My Turn: TRPA’s fault Regional Plan lawsuit was filed
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
TRPA’s fault Regional Plan lawsuit was filed
LAKE TAHOE — That a lawsuit has been filed by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Plan Update should come as no surprise to conservationists, politicians and governmental officials involved with it, as well as citizens who have been following the process and ignored the propaganda that duped many.
Quite simply, serving as a blueprint for both urban sprawl and densification in the decades to come, while a dream come true to developers, the RPU is an environmental and economic disaster for the Tahoe Basin.
Efforts to politically mitigate the damage having failed, the only remedy remaining to save the lake and the bulk of its inhabitants and nonresident property owners is the court system. It is as simple as that. No entity is ever eager to file a lawsuit; it is done when there is no other recourse.
While the specific reasons regarding why the RPU is a disaster are addressed in the legal complaint, the general reasons are neither complicated nor difficult to understand.
First, the RPU is badly flawed. Supposedly founded on principles of “smart growth” that foster “sustainable communities,” the RPU is premised on conditions that don’t and won’t ever exist in the Basin. Still, the environmental language of such development is so pleasing that it allows public relations image makers to “greenwash” such planning with lofty rhetoric about science and prosperity.
The unvarnished facts specified in the lawsuit explain that the RPU will actually retard the attainment of the environmental thresholds that the TRPA is chartered to achieve. The new type and magnitude of corporate resort development that the RPU will allow, in addition to the monumental increase in the authority of counties to permit bigger, higher, and denser growth, represent not a minor tweaking of existing regulations but a return to the 1950s. In addition to environmental deterioration, small businesses will suffer from the invasion of corporate giants in both states.
Secondly, the RPU was drafted in an environment of political duress prompted by a threat from Nevada known as SB 271. Passed in 2011, this statute threatens Nevada’s withdrawal from the bi-state Compact that established the TRPA in the late 60s if it doesn’t, 1) draft a RPU favorable to massive development, and 2) change the voting procedures of its governing board which it views as restrictive of Nevada’s economic freedom.
Its withdrawal would dissolve the Compact and therefore the TRPA. And, while many astute political analysts see it as a bluff due to the current political landscape in Nevada coupled with the problems of both governance and wrath that would accompany TRPA’s demise, others have shuddered at the threat, including a heretofore leading environmental organization, and acquiesced to the deterioration of the lake and Basin in exchange for keeping the Compact. In reality, Nevada already dominates the TRPA’s governing board and has more to lose than gain by withdrawing.
Thirdly, having succeeded with the SB 271 bluff in terms of obtaining a RPU that will increase harm to the lake in exchange for high profits for Wall Street financed corporations with grand development ambitions throughout the Basin, the bluff was extended to include withdrawal due to any litigation. Well, we shall see.
Currently, regardless of the threat regarding litigation, all or portions of SB 271 will need to be rescinded because its mandate about a change in TRPA voting procedures locked Nevada on a collision course with California when it became law. And, since the change requires the approval of both states and Congress, which won’t happen, Nevada must withdraw or change the law. Many in Nevada are embarrassed by both the threat and the hubris that created it.
Lastly, it is clear to those who have not been duped by the pro-development propaganda spun by the TRPA, which has become, according to California Senate Pro Tempore, Darrell Steinberg, a captive of the special interests that it is supposed to regulate, the demise of the TRPA might not really be a bad thing. That is to say, we know that the RPU is guaranteed to damage both the environment and locally owned economy of the lake, so it must be opposed.
In addition, California’s stake in the lake financially, demographically, and environmentally is much greater than that of Nevada and having its own California TRPA, which can negotiate problems directly with Nevada, could actually be an improvement over the status quo.
Consequently, with or without the TRPA, the lake is best protected by the abolition of the current RPU. And, remember: The TRPA caused the lawsuit when they approved the pro-development RPU, not the Sierra Club and its supporters. It is neither the governing agencies nor their corporate benefactors that are protecting the lake and private and public property from harm; that responsibility has been taken over by our colleagues who filed the lawsuit.
— This column was co-written by Roger Patching, President/CEO, Friends of Lake Tahoe; Dave McClure, President, North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance; Ellie Waller, Executive Director, Friends of Tahoe Vista; and Ann Nichols, President, North Tahoe Preservation Alliance.
