking of action in terms of thousands of years.
"We were frankly surprised by the reaction to all this," Randy Lane of the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce confessed at a meeting of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners this week.
It was the county board's 4-1 vote earlier this month to make the name change that sparked the brouhaha. On Thursday, the commissioners made a fast retreat, putting off final action on the matter until Nov. 7, when they probably will wash their hands of the controversy.
"I think we were too hasty," board Chairman Robert Pruett told his fellow commissioners.
What the commissioners learned after their early support of the plan is that most people here with an opinion on the idea seem to be opposed to it.
Of the callers, letter-writers and petitioners to contact the board--which meets in Minden, on the other side of the towering Sierra Nevada--about two-thirds were critical of the name change, Pruett said.
"On paper, they can make it Lake Tahoe," resident Mario Montoya said defiantly, "but the people here will always call it Zephyr Cove."
"There's no need to change it," said Ned Bruen, a Cove homeowner whose petition drive won the signatures of about 350 village residents in two days. "It is a name Zephyr Cove is proud of. We have no hotels and no casinos, and we don't want this. We don't need the national exposure."
David Attaway of the South Tahoe Marketing Council, the private regional business group that floated the change, said he hopes to devise some compromise before the commissioners' November meeting.
"We understand their (opponents') sentimental attachment to the name Zephyr Cove and their reluctance to let it go," he said.
Attaway said he may try to cut that community out of the proposal and seek to rename only Stateline as the city of Lake Tahoe.
Zephyr Cove originally was included because the Stateline post office is a branch of Zephyr Cove's and it was not clear if the name of only one could be changed.
However, even a revised proposal may run into problems.
For one thing, some people here do not appreciate any effort to link Lake Tahoe closer to the clump of high-rise casinos hugging the California border.
"I don't want Lake Tahoe to mean this," said Tom Martens, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, as he stood in the middle of one bustling casino. "I want it to mean that big, beautiful lake out there."
He suggested, tongue in cheek, that the California city of South Lake Tahoe is acceptable because it accurately describes where the town can be found: at the south end of Lake Tahoe.
Because Stateline is slightly north of its California neighbor, he teased, it might want to consider the name North South Lake Tahoe.
Whatever name finally is chosen, and whichever part of Nevada it will really describe, any name change faces a long bureaucratic approval process.
In the post office alone, the idea would be passed from the local office to the sectional center in Reno, to the district headquarters in Sacramento, to the regional directorate in San Bruno, Calif., and perhaps to Washington.
Odds Against It
Other agencies that could have a say on the proposal are the Nevada State Advisory Commission on Geographical Names, the Western Mapping Service of the U.S. Geological Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Board of Geographical Names and the U.S. Forest Service.
"Chances are it won't fly," opined one experienced federal bureaucrat, at least not as long as there's local opposition.
Attaway said he will do his best to make sure it flies.
"We're doing this to put us on the map, tell people where we are, and even get some regular (telephone) directory assistance service," he said.
"We have been told that even a few travel agents can't seem to find us, and if a travel agent can't find us . . . sheesh!"