Leading the League: New environmental leader pledges transparency, community involvement
February 14, 2012
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Love them or hate them, it’s impossible to deny the influence the League to Save Lake Tahoe has on decision-making at the lake. And for the first time in nearly two decades, the environmental organization has a new leader.
Darcie Goodman-Collins began work as the League’s executive director earlier this month. On Monday, the avid skier, runner and hiker sat down with the Tribune to discuss what the future holds for the organization.
The 32-year-old was raised in South Lake Tahoe and is currently looking for a home at the South Shore, where she intends to live full time with her husband.
During Monday’s interview she echoed recent statements from Lake Tahoe Basin agency heads by saying she is hopeful a new era of collaboration has begun. And that collaboration is not just among the basin’s numerous public agencies, Goodman-Collins said.
“Look forward to more opportunities to where they can get engaged,” is was what Goodman-Collins said when asked what basin residents can expect in the months to come.
“Well the League is actually celebrating its 55th anniversary, so for the past 55 years the League has been a watchdog for the basin making sure that the lake’s clarity and the recreational aspects and aesthetic value of the lake are preserved and the mission hasn’t changed over the years. I think we’ve had a lot of successes in that realm and that’s the biggest role that the League has played is making sure that the community is engaged in that process and that we are preemptive in maintaining the ability for the lake to function ecologically.”
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“So, it’s fairly common knowledge that the lake loses about a foot to a foot and a half of clarity each year and that’s been one of our biggest focuses over the past few decades – to slow down the loss of clarity and actually return to a situation where we have higher clarity. So as that being one of the biggest concerns, there’s been different trends as to what’s causing that loss and currently one of the biggest causes is an increase in fine sediment into the lake. So, I see that as one of our biggest focus points is figuring out how to get the community involved, and the jurisdictions involved, in decreasing fine sediment into the lake and also really focus on near shore. Near shore right now is the most obvious and visually impacted area of lake clarity.”
“So, I think one of the biggest and most impactful roles the League can play moving forward is educating the community as to how each individual that is a resident in Tahoe, as well as the tourist industry, how each individual can help to decrease their influence in fine sediment input into the lake. So, kind of a widespread campaign on education and then also working collaboratively with the different agencies on coming up with innovative solutions or regulations or different mechanisms for decreasing that input.”
“So, the League is supportive of redevelopment that makes sense in a greater vision of regional capacity to maintain thresholds and to work towards the long-term goal of sustainability and water clarity. Unfortunately, a lot of the trends, because the lake is such a large system and the turnover rate in which the water in the basin has, the size of the lake, you don’t see the effects of a decrease in runoff and other water quality issues for decades. It can be anywhere from 15 to 20 to 25 years. So, keeping in mind long-term solutions that are strategic in focusing on development projects that maintain not only the ecological benefits of the lake, but also the aesthetic quality and the recreational capacity, but looking longterm and looking on a regional basis and maintaining the current thresholds that we’re assessing with new information and new scientific information.”
“It’s one of the pieces, there’s definitely a lot of other creative ways that we can maintain our thresholds. To have a more long-term vision of future development and to appropriately move development to areas that are less environmentally sensitive to protect more environmentally sensitive areas makes a lot of sense.”
“I think some of the biggest concerns are on the scale of some of the projects and amendments that might be made and allowed under the new scope of the regional plan and maintaining that regional vision and assessing kind of on a holistic approach rather than a parcel-by-parcel approach is one of the big concerns….I think one of the biggest concerns is just whittling away from the bigger threshold requirements that were in the current regional plan, that’s one thing that I know the League and our partners are really going to be watching in this first draft that’s coming out is to make sure we’re not losing some of the important threshold levels. And the other things we want to watch for are that it’s a solution-based approach rather than just giving a numerical number to reach without giving solutions to reach those. And if there are solutions or if there’s any sort of requirement to reach a threshold that there’s very clear instruction on how to monitor, who needs to be monitoring to make sure we’re reaching those thresholds and giving a consistent tool set to reach those numbers.”
“I think there is enough science to create an adaptive management plan so we can identify the holes in the science. But we understand a lot of the processes that are occurring. We’re able to see when the trends change. For example, the biggest effect on clarity was nutrient loading and now fine sediment is one of the bigger players. So being able to adjust as new pieces of information are available, I think that’s the only way there is going to be successful protection of our resources. And so to create a substantive adaptive management plan, I think we have enough information.”
“So, lawsuits are a last resort. And as one of the key watchdogs for the lake sometimes that’s the only way to make sure we’re maintaining and protecting our mission, which is water quality, maintaining water quality and preserving the lake’s ecological benefits. So, I think the best answer is really it’s a last resort, but it is a tool that could be used to maintain and to make sure that we’re reaching our goals.”
“I think our mission is sustained through the use of those litigations, but they are not necessarily the only answer to get to a compromise and, although a last resort, it is one way of reaching a goal, but I don’t think that is necessarily a sustainable way of reaching our mission. It sets us up for not being in a collaborative environment where we might have to do that again. You want to create a plan in which you don’t; have to be continually being the watchdog, but create an instance where we’re all working towards the same output.”