For Immediate Release: Monday, February 11, 2013
Contact: Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, 415-217-2098, firstname.lastname@example.org
Weakened Environmental Plan for Lake Tahoe Challenged in Court
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency transferred its legal duty of lake protection to local authorities
Sacramento, CA – Two Tahoe conservation groups, the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday challenging new rules for Lake Tahoe that seriously reduce protections for the treasured mountain lake. The new Tahoe Regional Plan Update, approved in December by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), shifts authority over future development decisions to local jurisdictions. The plan also allows those towns and counties to adopt weakened pollution controls that do not meet the minimum environmental requirements established by TRPA.
“In 1980, Congress, along with the states of California and Nevada, specifically entrusted a regional body to oversee all environmental protection and land use at Lake Tahoe, including project approvals, to ensure that local governments do not allow runaway development,” said Trent Orr, attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, which represents the conservation groups. “The 1980 Compact requires TRPA to approve all projects within the region, and to establish minimum regional standards for project approval. They can’t legally cede that power and leave it to the local governments that failed to protect Tahoe in the past. There is no reason to believe that cash-strapped local governments would adopt and enforce adequate environmental protection measures in the face of lucrative development proposals.”
Lake Tahoe is one of the largest and deepest mountain lakes in the United States, and TRPA’s fundamental purpose is to restore the lake’s water clarity and health. Under the challenged plan, water quality monitoring does not require actual monitoring water quality of runoff; it only tracks whether runoff catchment basins have been installed where they are needed.
The plan also encourages replacing low-rise buildings that surround the lake with taller, bulkier structures. Near the casino corridor of South Lake Tahoe, height restrictions have increased under the new rules from three to six stories; in smaller villages such as Tahoe City, two to four stories; and in Nevada, casinos can reach up to 197 feet, or 19 stories.
“This new plan fails to recognize that an increase in buildings, rooftops, and pavement will mean an increase in the amount of polluted rain and snowmelt – - runoff that flows directly into the Lake,” said Laurel Ames of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club in California. “Stormwater from pavement and roads is the leading cause of the Lake’s loss of clarity. Allowing more pavement and roads seriously undermines efforts to clean up the once pristine lake.”
The revised plan also allows local governments to set development regulations that do not meet minimum regional standards, including standards for how much land can be paved, or “covered.” This violates the Compact’s requirement that TRPA establish “a minimum standard applicable throughout the region.”
“This is a wrenching departure from past practice and is not in line with the spirit or law of the bi-state Compact created to protect the lake,” said David von Seggren of the Toiyabe Sierra Club in Nevada. “The people of Nevada, just like the people of California, care about the ecological health of Lake Tahoe. Rather than weakening the Compact or threatening to pull out completely, our leaders should be urging TRPA to develop the region in a way that not only protects the ecosystem but actually improves it.”
Susan Gearhart with Friends of the West Shore agreed that environmental protection should be TRPA’s first priority. “We support a responsible plan which needs to leverage redevelopment to actually achieve restoration of critically sensitive areas, instead of facilitating urbanization, which will exacerbate traffic and congestion,” she said. “For generations, residents and visitors have enjoyed the high Sierra alpine splendor of Lake Tahoe. We must preserve those qualities that make Tahoe so special, and that we all love—clean water and clean air.”
In 1968, California and Nevada entered into a bi-state agreement designed to protect natural resources and control development in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The agreement, the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, created the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to serve as the land use and environmental protection agency for the Lake Tahoe region and became effective through congressional authorization and the President’s signature in December 1969. When the 1969 Compact failed to stem growth as intended, the states adopted amendments authorized by Congress in December 1980. One of the most significant changes in 1980 was its requirement that one regional body, TRPA, review and approve all projects within the region, so that the welfare of the entire Tahoe Basin would be taken into account in decisions regarding new development proposals.
The Compact also required TRPA to adopt “environmental threshold carrying capacities,” or “thresholds” — “environmental standard[s] necessary to maintain a significant scenic, recreational, educational, scientific or natural value of the region or to maintain public health and safety within the region.” Within one year, TRPA was required to adopt a regional plan that would achieve and maintain these thresholds. After a lawsuit by the State of California to enforce the Compact’s regional plan and threshold provisions, a new regional plan took effect in 1987 that has since provided the framework for ensuring that all development is consistent with achieving and maintaining these thresholds. While the 1987 Plan has not succeeded in attaining many of these thresholds (including lake clarity, which has steadily declined over the years), it has more or less limited urbanization of the Tahoe region.
But developers and other business interests in Nevada have long complained that the Compact and the 1987 Plan’s controls and standards are too restrictive. In 2011, pressure from these interests led to passage of a Nevada law that requires Nevada to withdraw from the Compact in 2015 if California did not agree to certain changes in the Compact and TRPA did not adopt a new regional plan. In reaction to this threat, TRPA hastened to complete the “Regional Plan Update” it had started, which proposed significant weakening of the 1987 Plan. Under the influence of SB 271 and political pressure to “save the Compact,” California agreed to much of this weakening in the resulting “Bi-State Consultation Recommendations.”
