Answering community questions
November 29, 2005
One of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s top priorities is to improve its relationships in the community. This fall, we sponsored a series of coffee meetings around the lake called “Java with John,” where I met with local residents to answer questions and update them on the work TRPA is doing to improve the lake and the community. During these outreach sessions, three questions continually surfaced that I’d like to address in this column.
Question 1: Why is TRPA’s permitting process so time consuming and difficult? Do I have to hire a consultant to get my project done?
It’s often said that the more money you have, the more you can do to your property. The idea that money talks is one that pervades our society as a whole. Let me say first and foremost that no one at the TRPA is taking money from developers to bypass the permit review system. Every project that you see under construction has gone through a comprehensive environmental review process.
We’ve made many improvements in the permitting process to speed up processing while being mindful of the needs of property owners. One improvement is a new over-the-counter permit application that allows us to schedule appointments with project applicants and to issue permits in one day. We’ve already issued 78 of these one-day permits for simple projects such as land capability verifications and building sign applications. If you’d like more information or to schedule an appointment, call Kimberly Ellis at (775) 588-4547, Ext. 277.
Many people who get permits from TRPA are individuals who don’t use planning consultants, and our employees help them through the process. Just as someone may choose to hire a contractor to remodel a bathroom versus doing it themselves, some permit applicants choose to work with planning consultants.
Question 2: What do house colors and sign designs have to do with preserving Lake Tahoe?
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The short answer is nothing and the long answer is everything. The law that established TRPA requires we plan for and regulate development of Lake Tahoe within the constraints of what are called Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacities. Basically, these thresholds are environmental goals and standards for the Lake Tahoe Basin. There are nine thresholds that TRPA is working to achieve. Every project – whether it’s a residential home or a large commercial project – must be reviewed to see how it could potentially affect these areas. It’s not one home or business that impacts the environment, it’s the effect of 40,000-or-so properties. The thresholds we are required to monitor are:
– Water Quality
– Air Quality
– Scenic Resources
– Soil Conservation
– Fish Habitat
– Wildlife Habitat
TRPA’s mission is to protect all of these natural resource areas, not simply lake clarity. The lake environment is interwoven in many ways. Just as the community and the environment depend on each other, so do various components of the ecosystem. For example, water quality depends on the health of soils, vegetation, stream zones and air quality.
Sign colors fall under the scenic resources area. The overall beauty of the area is dependent on how well we blend the natural environment with the manmade environment. TRPA works with local governments to ensure that signage standards are workable for local businesses and aesthetically pleasing for tourists and residents. If you’re interested in improving or changing regional sign standards, the Pathway 2007 process will be tackling this issue.
Question 3: Does TRPA care more about lake clarity than the communities around Lake Tahoe?
No. There’s a myth in the community that TRPA cares more about the lake than the people who live here. I want you to know this statement isn’t true. Our employees work here, live here and are raising families here at the lake. I’m just finishing a remodel project myself, so I know first-hand the rules and regulations that affect ordinary homeowners. But I believe our rules are here for a good reason, and I feel privileged to live in such an amazing place.
The key to Lake Tahoe’s success is balancing a healthy environment with a flourishing economy and community. If any of these three segments falter, our reasons for living or visiting here come under threat. This balancing act can be referred to as the “triple bottom line.” It entails making public policy decisions that create wealth for the environment, the economy, and the community. These are the measures of our quality of life and they are essential to everything TRPA does.
Pathway 2007 is the collaborative process to design the next 20-year plans for Lake Tahoe. We’re using the triple bottom line model to help in this work.
– John Singlaub is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
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