Lake Tahoe: The next 20 years |

Lake Tahoe: The next 20 years

I attended the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency fireside chat hosted by Joanne Marchetta a few weeks ago at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, and one thing is perfectly clear to me: the Lake Tahoe basin area will experience significant development in the next 20 years that could potentially change the landscape (look and feel) as we know it today.

And why is this so? Marchetta highlighted three reasons: The economy is suffering the same angst as the rest of the country. Our lake clarity is considerably reduced from historical measures. And, the population of permanent residents has decreased by about 10,000 over the past 10 years, as permanent residents have become second and third homeowners. Development is a big part of the solution to help kick start the economy by providing jobs, to update aging building structures, which currently permit significant amounts of fine sediment to flow into the lake, and to provide housing for all income levels.

Prior to addressing these significant concerns in detail, Ms. Marchetta made some qualifying and noteworthy remarks, in effect that the lake basin area will see no growth; and TRPA is open to any ideas to help improve the lake’s economic and environmental woes.

In the context of my opening statement that the lake will undergo significant changes in the coming years, let us consider Marchetta’s comments.

The basin area will see no growth: What we really need to understand, in the context of no growth, is the baseline for this statement. By no growth, do we mean no significant development or increase in the resident population? I am very suspicious of this notion of “no growth” and I am also sure the details are buried in the depths of the regional plan, where only one very intimate with the plan (regional plan author) would know where to find them.

TRPA is open to ideas: The reason the TRPA is open to suggestions, other than the proposed development, is that they have no other ideas about how to make things better. The TRPA was established to protect the lake (per the original bi-state compact) and not stimulate the economy. So what the agency is doing is relying primarily on input from private investors and local business chambers for ideas on how to stimulate the economy. However, in doing so, it appears that this input has an influence in the updates to the regional plan (in the way of code changes that contribute to significant increases in allowed height, density and zoning). These regional plan updates would allow for significant development including 12-14 super-sized projects similar to Boulder Bay and Homewood to proceed (TRPA Regional Plan Initiative Executive Summary, March 2010 – Table 14).

So how can we as residents, and visitors alike, contribute to the health and prosperity of the lake?

Probably the single most important thing we can do is attend the upcoming TRPA regional plan workshops (scheduled for April and May 2012) and be prepared to participate. In my profession, I frequently conduct interactive workshops. What makes a good workshop is the level of thought-provoking information provided by the presenter and also the inquisitive and creative minds that attend. Before you attend these meetings, jot down your thoughts, concerns and recommendations to make the economy more vibrant, the lake clearer, and our communities more permanent. Think about your vision for the lake and know that your voice will be heard.

Residents and visitors alike are in this together, so let’s all participate. My biggest concern, and one also expressed by another resident at the fireside chat, is that if significant development is a big part of the solution, then we may lose the charm and appeal that makes the lake a special and desirable place to visit and live. People visit places like Lake Tahoe to escape the congestion and frenzy that consume their normal day-to-day lives. If we noticeably depreciate the lake’s rustic and charming appeal, we may say goodbye to not only the visitors, but permanent residents may continue to leave as well.

– Derrek Aaron is a four-year resident of Incline Village. He is a CPA and systems integration/management consultant.

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