On December 12, 2012, TRPA adopted a Regional Plan Update, which incorporated these recommendations. Most significantly, they include the delegation to local governments of TRPA’s project-review and approval duties for projects under 100,000 square feet in size. This delegation runs counter to the Compact’s intent to provide regional oversight of projects and violates the Compact’s clear directive that it is the TRPA governing board’s duty to review and approve projects and to make findings that any project it approves complies with the Regional Plan and TRPA’s rules to effectuate that plan.
In addition, the Plan Update weakens the standards by which new projects are reviewed and approved. It allows local governments to establish development standards that do not meet minimum regional requirements, including standards for how much land can be paved, or “covered.” This unlawfully leaves it to local governments to provide the “minimum standard[s] applicable throughout the region” that TRPA should be providing and fails to ensure that such standards are at least as protective as TRPA’s.
The Plan Update also opens more than 300 acres of undeveloped land to “resort recreation” development, expanding Tahoe’s urban boundary; allows up to 3,200 new residential units and 200,000 square feet of new commercial floor area; and allows increased concentration of coverage closer to the lake in urban core areas – up to 70 percent land coverage in designated “community centers.” The Plan Update’s strategy to restore Lake Tahoe is to loosen development restrictions and incentivize redevelopment in urban core areas while removing existing development from sensitive outlying areas, on the theory that this would enable more environmentally sensible projects. However, this strategy fails to account for the drastic increase in new, concentrated development that the Plan Update allows and the harmful impacts of that increase, and does not ensure that compensatory removal of existing development on sensitive lands will, in fact, occur. The environmental analysis on the Plan Update fails to adequately study the water quality, air quality, and impervious coverage impacts of that increase, and to ensure enough removal of existing development to offset the impacts of new development. As a result, TRPA’s required findings that the regional plan, as amended, “achieves and maintains” the thresholds are not supported by evidence.
The Plan Update will precipitate a drastic expansion of development that would be allowed without adequate environmental safeguards, preventing the achievement of the Compact’s core purpose – protection and restoration of Lake Tahoe. Most of Tahoe’s developable land is in California, which contains two-thirds of the Lake’s shoreline, where existing development poses the most serious water-quality problems.
Link to the complaint:
Special to the Bonanza
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As a (private) pilot I recently demonstrated a stall to a flight instructor as part of my biennial flight review. Let me explain.
An airplane needs thrust and lift in order to fly. The thrust is provided by the engine and the lift is provided by constant and undisturbed air flow pressure over and under the surface of the wings. Once this constant air flow is disturbed, the plane may stall — it may fail to stay aloft.
Several reasons for the air flow disturbance are ice accumulating on the wings or perhaps the wings exceeding their critical angle of attack — basically this means the plane has ascended or descended at an angle that prevents the air from flowing smoothly around the wings.
So why did I begin my article with an explanation, albeit very elementary, of aircraft aerodynamics?
Lake Tahoe is very sick. It is under attack by pollution from vehicles (exhaust emissions, oil, windshield wiper fluid) and runoff from development; the more roofs, yards, gardens and impervious surfaces such as driveways and pavement we build the less natural surface area these pollutants (fine particles, fertilizer, pesticides and chemicals) to filter through the soil.
As a result, the lake needs a champion that can provide steadfast, reliable stewardship in support of restoration, and, also very importantly, legal protection.
Over the years, the League to Save Lake Tahoe has provided such stewardship and legal care, but its recent mission (commitment) is to avoid litigation in an effort to help communities move forward.
This sense of community and collaboration is very commendable, but it won’t support the small towns and villages around the lake that have to deal directly with developers who may present plans not in scale with that of the surrounding neighborhood.
Recently, the Friends of West Shore had to defend their town, with the help of the public interest (environmental) law firm Earthjustice, against the Homewood Mountain Ski Area Master Plan (owned by JMA Ventures).
Judge Shubb ruling over the case halted JMA’s plans to begin development and made the following comments: The EIR-EIS (environmental impact report/study) misleads the public by suggesting that (ski lift) ticket sales revenue is the only relevant factor in assessing the financial viability of Homewood…”
Judge Shubb also ruled that no construction can begin until a “legally adequate” EIR-EIS that considers a scaled-down project had been prepared and circulated.
