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Business forum questions TRPA process

The age-old debate continues on the balance between environment and economy.

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Planner Gabby Barrett faced a gauntlet of questions and concerns Thursday night from the business community during a forum at Harveys Casino Resort.

The Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce hosted the forum, aimed at questioning the TRPA on the process used in establishing the environmental thresholds currently under review.



The thresholds, broken down into nine primary categories and 36 sub classifications, cover issues relating to air quality, soil conservation, fisheries, wildlife, vegetation, noise, recreation and the most controversial for the evening — scenic resources.

TRPA is considering rescrutinizing the scenic value of structures viewed from around the lake to meet its environmental goals. The trend, as indicated in its compliance report, shows a downward slide from the shoreline in particular.




Concerns raised from businesses ranged from turning back the clock on an improving relationship between industry and the environmental watchdog agency over the last 15 years, to moving unsupported standards forward.

Board member Don Miner, the moderator, expressed a community concern that the change in thresholds may set a precedent that negates rules used as design blueprints by land-use consultants, builders and residents working on their dream homes.

Land-use consultants joined the panel to give their take on the proposed changes.

“How do we go about allowing manmade development while achieving threshold attainment?” consultant Paul Kaleta asked.

Land planner Gary Midkiff suggested the TRPA reconsider changing the thresholds from what the land-use consultants are using. He described the proposed changes and process leading to the amendments as “frightening.”

“One of the great reasons our economy has been strong is we’ve been in agreement,” Midkiff said. “If we send a message that you may not be able to build in Tahoe, it’s not the right time for that. We could see a dramatic downturn in our local economy.”

Barrett said there will be opportunities for others to speak on threshold issues at public forums scheduled Jan. 10 and 17.

The planner said the changes are necessary to correct thresholds that fall short of acceptable levels.

“On the surface, when you look at those, it doesn’t look too good,” Barrett said.

The need to bend the trend of environmental degradation is confronting the community, and the clarity of the lake depends on these changes.

Barrett used the shoreline development as an example, calling one recent trend the “big house syndrome.” He warned of Lake Tahoe becoming another Newport Beach, a shoreline city in Orange County where pretentious, sprawling homes and big-is-better live-aboard boats dominate the bayscape.

On the shore zone, TRPA evaluates the weight, bulk, mass, color and expansion of property development.

“TRPA doesn’t have a threshold on big houses. It has a scenic threshold,” Barrett said.

Jon-Paul Harries, program director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, defended a push to maintain more wilderness around the lake.

“A lot of us don’t think the Tahoe shoreline is so drab that we need manmade development there. I don’t think that’s what Mark Twain had in mind,” Harries said.

He said TRPA is “under a legal obligation to make these findings,” as part of the Environmental Improvement Program’s standards.


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