LAKE TAHOE — Beneath its inevitable acronyms, development jargon and legalese, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan Update will include more than an effort to protect the environment.The much-delayed update could provide a way out of an economic and social decline that has gripped the Lake Tahoe Basin, TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta told a crowd of about 60 people at Lake Tahoe Community College Wednesday night.The environment and the economy are “inextricably linked” at the lake, and the update, which will guide development in the basin for years to come, is expected to reflect that reality, Marchetta said.“Environmentalism in the 21st Century isn't uni-dimensional, it's not only about protecting our natural environment,” Marchetta said.TRPA was developed to “put the brakes” on rampant growth at Lake Tahoe and has been effective in that regard, Marchetta said. But, by capping growth, the agency also helped maintain a status quo of antiquated development that has seen a continued decline in the lake's water quality.While limits on growth will still be the foundation of the updated plan, its emphasis will be on improving the basin's built environment, including giving property owners incentives to redevelop in environmentally beneficial ways.“The challenges today in Tahoe are really very different from 20 or 30 or 40 years ago,” Marchetta said.With unemployment in the region well above the national average, empty storefronts littering main thoroughfares, people leaving the area and the vast majority of Hispanic population living at or below the poverty line, the social fabric of the basin has been in “precipitous decline,” Marchetta said.“Today's challenge is not about stopping growth, today's challenge is about survival,” Marchetta said.Marchetta boiled down the update to the regional plan into three major categories: Removing barriers to restoring the lake's water quality, returning a “true regional” role to TRPA and making the agency's permit review process more efficient.A 60-day public comment period will follow the release of the draft regional plan update in March. Public workshops will follow the draft plan's release. A decision by the TRPA's Governing Board on the plan is anticipated in December, Marchetta said.She acknowledged skepticism about the plan and had no doubts there would be disagreement on its tenets, but said she has been encouraged by a burgeoning sense of collaboration in the basin since arriving seven years ago.“We can do nothing or we can do something,” Marchetta said. “If we do nothing, we lose the lake. I say we do something.”TRPA's executive director is scheduled to hold a similar talk from 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 on the second floor of the Tahoe Yacht Club at 700 North Lake Tahoe Blvd. in Tahoe City.
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