Climate change, smart redevelopment top issues for Tahoe planning agency
With 2016 being an election year, Tahoe Daily Tribune — along with Sierra Sun, its news partner to the north — is devoting time to conduct interviews with officials who work for the many public districts and government agencies representing the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Sierra Sun recently spoke with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director Joanne Marchetta.
Sierra Sun: How would you describe the state of the agency today?
Joanne Marchetta: TRPA today is stronger and more effective, I think, than we’ve ever been. About a decade ago we started taking a hard look at ourselves. There’s a need periodically to look at who you are, where you’re going … and we had spent several decades putting in place the ground of the original regional plan. But then we had to go to the next generation and our policies of 30 years ago had been so controversial for people to actually implement that we had pushed people away from the mission of the agency.
So, about 8 to 10 years ago we started saying, how do we need to change ourselves in order to remain effective today? And we really moved to a new strategic plan that started building new partnerships and started invited people to work with the agency, not against the agency. So that partnership principle of working with people has moved us into a new state, if you will, and so we not only built partnerships outside of the agency but we work across the divisions within the agency. And we’re a stronger, more enduring agency for it.
We moved from looking at very small-parcel specific projects and issues to moving ourselves into a more regionally focused agency, focusing on the important regional issues. So, aquatic-invasive species, forest health and fuels … the things where no other either local government or single-purpose agency could be as effective as we — at a regional scale — could participate.
So we’re stronger internally, because of a new look at how to focus on important regional issues; we’re stronger externally, because of many new partnerships that we built and putting a whole new face and a whole new culture on the agency of ‘how do we work with you?’ not ‘how do we work at odds?’
Sun: What’s the top one or two biggest challenges the agency faces in 2016?
Marchetta: It’s this need to keep up with the pace of change. Our biggest challenges are taking a hard look at the systems that were built 20 and 30 years ago, which was version 1.0, and moving those systems to version 2.0. So we put development on the ground in the basin 40 years ago — before there were strong environmental standards, before there was a regional planning agency, before there was a regional plan — and it effectively locked in place a status quo. How do we take that growth control system — which was important and essential for its time and it worked, but it locked in place a status quo — and move that system to version 2.0 or 3.0 that allows us to now remake old environmentally harmful, dated development?
How do we take the system of forest fuels and forest health? How do we move that from version 1.0 to 2.0 when we’re facing the effects of climate change and drought and changing species composition and the new threats of beetle infestation and massive tree mortality? How do we go from the forest practices of 40 years ago to the forest practices we need today? How do we address new challenges like new invasive species? How do you take the system that worked 20 years ago and move version 1.0 to version 2.0?
So the biggest challenges are keeping up with that pace of change and addressing the change needed in systems for climate change adaptation; evolving our transportation system; addressing increasing visitorship; addressing just simple population growth all around us, and the people who want to come here to recreate. How do we accommodate more people
Redevelopment, how do we incentivize changing over from old dated development to update development that brings with it a whole series of environmental improvements — water quality, air quality, less traffic. Those are some of our biggest challenges, looking at every system that we as a regional agency touch —land use, transportation, conservation, forestry, water quality, invasive species. We don’t have the luxury of looking at any one thing in isolation — how do all these systems work together?
Sun: As we embark on the second half of the decade, what improvements do you want to see with the agency by 2020?
Marchetta: I hope that by 2020 we are either in the midst or nearing the close of tackling some of our most important challenges. We just met with our governing board in our annual strategic planning retreat, and we’ve identified five priority initiatives. Taking a new look at the commodity system that was the foundation of development constraints, I hope that we’ve taken a fresh look and ask ourselves, is it working? Is there something better? And, if so, we’ve put that in place.
On transportation, I hope that by 2020 we have seamless round-the-lake transit, trails and technology available that has improved how people arrive here in Tahoe and then move around once they’re here, so that we have less congestion and a better experience for people all the way around.
I hope that on our threshold and monitoring initiative, we’ve taken a hard look on how we measure progress and what we measure to assess whether we’re making progress. And we’ve improved and refined our system of thresholds and monitoring so it’s affordable and scientifically up to date and relevant to the challenges of today.
I hope that in our aquatic invasive species program, which is another of the five highest priority initiatives, we’ve solved prevention and we continue to have no new invasions of harmful species. And that on the control question — control of existing species that are already in the lake — that we have found funding for and found new innovative ways of reducing and to whatever extent we can, eliminating existing invasions.
And I hope that in this next round of planning for what to do with shoreline development? I hope that we finally have a lake access system that allows recreational access to the lake that works for everyone, both private homeowners who enjoy being able to own their own property on the lakeshore as well as providing adequate public access to the lake.
So I hope that we’ve made significant progress and solved many of the problems in those areas of priority for us. That’s what the board has helped us identify as our most important strategic initiatives, and that’s where I hope we’ve made the most progress in the next five years.
Sun: How does the agency balance the needs of locals and second homeowners and tourists?
Marchetta: You’ve identified there a very important issue. In order to make this land use and redevelopment set of ideas work for us, we’re going to have to tackle the issue of housing. We have kept the availability of residential development here within the basin and that growth-control system needs to continue to be an objective. But the reality is, about 60 percent or more of our housing stock in the basin is owned by people who don’t live here fulltime, which means that if we’re going to provide jobs here in the basin, we have to give our workforce a place to live.
In order not to drive people to live outside the basin and commute in so that they can find work, or commute out so that they can find work. And how we balance between locals and that outside ownership, it really squarely presents the question of how can we generate more workforce housing and opportunities for those who need to live and work here in order to support a better economy for the region? A hard set of issues, but another one of the important issues that with our local governments as well as TRPA is likely to have to tackle.
Sun: In this modern era of smartphones and social media, how is the agency changing how it communicates important information to the community?
Marchetta: We use all of the various forms of social media — we have an active website and Facebook accounts and Twitter and Flickr and all the rest of it. So we’re giving people more and more ways to offer their thoughts to us and we are using more and more of that social media to convey information about what we’re working on and what we’re trying to accomplish.
But in addition to that … I spoke earlier about having to evolve all of our regional systems, so, for example, in the area of transportation, we have a technology plan that is designed to provide people with better information about what traffic is doing, how to get to the basin, how to ride transit, how to find options. So even in our regional systems that we’re continually looking at how do we make improvements, we’re looking to use technology more and more.
Recently, we got the sharing economy moving into the basin. So we’re seeing (ridesharing) services like Lyft and Uber that are starting to provide transportation options for how to move people around. So it’s not just a fixed transit system, it’s that sharing economy. So there are all kinds of ways that we’re going to look to use better technology.
Even in our permit processing, we’re trying to find ways to make it more efficient and easier for people to understand an environmentally beneficial project here. So that they don’t get stuck in the system between ‘well, I got to work with the local government on their permitting process and now I have to work with the TRPA, and there process is different.’ We’re trying to integrate those systems using up to date information systems and up to date data systems. So we’re trying to stay in the 21st century and move out of old 20th century paper-based system.
Sun: Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding the agency or its future?
Marchetta: We’ve come a long way in almost 50 years as an agency, and we’ve come a long way in 20 years of our environmental improvement program, which is the investment program in how to restore the lake from the harms of centuries ago.
And we’re going to continue to identify and work with the emerging challenges as they come up. We’re going to continue to stay at that regional scale where we can add value and not duplicate what other partners are already doing within the basin. And we’re going to continue to build a strong and enduring agency by investing in our employees and our talent here so that TRPA remains as effective over the next 20 years as we’ve been here in the basin — protecting the lake, protecting the environment, keeping us relevant as an agency.