GUEST COLUMN: City wants high density development – at what cost? | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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GUEST COLUMN: City wants high density development – at what cost?

Rochelle Nason
Special to the Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – The city of South Lake Tahoe is proposing a general plan that will allow for more than 100 acres of six-story buildings and high-density development. This scheme envisions more than a thousand new condominiums and a large “urban center” at the “Y.” The League to Save Lake Tahoe is under fire for raising concerns about many aspects of the proposed plan. But in light of South Lake Tahoe’s experience with the “hole” at Stateline, shouldn’t we all be more carefully examining the risks and benefits of these pre-recession ideas?

In a nutshell, the redevelopment idea means that a city assembles significant properties it deems to be “blighted,” exercises eminent domain to seize property if necessary, and then contracts with a corporation that has the financial wherewithal to clear and redevelop it.

When redevelopment works, it can provide economic benefits and funding for environmental improvement. When it does not work, the environment may suffer, and communities sustain economic damages to schools and public services as well as small-business losses.

Just how much are we willing to bet, as a community, on future demand for urban-style condos and other such projects in this city?

For the past two years, the league has been voicing serious concerns about the environmental aspects of the city’s proposal. The projects envisioned in the plan would increase traffic and air pollution, block scenic mountain views, and expand urbanization at Tahoe.

Proponents of the city’s plan are now attacking the league, seeking to silence this voice. They claim that we are objecting to the plan “at the last minute.” In fact, the league has submitted six letters regarding the plan – totaling more than 75 pages – over the past year and a half. In fall 2009, our staff met with the assistant city manager for several hours to explain our concerns. Could it be that those who accuse us of late communications have simply not been paying attention?

The most vehement critics of the league are the same civic leaders who have long been proponents of the city’s failed economic development policies: relying on the return of commercial service at the South Lake Tahoe Airport, and the construction of the convention center, to bring in visitors and generate jobs.

What if all the many millions of dollars that were shoveled into the “hole,” and that flew away at the airport, had been invested instead in sidewalks, bike trails and other small-scale improvements that would make our town a better place to live and visit? What if our economic policies promoted the incubation of distinctive local businesses, rather than recruitment of developers for massive projects?

Could South Lake Tahoe have a better future as a mountain town, taking pride in its stewardship of our amazing natural resources, than as a warren of condos? Perhaps an airstrip for emergencies and small planes would then be adequate for our aviation needs? Could it be that we could benefit by offering city people more serenity during their visit? Might we win our visitors’ loyalty by abandoning the “herd ’em in” attitude of our gaming-based past, and offering them instead a nature-focused scenic and recreational experience?

The league does not claim economic development expertise, but we think these kinds of questions are worth asking – and certainly the league should not be vilified for raising them, nor for insisting that the city and TRPA follow the laws that protect Lake Tahoe.

The league focuses on two main activities: pressing for the implementation of plans to achieve Tahoe’s environmental objectives, and securing funding for the restoration components of those plans.

The latter effort has helped to secure hundreds of millions of dollars directed to job-sustaining, on-the-ground restoration in the Lake Tahoe Basin. And thanks to our planning-watchdog functions over five decades, TRPA finally halted casino growth, instituted urban boundaries and restricted development on wetlands so that our ecosystems would have a chance to recover from the many land use mistakes made before 1980.

The league has participated in the public process with the hope that the city would create a more nature-friendly plan. We have always welcomed dialogue with the city council or staff. And, we welcome any public feedback at info@keeptahoeblue.org. We encourage everyone, of every perspective, to become informed about what the plan really means for this town, to express their opinions, and to get personally involved in helping to Keep Tahoe Blue.

– Rochelle Nason is executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the oldest and largest environmental advocacy group in Tahoe.


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