IN-N-OUT Burger considered Tahoe |

IN-N-OUT Burger considered Tahoe

Last year IN-N-OUT Burger scouted land across from the Crescent V Shopping Center where Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is going up today.

Interest of the popular burger chain, which relies heavily on drive-thru service, vanished once they discovered the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency officially outlawed drive-thrus in 1987, said Gary Midkiff, a building consultant who spoke with the company.

The drive-thru issue, as it does every couple of years, is becoming a hot topic. South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Tom Davis wants to see the issue put on the front burner, in particular, when it comes to drive-thru service at pharmacies.

Davis wants the TRPA to revisit the issue on behalf of Doug Mundy, longtime owner of Tahoe Valley Pharmacy. Mundy wants a drive-thru at his pharmacy so the disabled, the sick and seniors don’t have to walk through snow to pick up a prescription.

“His reason makes good sense,” Davis said. “It’s a convenience thing, particularly for seniors that don’t want to get out of their cars.”

If science today indicates vehicle emissions are less harmful to the environment than 20 years ago, Davis said he would support drive-thru windows for restaurants, too.

“Let’s let good science dictate good environmental policy,” Davis said. “We are in compliance with air quality. All I’m asking is to let science dictate it. I think that’s fair and reasonable.”

The agency, which crafts building rules for the Lake Tahoe Basin, has discouraged the construction of drive-thrus since the early 1980s. A rise in the levels of carbon monoxide emissions at Stateline, as well as the agency’s mission to reduce reliance on cars and trucks at the basin whenever possible, led to the ban on drive-thrus being adopted as law.

Hal Cole, South Lake Tahoe city councilman and member of the TRPA Governing Board, introduced Davis’ drive-thru question at the TRPA board meeting on Wednesday.

“It was many years ago when the TRPA banned them based on air quality issues,” Cole said. “I want to make sure science still justifies it.

“I’m looking at pharmacies here, elderly people in particular. I just can’t see any reason why we can’t have a drive-thru pharmacy.”

The rest of the TRPA Governing Board listened to Cole’s proposal and agreed they would like to hear back from the agency’s staff about the science that supports the ban on drive-thrus.

“We’ll bring back a report in February or March,” said Pam Drum, TRPA spokeswoman. “The board, if it so desires, will give use direction whether to re-examine any issues, particularly in regard to drive-up pharmacies.”

There are drive-thrus in the basin. All of them existed before 1987. They can be found at banks, McDonald’s at the “Y” and the South Lake Tahoe Burger King.

Transferring an existing drive-thru to a new business is an issue the TRPA recently dealt with, said Gordon Barrett, division chief of long-range planning at the agency. McDonald’s was looking to build at the Round Hill Shopping Center but scrapped plans after the TRPA decided not to allow an older drive-thru from a bank across the street to be transferred to a new business.

Barrett said despite the fact that the basin has attained its goal to lower the level of carbon monoxide in the air, it still hasn’t attained its goal for nitrogen oxides.

Carbon monoxide standards are set lower for the Lake Tahoe Basin. Air at the basin can only contain 6 parts of carbon dioxide per million, versus the rest of the state which is allowed 9 parts per million.

“Tahoe has a unique situation,” said Jerry Martin, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. “Because of the high altitude, carbon monoxide seems to remain longer therefore the standards are lower than for the rest of the state.”

Over the years vehicle have become a lot more fuel efficient, but the science has not changed much because testing air quality is difficult when vehicles are running at a near standstill.

“We have figures, but they are not very reliable,” Martin said. “The models really don’t work very well.”

One fact that is established, Martin said, is that engines running at 40 or 50 mph on the open road pollute much less than engines idling at at a drive-thru.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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