Better cohesion in basin, survey says | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Better cohesion in basin, survey says

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Surveys to gauge opinions of policymakers at Lake Tahoe Basin since 1970 indicate more people are seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to environmental issues.

Paul Sabatier, a political scientist at UC Davis who analyzed the survey results, has been studying how social science mixes with environmental policy at the basin since 1984.

“There was not a lot of negotiating going on (then) — it was a very nasty conflict,” said Sabatier, a large leather tote in the chair beside him and an extra pen in his shirt pocket.

“What’s happening today, that I perceive, and people today confirmed this, there is a whole lot more civility,” Sabatier said. “People are looking for win-win solutions.”

The 365 policymakers who filled out a survey taken in 2001 were a mix who represent local interest groups and state and federal officials at the basin. The survey found strong agreement that “consensus-based negotiations” are the most preferable way to manage the basin.

Four surveys in all — from 1970, 1984, 1990 and 2001 — were analyzed. Overall, the 2001 survey indicated that policymakers believe the top three problems at the basin are fire risk, water quality and traffic congestion.

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“On fire risk in the basin, the consensus shows what a serious problem people think it is,” Sabatier said. “And they agree thinning trees is an appropriate solution.”

Traffic congestion was the chief concern in 1984 but came in second to water quality in the 2001 survey. And the surveys showed increasing consensus over time related to transportation. People would rather see improvements in public transit than the construction of more roads at the basin. And they would be more willing to fund the improvements with a sales tax than with a toll booth.

“Everybody agrees there are too many autos in the basin,” Sabatier said.

The report also found the gap in the perception that exists between local policymakers, and state and federal policymakers regarding environmental issues has closed somewhat. This is especially obvious concerning issues such as water quality and the development of sensitive land.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was not a focus of the 1970 survey because the agency was established in 1969. The later surveys indicate people, including private interest and business interests, believe the agency is doing a better job today in balancing environmental protection with economic welfare and property rights than it was in 1984.

“In 1984, everyone thought they were doing terrible,” Sabatier said. “It’s gotten better since then.”

Those surveyed indicated they disapproved of the job the agency does to protect water quality. The two groups that showed a slight increase in their rating from 1984 to 2001 were environmental policymakers, and scientists and consultants.

Mark Nechodom, a policy analyst for the U.S. Forest Service, also contributed to the report Sabatier worked on. He said the 2001 survey did not touch on some of the less tangible social issues at the basin, and those warrant more research.

“There are social equity issues floating under the surface,” Nechodom said. “We need to do much more in-depth interviewing.”

Gregory Crofton may be reached at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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