Ron Grassi, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, made the following comments after the ruling: “The judge agreed that the developer provided an incomplete financial picture of a smaller-sized and less harmful project, so that it was never given a fair chance. A multi-million dollar development doesn’t have to be huge to be successful.”
The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore referred to the project as “a wall-to-wall mass of buildings that climb 77 feet up the face of the Homewood ski slope” that doesn’t fit with the community, and doesn’t protect the lake.
With that said, can you blame Homewood for wanting to protect their community? No one wants to travel down the tedious, time and energy consuming litigious path. But it would also be helpful if the interests that want to invest in small towns like Homewood did so with the most transparent plans and intentions.
While I hope the League will always exist to provide much needed stewardship for the lake, I hope this will not be their only commitment going forward.
What would benefit Lake Tahoe the most is proactive attention and care (addressing the forces that may potentially contribute to the mess) instead of a reactive mode (cleaning up after the mess).
Granted, the League has been criticized for their previous suits, but it should not cease and desist all opportunities to (legally) protect the lake and its communities. The League is funded by a wide range of supporters and is supposed to be a broad voice for the lake.
It appears now that local communities may have to resort to their own devises and expend much personal time, energy and money in the event of future out-of-scale projects like Homewood. Sure people love and want to protect their communities, but it is an incredible effort to take on a developer which presumably the League is adequately funded and experienced to handle.
So I ask the League: “If you were a citizen of Homewood and felt the ski resort development plans were not in line with your vision for the town, what would you do?”
— Derrek Aaron is a five year full-time resident of Incline Village. He is a CPA and Systems Integration/Management Consultant.
Lake Tahoe – “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
Surely most people who read this article are familiar with Yogi Berra and his endearing Yogi-ism quotes. Yogi was a baseball player for the New York Yankees and he uttered this phrase about a restaurant he used to visit in his home town of St Louis. If any “Yogi Berra’s” live in the Tahoe basin, undoubtedly they will be uttering this phrase as well in the years to come.
The TRPA Regional Plan Update (RPU) will be voted on December 12th and it will be the road map for the use of Lake Tahoe basin land for the next twenty years.
Building heights and density will be increased to build up town centers. Ski resorts, as always, are expanding. And grab a hold of your seats folks because the TRPA is proposing a new designation for open space that will allow commercial and residential development – hotels, residential condos and commercial facilities.
New building height allowances
Not to beat a dead horse, but most of us are familiar with Boulder Bay and the special height allowances awarded this project. Under the new code these allowances may also be extended to future projects if pursued by a developer.
Town center density
The RPU will increase allowed densities for hotel/timeshare/fractional by 160%! For example, TAU (tourist accommodation units) density will be increased from 15 units per acre to 40 units per acre. Multi-family will increase from 15 to 25 units per acre.
Tahoe open space will be fair game for development
Today, most open space is zoned as “Conservation” or “Recreation”, but under the RPU 320 acres will be designated as “Resort Recreation” permitting tourist accommodation hotels and single family residences and commercial. The following open spaces are affected: 250+ acres owned by Edgewood (old Pony Express Stop) and 65 acres at the top of Ski Run Boulevard (part forest/part Heavenly parking lot) owned by Vail. According to a recent change in the 208 Water Quality Plan, another 320 acres could be allowed within the next four years. Word on the street is Vail has lobbied hard for those uses on properties next to Northstar. The precedent for future uses has already begun. The skids are greased. Sit back and reflect on that, folks.
Ski resorts insatiable appetite for continued growth
In Northstar’s new master plan, Vail at Northstar is also trying to change the zoning on 500 acres of TPZ timber production land inside the basin to allow ski runs, lifts, gondolas, support facilities. Will a proposed Habitat Management Plan save these lands?
The bottom line is that Lake Tahoe is still very sick. The U.S. Geological Survey published an article (pubs.usgs.gov/fs/FS-100-97/) and states the following: Resource-management agencies, such as TRPA, need long-term water-quality data to assess the effectiveness of both current and new projects and regulations. It has been known since the 1950’s Lake Tahoe clarity has been deteriorating.
- Increased development included urbanization of wetland areas that had formerly served as zones for retention of sediments and nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron);
- Development on steep mountain sides with consequent sediment erosion;
- Discharge of septic and sewage systems within the basin;
- And increased airborne nutrients from automobile emissions and wood-burning stoves.
TRPA claims that lake clarity is stabilizing based on their interpretation of UC Davis “State of the Lake” reports from the past ten years. I am not a scientist, but I don’t think ten years is adequate to trend long term lake clarity.
