STATELINE, Nev. — Until now, Lake Tahoe has been just a lake. The biggest in the Sierra Nevada and a popular recreation spot, but still just a lake.
But Stateline, a small piece of lake shore lined with casino hotels, hopes to change that. The little community on the border with California voted Tuesday to claim the name Lake Tahoe for its own.
The result is a nasty little row that has former friends wagging fingers and tongues at one another across the lake's glassy blue expanse.
Stateline's business leaders want to change the town's name because they say it is boring and fails to conjure the image of pine trees and clean air that a more bucolic name might. A name, say, like Lake Tahoe.
The trouble is, Tahoe is encircled with lakeside resort towns that compete for vacation business. In these resorts, the idea that highway signs could soon be directing Tahoe-bound motorists into Stateline is as welcome as poison.
"I understand that Stateline is not that exciting a name. But it would be the same as a community naming itself Yellowstone or Mt. Rushmore or Yosemite," said Candace Duncan, who promotes tourism in Incline Village on the north shore.
"The name Lake Tahoe should be left for the lake, not a specific community."
Especially not for Stateline, say critics of the name change. Stateline takes its look more from Reno or Las Vegas than a mountain resort. Giant neon signs light up the sidewalks and beckon visitors into Harvey's and Harrah's casinos, where gamblers play all night, oblivious to the lake a few hundred feet away.
But here in Stateline, where the casinos are a magnet to tourists year round, the prevailing view is the critics are chagrined that they didn't think of it first.
"Personally, I think it's much ado about nothing," said Kathleen Farrell, head of the Chamber of Commerce for Stateline. "I told them they should get this upset about child abuse or world hunger."
Though Stateline residents voted 873 to 408 for the name change Tuesday, nobody is moving to strip down the old road signs. The vote is advisory only.
The name change still would have to be recognized by federal authorities, either the U.S. Postal Service or the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. Both agencies rejected the name change before--explaining it would be confusing to have a town named Lake Tahoe--but said a positive vote by local residents could persuade them to rethink the decision.
The idea of a single community grabbing the name Lake Tahoe has been around at least since 1965, when the city of South Lake Tahoe was incorporated on the California side of the shore. Voters at the time rejected using the name Lake Tahoe, said Laurel Ames, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, a local environmental group.
"It wouldn't be fair," Ames said. "Lake Tahoe belongs to everybody."
Around the lake, a number of communities include the word Tahoe in their names. Tahoe City, Calif., is the largest town on the north shore and there are smaller neighborhoods of Tahoe Keys and Al Tahoe.
Stateline has sought the name Lake Tahoe since 1985.
First, leaders here want to have the post office name changed, so that the local Chamber of Commerce and visitors bureau can receive the thousands of tourist inquiries mis-addressed every year to "Lake Tahoe, Nev."
Then they want to see the town of Lake Tahoe appear on maps and road signs to help direct visitors to the casino zone--at the expense of other destinations around the lake, critics say.
Officials in Douglas County, which includes Stateline, have given their consent. They also helped kill a bill introduced last year in the Nevada Legislature that would have prevented the name change.
However, merchants and resort owners on the north shore of the lake take credit for blocking federal approval through a letter-writing campaign. The postal service says its letters on the issue were about equally divided.
Stateline leaders say there is no basis for other resort areas to fear the change. The community has promised to refer customers looking for a quieter vacation experience to the more peaceful north shore, said Farrell of the Chamber of Commerce. "There really is no reason for this infighting," she said.
Stateline and the south shore resorts, said Farrell, spend far more money promoting the Tahoe region than do the north shore towns, where opposition is most vocal. "The north shore has been getting benefits from our marketing for years," said Farrell.
But on the north shore, the move is viewed as a less-than-subtle maneuver by Stateline to mooch on the promotional dollars spent by the rest of the lakeside towns.
"It's really a marketing issue," said John Bevel, owner of Tahoe Video Super Store in Incline Village. "There is literally millions of dollars spent marketing Lake Tahoe as an area, and it would give Stateline an unfair advantage."
In the normally close-knit Tahoe community, the dispute has created some hard feelings.
"There are certainly strong feelings about it--strong feelings of resentment," said Ann Johnson, executive director of the Incline Village-Crystal Bay Chamber of Commerce. "It is just very, very sad."
Even though nothing is official yet, Stateline already seems to have won a small victory.
On U.S. Highway 50, the main approach to the Tahoe area from the south, a new Caltrans sign points motorists bound for Lake Tahoe to the right--toward the Stateline casinos.