Guest column: Working together to move Tahoe forward
May 28, 2017
One year ago, we did a joint column about the importance of community revitalization for Tahoe. Our region has a plethora of old, rundown apartment buildings, motels and strip malls. Our hope was that by highlighting the benefits of environmental redevelopment, more of it would happen.
While there has been some progress, there are still too many barriers in the way. The cost of land and various fees associated with development in Tahoe are some of the biggest impediments to redevelopment. So, how do we overcome these obstacles?
First, we have to recognize that we're all in this together and that all of us have created this problem. Each agency, jurisdiction, special district and interest group has a part in creating the barriers to positive redevelopment. There is not one single agency or government or group to blame because the problem is collective. Therefore, the solution needs to be collective. In order to have a massive positive impact, we must work together — to reduce barriers, to provide incentives for positive redevelopment and to balance our economic development with our environmental goals.
First, we must all agree on where we want to go, what is our common vision? The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Prosperity Center believe it is a thriving community with residents who live and work here locally; not commute more than an hour to and from work. We see more community gathering areas in our towns — parks, trails and open spaces that allow us all to be out in this spectacular place we love — and redevelopment in place of the aging, blighted buildings you see all too much around our towns. And this is what will Keep Tahoe Blue.
One way to do this is through changes in how we plan our communities. Tahoe's regional plan guides how our communities grow. It was last updated four years ago and called for concentrating lake-friendly redevelopment in our existing town centers. Under the plan, private redevelopment helps fund environmental restoration and removal of legacy development from sensitive environmental areas. Such redevelopment in town centers provides people more opportunities to live near where they work or stay near where they play.
We have seen signs of progress: local jurisdictions have added new bike trails and have made community revitalization a priority. But the progress has been slow to come, and hasn't been close to the scale of what everyone hoped for.
Reducing barriers requires that we identify them first. One example is how old dilapidated motels are serving (inadequately) as housing, while large houses — scattered throughout residential neighborhoods — are being used as hotels. As a major tourist destination, it's reasonable that we would offer vacation home rentals. But the scale of homes being used as hotels conflicts with our regional plan, which presents problems for our economy, our neighbors and even our region's environment, because it ultimately pushes more of our visitors to stay in locations where they must make car trips to get anywhere else in the basin.
By contrast, if we can find solutions that allow more visitors to stay near the lake in the midst of the community centers that local jurisdictions have been successfully improving, we can allow our guests to walk or ride a bike to restaurants, the beach and other destinations. Enforcing code regulations on some of these old motels and buildings might encourage owners to improve them, especially the ones acting as de facto affordable housing now. Our local families deserve better.
Clearly, we need to offer better incentives for the type of development that we all want to see in our community — workforce housing, mixed-use housing with shops and restaurants, as well as parks and open space. Because of our strong regional plan, these types of redevelopment will not only provide a boost to our economy and improve our communities, they will help deliver restoration of aging and dilapidated developments on Tahoe's sensitive lands: meadows and wetlands that formerly acted as natural pollution filters for the lake.
Both our organizations remain committed to staying focused on the possibilities. Let's keep the end goal in mind and work together. Thriving communities in Tahoe means prosperity for local residents, healthy businesses and a clear, blue lake. Let's truly transform Tahoe.
Darcie Goodman Collins, Ph.D., is the executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. The League, also known by the slogan "Keep Tahoe Blue," is Tahoe's oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, founded in 1957. Visit keeptahoeblue.org for more information.
Heidi Hill Drum is CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, whose mission is uniting Tahoe's communities to strengthen regional prosperity. Visit Tahoeprosperity.org for more information.
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