I grew up in upstate New York and went to school in Albany. Lake George is a well known resort lake just north of Albany. A recent article about Lake George in the Adirondack Explorer magazine (Nov/Dec 2012) explains how the lake is suffering the same Asian clam invasive species angst as Lake Tahoe. The article also states that it is not just invasive species that are harming Lake George’s legendary water quality, but also storm water runoff from highways and development that is increasing siltation and adding nutrients to the lake leading to algae blooms.
Does this sound all too familiar? It should because it is also reality here. The article goes on to say that …the economic future of the watershed –property values, tourism, business – relies on maintaining the lakes water quality.
In the late 1960’s lake clarity was measured at approximately 100 feet. Imagine what lake clarity was before modern man stepped in and took over. Imagine.
The RPU vote is 12.12.12. Be there.
Derrek is a 4-year resident of Incline Village. He is a CPA and Systems Integration/Management Consultant.
Lake Tahoe is not Republican, Democrat, Independent or undecided; it is a national treasure: the commons, that we must all protect from special interests regardless of our political persuasions. Sadly the Lake is now embroiled in a tug of war with special interests.
Unbelievably, the Regional Plan Update has already up-zoned 320 acres of open space for Vail Resorts and Edgewood Co.’s conservation land to allow hotel, fractional, timeshare, single family and commercial.
Now, after reviewing the Water Quality Management Plan, pg 36, 10.2 (C) , another 320 acres of “resort recreation” lands could also be up-zoned to allow the same uses. That’s a total of 640 acres. The allowed density is 40/units per acre for hotel, fractional, timeshare.
If you are interested in speaking up….contact us.
TRPA Governing Board approval for the new plan is set for 12/12/12 at Harvey’s Casino.
LAKE TAHOE — On Nov. 6, 2012, the silent majority in America finally had their voices heard. In spite of voter suppression, long lines at the polls, lies and half-truths and massive amounts of special interest money, they roared. Now that the country is secure once again and moving forward, it is time to take a serious look at the plutocratic special interests that have taken control of the Tahoe Basin. In recent years Tahoe has become a microcosm of the nation at large.
Special interests have bought us out and taken control of our lives. Our voices too have been suppressed far too long. Our public meetings have become a tool of the wealthy, developers and those who will benefit financially from their efforts.
Two decades ago, public meeting announcements were either non-existent or reported the day of, or even after the meeting in our local media. Even then, they were scheduled at times inconvenient for the working class of Tahoe. After these announcements became timelier, the public was restricted to a small amount of time to express our opinions. And express them we did, so much so that the powers that be came up with another plan to further stifle us in the form of the “Nine Rules of Civility.”
Then we simply turned up in greater numbers only to have our comment time further restricted to only three minutes. Now the special interests pack these meetings with their own people and those who stand to benefit financially from their projects so there is little room for the dissenters. The latest insult comes from the media when the Sierra Sun published a column from Ann Nichols, accompanied with a fact check editor’s note based on statistics provided by TRPA. By definition, fact checking requires an objective, non-partisan group not the opposition.
Project public meetings and announcements are really more about the legal requirements of CEQA and NEPA than about input. As such, public comment serves as red flags to allow project managers to be proactive about public concerns and counter them before they become bigger problems. In essence, we are helping them refine their environmental documentation rather than changing the actual plans.
Is there any way to make this whole process more fair and balanced? Increasing public comment time is really not feasible due to ever increasing public interest. Perhaps there should be a 10- or 15-minute block of time for a representative of a cooperative of grassroots activists to present their case. It would save a lot of time and make the opposition’s concerns more concise and understandable. This wouldn’t even require additional legislation, though that would be best to assure us a seat at the table.
A far bigger problem, however, definitely needs legislation. The decision-makers (board and committee members) of the two biggest, most powerful agencies, CTC and TRPA, are appointed, not elected. This makes equal representation unlikely. To wit, they have put new plans in place that are contrary to the reasons these agencies were created in the first place.
An example of this would be the recent decision of the CTC to change its mission statement and strategic plan. Specifically, they have gone from providing public recreation and access consistent with resource needs to promoting access and recreation while still using public proposition money voted for years ago when their original mission was in place. Would you have given them your tax money back then, knowing they could change their intent at will? The public should be able to vote for these people who have the power to affect our lives drastically.
On a personal note, I believe local grassroots need an overarching representative body to help combine the common interests of all the smaller groups that have sprung up in recent years. To that end, and because there is power in numbers, I am working on a website where the silent majority of Tahoe can have their voices heard, post and sign petitions and find pertinent information. I’ve never created a website before, though I am a fast learner. Should you wish to help with this effort please contact me at: email@example.com.
