LAKE TAHOE — Several regional conservation groups sharing a similar vision have come together to strengthen opposition to various environmental laws that members say will ruin Lake Tahoe’s future.
The ad hoc Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe includes the Sierra Club, Friends of the West Shore, Friends of Tahoe Vista, North Tahoe Citizen Action Alliance, North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, Washoe Meadows Community and Earthjustice.
“The members of the Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe have for decades worked to preserve and protect water clarity, scenic beauty and recreational experiences of the national treasure that is Lake Tahoe,” said Laurel Ames, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, adding that the group was formally known as the “Conservation Community.”
Another thing members share is opposition to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Plan Update, which the agency’s governing board adopted with a 12-1 vote on Dec. 12, 2012.
“The plan doesn’t do justice to the lake,” said David von Seggern, chair of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s a national treasure. This is not the place you do business in the normal way.”
The updated Regional Plan provides a 20-year blueprint for development in the Tahoe Basin, allowing more control to local jurisdictions by exempting some planning from direct TRPA review through an “Area Plan” process.
Additional height and density are also allowed, and the RPU provides incentives to property owners to move development from sensitive or outlying areas into more populated areas.
While supporters see the RPU as a way to improve Tahoe’s environment and its economy, skeptics say it will harm the environment by relaxing strict land-use rules.
“The new regional development plan adopted by TRPA will bring radical change to Tahoe’s look and feel, with new tall buildings, intense urban development and increased traffic and congestion around the lake,” said Jennifer Quashnick, with Friends of the West Shore, in a statement.
Friends of the West Shore and the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit in February, challenging several points in the RPU. In June, U.S. District Judge John Mendez dismissed the argument that TRPA’s transfer of some authority to local jurisdictions violates the TRPA Compact, according to previous reports.
The bulk of the lawsuit has yet to be ruled upon.
The Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe is also opposed to California Senate Bill 630. The bill, which already has gone through California Assembly committees, would help formalize the bistate agreement under the RPU.
Earthjustice, Friends of Tahoe Vista, North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, Sierra Club and Sierra Club California all are listed as opponents, according to a bill analysis from a recent assembly committee meeting on natural resources.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe — long heralded as the top environment and government watchdog at Lake Tahoe — was the lone supporter stated in the analysis.
“We support SB630 because its passage will mean that the TRPA will continue to exist and provide uniform environmental regulation at Lake Tahoe, our highest priority,” said Darcie Goodman Collins, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Two states united in environmental protection are better than two states divided.”
The League also supports the Regional Plan Update, she said.
In the past, the League to Save the Lake Tahoe was part of the Conservation Community, before realizing its point of view differed too much from the other groups.
“The League to Save the Lake Tahoe strives to be the moderate and pragmatic voice for environmental protection at Lake Tahoe,” Goodman Collins explained.
‘WATCHDOGS FOR THE LAKE’
When asked to describe the Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe, Ann Nichols, president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, said: “We are the last watchdogs for the lake.”
“To protect Lake Tahoe, it’s not more development in these times of difficult finances and demand — it’s enforcing existing rules,” Nichols added.
Some of those existing rules include enforcing Best Management Practices and installing stormwater collection and treatment systems to prevent polluted runoff from flowing into the lake, she said.
“We’re not against development entirely,” von Seggern said. “… We feel development has to be done carefully and always with environmental protection in mind.”
As for fundraising, that’s not a focus for the Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe, Ames said.
Preserving Lake Tahoe is, however.
“We have a long-term goal of protecting the lake for future generations,” von Seggern said.