Learning from the past to create a better future
It was messy in 1980. Creating thresholds and adopting a 20-year regional plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin took seven years. It also resulted in several lawsuits and a ban on building.
Staff at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency says this time it will allow six years to work through the process and use the latest science to update its thresholds — standards that indicate desired future conditions at the basin — to create a plan for the region.
“A lot of public perception is that TRPA was created with one purpose, to protect water quality of Lake Tahoe,” said Jerry Wells, acting director of the agency. “Although it’s a significant part of our mission, it’s not our only responsibility.”
The agency is charged with protecting all nine thresholds, which include scenic and recreational issues, Wells said. It hasn’t been the case yet, but the TRPA can be sued for failing to attain thresholds it adopts. The agency hasn’t attained any of the nine thresholds it adopted in 1982. Groups such as the League to Save Lake Tahoe have threatened to sue the agency but have not.
The new regional plan will be valid until 2027. It will likely focus less on development of vacant lots — there aren’t many left — and more on how the economy and the environment can be sustained, said Gordon Barrett, chief of the TRPA’s Long Range Planning Division.
Barrett started the process of creating a new regional plan in 2001. It needs to be approved by the TRPA Governing Board by July 2007.
“We’re talking about $10 to $20 million worth of planning,” Barrett said. “It’s all state-of-the-art. There’s nothing we’re holding back.”
Updating the thresholds comes first. It will involve reviewing the latest environmental science gathered for the basin. Once they are established, TRPA has to write environmental impact statements and develop plans related to the thresholds.
“If we can’t agree, we’ll pull out the old threshold report,” Barrett said. “We’re not proposing wholesale changes … but some of the numbers need to be fixed.”
Attention will likely get focused on transportation and economics, Barrett said. Scientists who are experts on the environment of the basin will meet this month for a two-day workshop to look at how new data can be incorporated into the thresholds.
In December, the group will convene and examine existing thresholds. The plan is to have an environmental framework for the basin by February. In the spring, with the help of the U.S. Geological Survey, the TRPA aims to model the framework.
“Next summer we’re looking at saying, ‘OK, now that we’ve got the science and modeling platform built, let’s decide what (threshold) alternatives we want to look at,'” Barrett said.
Ultimately, Barrett plans to finish the threshold update by July 2005. Daunting as it seems, Barrett said he loves his job.
“I’ll tell you, as a planner this is the neatest,” said Barrett, who started as an intern with the agency in 1974. “It’s like a gigantic puzzle.”