Jacqui Grandfield is a 27-year resident/property owner of Agate Bay. She is a former local environmental agency insider and has a BS in Biology, with a wildlife emphasis, and a Masters in Environmental Policy.
from the paperboy… Tahoe Mountain News Article-Taylor Flynn, Publisher
I’ve gotta laugh (or cry) when my old business
neighbor Carl Ribaudo gets up before the city council
and gives them $35,000 worth of malarkey. But this is
what one could expect when you hire a marketing guy,
who’s mostly funded by the former Gaming Alliance, to
do a supposed economic analysis. You’re going to get a
sales pitch, not a study.
And, if I get this right, Carl’s pitch goes something like
this: “We really care about all the areas of town but we
think you should tear down all the little motels on one
end of town, so that the big hotels at Stateline can
prosper.” Wow, these guys are really showing their cards.
Carl goes on to compare South Shore with Truckee and
concludes that the reason they have an increase in sales
tax while we’ve had a decrease is because we need to
revitalize the big Stateline properties with a Loop Road.
Huh, is there like a total disconnect here? The reason
people love Truckee is because it’s the real deal. It’s fun
and funky and dominated by small independent
businesses where locals actually hang out. Visitors love it
because they can enjoy a genuine mountain experience in
a charming town where they can rub elbows with real
live mountain folk.
The problem with Stateline, of course, is that it’s
almost entirely a tourism district dominated by sky rise,
corporate-owned casinos and hotels that exist in their
current geography for the sole reason that it used to be the
closest place where people could legally gamble.
So, again, the Vision Plan/Loop Road idea is to make a
direct path to our big corporate-owned, outdated properties
that no longer serve a viable market, while at the same time
eliminating mom and pop businesses and motels from the
promising, wholesome, Truckee-like sections of town so
that the big guys can charge more. Excuse me?
Here’s what I think we should do. Drum roll please…. I
think we should tear down the Horizon. Yep, I said it. I
mean, the back tower is dark most of the time anyway.
Gaming is never coming back like it once was, and there’s
just no reason to have that big of a tourism-oriented center.
There’s just too much supply right where we don’t need it.
In so many words Carl Ribuado said it – places like
Truckee are prospering. I say our future lies in Ski Run
Boulevard, Harrison Avenue and the “Y.” It’d be nice to
dream a little, without the constant distraction – and power
grabs – by the corporate guys at Stateline.
Enjoy the paper…
When Nevada first threatened to pull out of the TRPA, I thought it meant the end of Lake Tahoe as we know it. I worried about Nevada’s lackluster environmental history. Unbelievably there are no boat inspections for quagga mussels at Lahontan and Rye Patch Reservoirs even though forms of these dangerous invasive species currently ruining Lake Mead have been detected in both places. Now watching the agency come up with the proposed radical and experimental Regional Plan Update has convinced me TRPA has run its course.
What would Tahoe lose without TRPA? We’d lose, but not miss:
TRPA’s County-like Behavior-If TRPA was still focused on the environment it would be an asset, but it’s become a bloated bureaucracy that behaves just like the counties; revenue driven with emphasis on economic development and social engineering. (i.e. concentrated high rise development in Casino and Regional Centers, height and density amendments for projects like Boulder Bay and Domas). Agency self- perpetuation is masked with greenwashing and doublespeak. Even the Courts have found TRPA’s environmental documents “arrogant and capricious”. TRPA shares offices with the environmental consultant who never seems to find an impact. No loss there.
TRPA is Project Driven-Projects drive planning, instead of the other way around. TRPA actively promotes projects and hasn’t turned down or significantly reduced the scale of one large project application in the last six years. With the new Regional plan you don’t even need a project to get extras. Edgewood and Vail Resorts don’t have a proposed project, yet they will be allowed to build single family homes, tourist units and commercial on their previously zoned open space (300 + acres). The local South Shore attorney that represents these interests also represents TRPA. No conflict there.
TRPA, Counties and Developers promote each other’s Agenda- The TRPA and Counties are in lockstep; they don’t even pretend neutrality on projects. The Public is forced to deal with both the County and TRPA which doubles time and costs. In contrast the Counties have an established appeal process. We deal with elected representatives who can be voted out. TRPA Governing Board members are not elected to their position. The new plan proposes local control in any case, so what are we losing?
What do we gain without TRPA?
