Board and public critique eco agency’s plan |

Board and public critique eco agency’s plan

Matthew Renda


A paradigm shift is never an easy undertaking.

The executive director of a local environment oversight and planning agency is finding that selling a paradigm shift to the general public presents even more challenges.

Joanne Marchetta, Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, unveiled a new strategic plan for the organization, soliciting board approval while deeming the shift as one that moves “away from inaction toward forging environmental partnerships capable of delivering accelerated environmental gain.”

Essentially a rehashing of the strategy first revealed in April, Marchetta said the plan will focus on establishing partnerships with both the private and public sector in order to achieve basin-wide environmental benefits.

Central to this plan is the Environmental Improvement Program, which encourages homeowners and visitors to be mindful of environmentally sensitive areas and provides incentives to incoming developers to conduct ecologically sound projects.

The TRPA provides additional commercial floor space and tourist accommodation units in exchange for environmentally sound engineering practices.

In most cases, TRPA promotes redevelopment over development, Marchetta said.

Rather than encouraging developers to put the shovel in virgin land, the agency wants to provide incentives for developers to turn the existing built environment into a development with updated amenities that provides reductions in the carbon footprint while softening impacts to water quality.

Many of the old buildings, parking lots, strip-mall type developments in South Lake Tahoe are the principal culprits responsible for the run-off of fine sediment into the lake, Marchetta said. if the TRPA can partner with the private sector to redevelop these areas, Lake Tahoe’s diminished clarity can not only be halted – but reversed, she said.

“We can no longer be the culture of ‘no’ – we have to be the culture of ‘yes, and here’s how,'” she said.

While the board approved the agency’s paradigmatic shift in a near unanimous vote at the Wednesday, July 28 governing board meeting (Mara Bresnick abstained), they did give critical feedback before casting their votes.

The Board’s thoughts

Governing board member and Washoe County Commissioner John Breternitz said he supported the environmental portion of the strategic plan, but wondered about the feasibility of relying on the private sector while the national economy’s growth is slow and the regional economy is stagnant.

“The current economic realities and the reduced revenues that go along with it makes me question the operational plan from a sustainability standpoint,” Breternitz said.

Instead of relying on the private sector to remake certain parcels, the TRPA should investigate the possibility of purchasing lots with vacant buildings, closed offices and dilapidated infrastructure with the intent to demolish the built environment and retire the property into open space, said Placer County Supervisor and governing board member Jennifer Montgomery.

“We should explore using funds to buy properties and remediate them,” she said.

However, Chairman of the Governing Board Allen Biaggi cautioned that the Burton-Santini Act, which allows federal land conservation organizations to purchase urban lots and designate them as open space, requires substantial maintenance and upkeep and my not be financially viable.

“That’s a great goal, but there is a substantial cost involved,” he said.

Norma Santiago, El Dorado County Supervisor and governing board member, lauded the direction of the plan, but noted it’s only words until the plan is implemented.

“I applaud what you are trying to achieve, but sometimes the goal can get lost in the language of politics,” Santiago said.

Biaggi praised the plan as a good beginning, but said the strategy must be continually amended in the future.

“Is it perfect right now? No,” he said. “But provides a good road map to achieving environmental improvement in Lake Tahoe.”

The League’s thoughts

While the governing board had some mild critiques and different suggestions for Marchetta, the League to Save Lake Tahoe submitted a sharper rebuke.

The TRPA has forfeited its central mission to protect and improve the Lake Tahoe Basin’s ecological well-being and instead, anointed itself the steward of the region’s economic vitality, wrote Carl Young, program director for the League to Save Lake Tahoe in a submitted statement.

“This plan represents a fundamental shift away from focusing on threshold attainment, and toward focusing on economic development,” Young wrote.

Young was also critical of the hedgehog concept, saying the strategy is more appropriate for corporations and not for government agencies. He further said the compact already outlines what the TRPA must be best at – maintaining environmental thresholds.

“Government agencies are given clear directives,” Young wrote. “In the case of the TRPA, the agency must be the best at achieving and maintaining the thresholds. It is not a choice. It is a mandate by the people of the states of California and Nevada, as approved by Congress.”

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