LAKE TAHOE - California and Nevada reached a historic agreement over Lake Tahoe this week with the passage of an extensive plan designed to shape development at the lake for years to come.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Governing Board approved an update to its 1987 Regional Plan by a 12-1 vote at Harveys Lake Tahoe late Wednesday afternoon. Mara Bresnick, the California Assembly Speaker's appointee to the board, was the lone vote against the plan update, which has been under discussion for the better part of a decade.
Supporters have billed the RPU as a catalyst to improving Lake Tahoe's environment and its struggling economy, while critics contend the plan will harm the environment by loosening stringent rules surrounding land use at the lake.
"Today's approval starts the next environmental leap forward for Lake Tahoe," TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said in a Wednesday statement. "An unprecedented public participation process has created a plan that raises the level of stewardship of this national treasure and TRPA is grateful to the thousands of people who helped shape it."
The RPU leaves many of the 1987 policies in place, while giving greater control to local jurisdictions by exempting some planning from direct TRPA review through an "Area Plan" process.
The RPU also hopes to encourage "environmental redevelopment" by providing incentives to property owners to move development from sensitive or outlying areas into more populated areas designated as town centers.
Simplifying regulations for homeowners and businesses to allow improvements to older buildings is also a goal of the plan.
Updated regulations in the RPU will allow investment in outdated properties that harm Lake Tahoe by allowing excess fine sediment and nutrient runoff to reach the lake and cloud its waters, according to proponents.
"The reality is we need to take the old that is not working and redesign it so it is working to the benefit of the lake," said Douglas County Commissioner and Governing Board member Nancy McDermid on Wednesday.
TRPA's policies have long been criticized as impacting investment and renewal in the Lake Tahoe Basin by being unnecessarily strict and inconsistent.
Most updates to the plan are expected to take effect in 60 days. Some amendments require further state action, according to the TRPA.
"Approval of this plan is critical to moving our community to a bright future," Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, told the Governing Board Wednesday.
The Tahoe Area Sierra Club has been one of the most vocal opponents of the plan as proposed, calling the RPU a "greatly weakened new regional plan," in a Wednesday statement. There is a concern Lake Tahoe will turn into a "series of corporate resorts" under the plan, according to the club.
The Sierra Club has contended the RPU does not do enough to make progress on the TRPA's wide-ranging environmental goals, known as thresholds - something the TRPA disputes.
"Thresholds first, then development that is consistent with those thresholds," said Sierra Club member Michael Donahoe, pointing to a recent legal ruling on TRPA's proposed near shore regulations that emphasized the agency's requirement to achieve the goals.
Representatives of the club, as well as Lake Tahoe Basin residents who oppose the plan, said the changes approved Wednesday will lead to detrimental increases in height, density and coverage around the lake.
Whether Wednesday's approval will stand or will face a lengthy court challenge, as many controversial Lake Tahoe Basin decisions have in the past, is unknown.
Wendy Park, an attorney with the law firm Earthjustice, was quoted in the Sierra Club's statement. The firm has been involved in challenges to proposals at Lake Tahoe before, including the Homewood Mountain Ski Area Master Plan and TRPA's Shorezone regulations.
"Earthjustice has represented local interests and conservation groups in the past to protect the lake and regions around its shoreline from unbridled construction and development," Park said in the statement. "The population of California is growing rapidly and Lake Tahoe needs stronger, not weaker, protections to stay the very special mountain lake everyone cherishes."
Keeping the RPU out of the court system was one caveat in an announcement from Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller last week saying he would support rescinding Nevada Senate Bill 271 if the TRPA approved the plan.
The bill, approved last year, threatens to remove the state from TRPA's founding document if the agency does not make certain reforms, including passing an update to its regional plan. Miller has previously testified in support of the legislation.
League to Save Lake Tahoe Executive Director Darcie Goodman-Collins told the Governing Board that the environmental group supported compromises on the RPU in favor of maintaining Nevada's presence in the compact.
"We feel that maintaining the compact and keeping a unified agency are the most important factors to protecting the lake," Goodman-Collins told the Governing Board. "Concessions have been made and a collaborative process has resulted in this plan. Some of the concessions we made were painful. The RPU allows for more development close to the lake than we would normally support."
Goodman-Collins said she hoped the approval of the RPU would encourage Nevada legislators to rescind SB 271.
"Finalizing and supporting this plan provides certainty for policy makers and businesses alike so that we can all move forward with the important jobs of revitalizing our communities and restoring and protecting Lake Tahoe," Goodman-Collins said.
The California Senate Rules Committee's appointee to the Governing Board, Byron Sher, abstained from Wednesday's vote, saying he expected to submit his resignation from the board Thursday. Sher, who has voiced numerous concerns with the RPU, cited personal problems and concerns over the RPU, in announcing the decision.