Save Money- When TRPA began it had 12 employees, it had over 100 a few years ago and is now around 60+ with 4 PR people. Each state would have its own oversight and I believe Public pressure will keep the states in line environmentally. Lake Tahoe is the “commons”, it belongs to everyone and we need a state and national conversation about its future. Currently the local special interests with TRPA support have gained too much influence.
Stop Cronyism- A cottage industry of opportunists have sprung up around the $1.5 Billion dollars already spent at Tahoe and now they are scrambling to justify another Billion and a half.
Save Lake Clarity- Money could go towards projects that matter, like enforcing storm water management techniques that work and infiltrating fouled runoff that pours from pipes into the Lake.
Think about it. The TRPA over the last 40+ years, even though they’ve infuriated us and water quality has continued to decline, have kept a bridge out of Emerald Bay and casinos from lining the shore, but with this extreme philosophic change it’s clear the agency has run its course. It’s time for TRPA’s swan song.
42 Year Tahoe Resident, Nv/Ca Broker, President North Tahoe Preservation Alliance,Member Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Board
The latest TRPA spin piece entitled, “TRPA’s 21st Century Role is Fostering Regional Cooperation” once again incredulously fails to include any detail of the content of the proposed new Regional Plan. It’s a lengthy bit of green washing that spews all the right catchphrases. Terms like TMDL, storm water infiltration, greenhouse gases and invasive species are thrown around like candy. You’d think TRPA is doing “God’s Work”, but what you have to pay attention to is what the PR piece doesn’t say.
It doesn’t mention:
- TRPA, at the behest of Nevada Gaming interests, proposes in the new Regional Plan Update to allow casino structures that are currently at least 85 feet high to increase to a maximum of 197 feet in height in the South Shore casino core.
- South Lake Tahoe wanted more 95 foot high structures…no problem.
- The rest of the Town Centers (Incline, Kings Beach, Tahoe City, Meyers) will allow 56 foot high buildings with provisions for more height. A good example of a big bulky structure is the new Domas affordable housing building across from the Caliente restaurant in Kings Beach. It’s 48’ high and overwhelms the surrounding area.
- Urban storm water pipes continue to collect, transport, and discharge directly into the Lake contaminated water from roadways. 30 such pipes pollute Lake Tahoe with every storm. TRPA and Lahonton do nothing about it, because it is not input in their computer models. The TMDL is designed to reduce loads, but not to eliminate (through infiltration) what is destroying water quality today.
- TRPA is increasing the allowed density for hotel, fractional and timeshare units by a whopping 160%. Multi-family concentration will increase 60%
- TRPA, the States and the Counties have worked out an arrangement where the Counties will have sole jurisdiction over large residential developments 50k square feet or less in areas like Incline and Kings Beach. The Kings Beach Safeway is 38k sf. Placer County’s Kings Beach biomass plant and the Washoe County tax revolt illustrates why County control is a problem for Tahoe. To the Counties, Tahoe is just a revenue stream.
- In the plan, TRPA proposes to rezone 250 plus acres owned by the Edgewood Companies on the South Shore from conservation or open space to allow single family, hotel, timeshare and commercial. How many other open space properties do you think will be developed once this precedent is set?
- TRPA is also a proposing to rezone 52 acres at the top of Ski Run Blvd owned by Vail Resorts to single family, hotel, fractional/timeshare or commercial. There’s the spirit of cooperation.
- TRPA is promoting the conversion of soft coverage (dirt roads) to hard coverage (asphalt). What will happen to the Lake when Tahoe Conservancy coverage inventory (millions of sf) is used for large development?
The Attorney General of Ca., State of Nevada, TRPA, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe have signed onto all these supposed accommodations in order to keep Nevada from pulling out of the TRPA compact. What special interests negotiated, was a great deal for big money…but a bad deal for Lake Tahoe.
The RPU, if approved as proposed, sets a bad precedent for the future of Lake Tahoe. It would allow communities who could be swayed by big developer and resort association special interests to submit proposals that include towering structures which further encroach on our lands. It’s likely only a matter of time before these proposals get approved by future County and TRPA boards.
Approval of this ill-conceived plan is slated for November or December of 2012. If you want your children to be able to enjoy this beautiful, one-of-a-kind basin, with its unparalleled majestic waters and spectacular mountain setting, please speak up now – before it’s too late. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Who wouldn’t be attracted by an idyllic community that is livable, walkable, bikeable, and sustainable? This message, bringing “smart growth” to “save Lake Tahoe,” is a glowing example of carefully crafted words, framed by public relations handlers as the only answer.
Lake Tahoe may not be a National Park, but it is an “Outstanding National Resource Water” under the 1972 Clean Water Act. Both California and Nevada approved Tier 3 status of “no degradation.” The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) was created to ensure the protection of Lake Tahoe and its environment.
