COLUMN: League’s regional plan vision builds foundation for sustainability
The League to Save Lake Tahoe seeks a regional plan that balances four main principles – restoration, renovation, redevelopment, and regulation – to achieve environmental goals. These principles would serve as the four pillars of environmental protection at Tahoe. Maintenance of the social and economic health of the region depends upon a strong foundation of environmental protection.
Currently, there are four regional plan alternatives that propose varying levels of urbanization, regulation, and development incentives, but all fall short of assuring achievement of Tahoe’s unique environmental goals.
In fact, the preferred approach appears to focus on economic development. TRPA’s Executive Director Joanne Marchetta recently wrote that the Tahoe Basin needs an economic makeover. The agency’s solution is to create more commercial space, hotel rooms, and housing. This is a confusing solution. If the economy is suffering with an oversupply of hotel rooms, should more be constructed? Basic economic principles of supply and demand tell us this is an unwise approach.
This is a simple example of how focusing on economic development rather than environmental protection can lead us down the wrong road.
Last week, the TRPA Governing Board welcomed the public to provide more input on measures that need to be included in the regional plan, so it can accomplish its environmental objectives.
We cannot ensure progress without a diversified strategy.
Nearly 75 percent of Tahoe’s environmental standards are not being met, including those relating to air quality, water quality, scenic resources, vegetation, soils, wildlife and many more. Many standards urgently require updates based upon current scientific knowledge, so they are strong enough to protect Tahoe’s significant values. For example, the near-shore clarity standard is one of the few standards in compliance, yet visually, near-shore clarity is in a dramatic state of degradation. Beachgoers are noticing slippery rocks covered with wads of algae for the first time at Tahoe.
A responsible plan needs to leverage redevelopment to actually achieve restoration of critically sensitive areas, instead of facilitating urbanization, which will exacerbate traffic and congestion. The plan also needs a “go-slow” approach to development, based upon measurable progress toward the Basin’s environmental goals. Affordable housing can be provided by renovating existing stock, rather than building new structures.
The plan would include additional scenic protection zones within urban boundaries and along major roadways to preserve vistas of the lake and the mountains. The plan would emphasize protecting and restoring naturally functioning wetlands as opposed to relying on expensive engineered solutions to achieve water quality goals. Enhancing low-impact recreation opportunities would also be a main focus.
There is an effort underway to unravel and weaken the very regulations that are necessary to protect Tahoe’s unique natural resources.
Instead, a plan is needed that enhances regulations to not only prevent degradation, but ensure environmental improvement. For example, we now know that major sources of fine particles that are so damaging to lake clarity are coming from roads and urban areas, including the sand applied during snow removal operations. More frequent street sweeping, with sweepers that employ the best available technology for picking up fine particles, could bring enormous benefit to water and air quality. At the same time, much greater progress is needed to achieve BMP compliance on private properties, which is only hovering at about 25 percent.
A diversified approach with interlinked strategies that include a balance of regulation and innovative incentives will be necessary to protect Lake Tahoe for generations to come.
– Carl Young is program director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known as “Keep Tahoe Blue.” The League is the region’s oldest and largest environmental advocacy organization. Founded in 1957, the League is dedicated to protecting, restoring, and advocating for the ecosystem health and scenic beauty of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The organization focuses on water quality and its clarity for the preservation of a pristine Lake for future generations. For more information, visit http://www.keeptahoeblue.org.