“So, one of my biggest goals over the next few years is to really boost up our community engagement. I don’t think we can reach our long-term goals without engaging an army of environmentalists in the community that understand their role as an individual community member in maintaining the quality of our ecosystem and our resources. So, we’re going to be doing a lot of educating the community, bringing them into our particular projects, creating more projects that are friendly to the community and have real hands-on immediate results.”
“There’s a few different ways that I think that my local background will lend to reaching these goals and one is that I just understand the community. Tahoe is so different than other communities. And the one thing that we all share is some sort of love for the lake and the surrounding environment – otherwise we wouldn’t be here. So, we all have this same passion for protecting what we love. So, understanding that and understanding the other kind of more community-based issues that are involved in living here I think will really make it a lot easier to pull the community into the League’s mission and to make it an exciting organization to be a part of and to really focus on stewardship-type activities. And I think that the other thing that will help me is that I do have a strong base here, so I have a lot of friends and family. That gives me the ability to … I immediately have support and I also immediately have an inlet into the community. So, I can use my friends and my family to get insight into what they need and what they want out of the community and what they would like to see the League doing. They’re all our constituents, so we want to make sure that we’re definitely maintaining our mission and constantly returning to our mission, but listening to the community to see what it is that they want and how they want to be involved.”
“The responses that I get are always underlyingly positive. I get a lot of input. I mean, not everyone is going to like what we do. I think we need to be better at messaging why we’re doing what we’re doing. If we can’t explain adequately why we’re doing the certain campaigns that we’re doing and why we’re looking for the particular outcomes, if we can’t explain that well to the community, it’s hard to get support. So, we need to be better at doing that, but overall the view of the League is very positive. And any sort of feedback I get from both friends, family or acquaintances is usually issue-specific or questioning of ‘why?'”
“I think the response to that question is kind of the same in that we’re obviously not messaging appropriately to why we’re doing some of the actions that we’re doing. I’m very confident that everything the League has done in the past 55 years has been with the intention of maintaining our mission and working for the benefit of the ecosystem and if there’s any sort of criticism that we’re preventing other things from happening in the community, I think it’s because we’re not able to convey the long-term vision of why what we’re doing is important and to paint a picture of what the community could look like in the future if we don’t keep in mind the sensitivity of the environment.”
“I don’t think there’s any improvements we need to make in our status quo, but what I would really like to see is us grow as a community member. A good example is we had an office for a few years in Berkeley to engage our constituency in the Bay Area and we’ve closed that office and we’re condensing everyone out of Tahoe. So, I really want to create a team here, within the League, within our staff, that’s enthusiastic for what they’re doing and they’re able to choose issues that really excite them. And if the excitement and the passion within the organization can grow I think that will just be contagious throughout the community and we will become an organization that people want to be a part of.”
“I think we’re going to get better at engaging the community, but I don’t want people to forget that Lake Tahoe is a national treasure. It is not just the community that lives here that appreciates and loves and wants to protect the lake, that there is a broader consistency that we always have been able to engage and it’s important for me to maintain that while also re-engaging the local community that does experience Tahoe on a very different level. One does not need to be at the sacrifice of the other.”
“Definitely. One of my biggest rules in participating in decision-making processes is transparency, so that’s one thing I have spoken both with (South Lake Tahoe Mayor Claire Fortier) and (TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta) that moving forward I want to open up the dialogue that is completely transparent. We’re all on the same page that there’s going to be areas where we disagree, there’s going to be areas where we have the exact same vision and to identify those and to figure out how we can reach a point where we have very similar visions on all points.”
“I think that my experience coupled with my bringing in a new generation of environmental enthusiasm and just bringing in a new generation of collaborators and colleagues has been met with a lot of positive reaction. I think it’s a real bonus that I’m able to bridge the generational gap. One of the things that I think is an obstacle, not just for the lake but in Lake Tahoe generally is that there is a huge generational gap in engaging my age and even younger and maybe even a little older in not just the protection or the environmental issues, but in all issues that are occurring. So, I think it’s really exciting to be able to figure out how we can engage those communities, and learning the new tool set. There’s a whole new tool set out there to messaging, including all of the social networking and I have a lot of experience in those realms. People are excited to see us kind of update ourselves.”
“So, we very much support strong economic growth and smart growth – making sure that it’s not at the sacrifice of environmental quality. Obviously, we’re first and foremost an environmental organization, so I don’t pretend to know economics, but we’re always going to be putting our opinion and insight into how you can grow economically while still maintaining long-term sustainability of the lake and its resources. And in reality, what Lake Tahoe has to offer the community and its economy is based on a beautiful and protected lake. It’s famous for its clarity and keeping Tahoe blue, I think, is the only way that we will have long-term economic stability. One cannot be at he sacrifice of the other.”