The original 1987 Regional Plan is currently being updated, or as some believe rewritten, using “smart growth” principles that will “restore Lake Tahoe” and create “sustainable communities.” It all sounds too good to be true, and it is.
The doctrine of “smart growth” combines principles such as compact development, hi-density, mixed-use, and transit-oriented villages that promise to reduce vehicle use. Residents can “live, work, and play” in close proximity, choosing to walk or ride bicycles instead of driving. These concepts are woven into a general narrative supporting an alternative development pattern to growth pressures normally fed by “sprawl” development.
California offers funding to implement Senator Steinberg’s SB375 intended to promote “sustainable communities” that will reduce sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions. Sacramento area planners are struggling with projected growth of 871,000 residents by 2035. The San Francisco Bay Area is planning how to accommodate 2.1 million new residents by 2035.” (California Planning and Development Report, March and June 2012) Throughout California’s metropolitan cities are legitimate full time resident population pressures.
Lake Tahoe is an entirely different kind of area. The small resident population actually declined from 62,800 in 2000 to 54,473 according to 2010 Census data. The TRPA projects the resident population will increase by about 1200 to 5900 people by 2035. So does “smart growth” even apply to Lake Tahoe?
Lake Tahoe is primarily a resort area with seasonal residents, visitors and tourists that can triple the resident population for four months of the year. About half of the 46,000 residences are only seasonally occupied.
Given the attraction to pristine alpine water and breathless mountain vistas Lake Tahoe planners must come to terms with its limited size, sensitive environment, and increasing pressure of economic interests. Ski industry operators and resort developers have now consolidated into a few very large corporations with access to Wall Street funding and quarterly profit demands. They see Lake Tahoe as an untapped economic opportunity. The film “Resorting to Madness” and the book Downhill Slide by Hal Clifford chronicle the ski resort industry’s takeover by Wall Street.
Their vision of resort development is marketed as “smart growth,” but it is not the genuine concept. Multi-story buildings densify visitors for higher profits, unlike compact development for full time residents. The ground level commercial is comprised of expensive boutique shops for visitors rather than meeting the practical needs of residents.
These “village” resorts are not diverse communities of all ages, but are designed for temporary occupants usually on vacation. The single ownership resorts are more like Disneyland than a sustainable community. This distinction makes all the difference for the future of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The TRPA, under pressure from ski industry resort developers, Nevada gaming interests, local governments, and local Chambers of Commerce, is facilitating large resort developments in their Regional Plan Update. This pressure intensified in 2005 and is evidenced by recently approved projects.
For example, the TRPA approved three developments based on “smart growth” principles. First was a reduction of State Highway 28 through Kings Beach (North shore) from four lanes down to two through lanes, which will actually cause traffic congestion similar to Tahoe City. Second was the approval of the massive Boulder Bay resort in Crystal Bay (next to Kings Beach). Third was the approval of a $500 million Homewood Mountain Resort, a classic ski industry real estate development at the base of the Homewood Ski Resort (West shore).
How do these projects meet the mandates of SB375? The answer is that SB375 counts only full time residents, what defines population growth in metro areas. Growth in hotel rooms, time shares and fractional condominiums is essentially “off the books.” This has led to claiming “smart growth,” complying with SB375, while increasing congestion and sprawl.
The TRPA spins these projects as “environmental redevelopment” that are necessary to ”restore Lake Tahoe” to finance what they call “environmental gain.” This term may sound new and smart but for Lake Tahoe water quality it means simply installing erosion control measures on the project site just as all projects have done since 1987. Only the spin is new.
A local group of scientists, the Tahoe Pipe Club (tahoepipeclub.com), has documented 35 urban pipes still dumping contaminated storm water directly in to Lake Tahoe. Not only is Lake Tahoe’s deep water clarity in decline, the near shore clarity has degraded to alarming levels in the last ten years. Too many environmental improvement projects are based on inadequate models rather than supported by the latest science and practical experience.
The quality of the Lake Tahoe area environment is threatened on many fronts, while the rhetoric of “smart growth” and “environmental redevelopment” continues to be asserted by the TRPA, many State and Federal agencies, local governments, and the chambers of commerce. It is “greenwashing,” plain and simple. This time the future quality of Lake Tahoe is at stake, and the world is watching.
About the author: David McClure is a 33 year Lake Tahoe resident, business owner, and developer of North Tahoe Self Storage facility. He served on the North Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors, and has an MBA, and is an active member of Tahoe’s conservation community.