On April 7, federal judge John A. Mendez dismissed claims made by plaintiffs Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, challenging the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan Update (RPU) that was approved unanimously by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board on Dec. 12, 2012.
Judge Mendez’s decision validates the hard work and collaboration between agencies, organizations and community members over many years. TRPA began an unprecedented public input process to update the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan more than a decade ago, which included the input of more than 5,000 participants. The RPU provides a framework for environmental restoration, business reinvestment, and community revitalization throughout the Tahoe basin.
The Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce (TahoeChamber) was instrumental throughout the process ensuring the voices of the business community were represented. TahoeChamber partnered with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and Chamber to fund a study that illustrated the unintended economic harms caused by the 1987 Regional Plan. This information was presented to the TRPA Governing Board in 2010 illustrating that without a sustainable economy the basin would be unable to sustain efforts to protect the environment.
TahoeChamber members, board and staff were actively engaged in meetings, workshops and consensus building in search of strategies that would help us to revitalize the built environment while restoring the natural environment critical to the success of our community. We established TahoeFuture.org, a website launched to provide timely and objective information such as meeting reports, workshop dates and information on engaging. (This site continues to post community workshop information on the area plan process.)
Despite all of these efforts our board alongside thousands of citizens were thus stunned and disappointed when the Sierra Club filed its lawsuit in February 2013. As a result the TahoeChamber board was unanimous in its decision to help fund an Amicus Brief in support of the Regional Plan update and are pleased that Judge Mendez has ruled in favor of the Regional Plan Update including the following statement in his ruling: “Although Plaintiffs have shown that they have an interest in the area, it is unclear how TRPA’s delegation of project review will impair their interest or even increase the risk of harm,” Mendez stated. “The delegation itself does not increase development in the area or authorize more projects.”
Some of the highlights that are contained in the RPU that should support economic reinvestment include:
Greater opportunities for small businesses to transfer existing development from sensitive marshes and meadows in order to upgrade and improve their properties.
Excess land coverage can be restored and converted to other commodities such as tourist accommodation or residential units for use on site or to sell.
Disabled access ramps would be exempt from land coverage accounting (Alt. 4).
BMPs within an Area Plan could be implemented on an area-wide scale rather than parcel-by-parcel, reducing the overall cost and increasing effectiveness of BMPs.
Allowing coverage to be managed at a neighborhood scale rather than parcel-by-parcel to provide design flexibility while protecting water quality.
Design standards and permitting processes will be more predictable providing some assurances for investors.
Area Plans will allow for a streamline permit processes and encourage environmental redevelopment.
Sadly, the Sierra Club didn’t agree with the judge’s decision and has just filed its appeal of the District Court’s decision. While for many of us this is disheartening I believe that the science utilized by the TRPA in the RPU was solid, and that common sense will again prevail as together we work for what is best for Lake Tahoe’s environment and the people who live and recreate here. This is just one more step in the challenge.
Steve Noll is the past chairman of the TahoeChamber.