Democracy at work with TRPA planning |

Democracy at work with TRPA planning

John Singlaub

At the public hearing on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s proposed update to the Shorezone regulations, the public was unquestionably fully engaged and the comments were wide-ranging. At their best, comments were constructive and thoughtful. Rather than a “lambasting,” as it was characterized, I think what’s happening is an excellent example of democracy in action. TRPA, together with the interested public, is engaged in a process centered around finding the appropriate balance between piers and buoys on Lake Tahoe and other shorezone interests.

For nearly 20 years, the Tahoe Basin community has been unable to agree on a shorezone approach. This fact alone should leave no doubt that shorezone issues are controversial and evoke strong emotions from a multitude of often conflicting interests. Some members of the public believe there should be no more piers allowed. Others feel strongly that all lakefront property owners are entitled to build a pier for their enjoyment. Somewhere between these two absolute positions lies a compromise. We’re determined to find some solid middle ground and to bring closure to the 20-year debate. As so many of you noted, this is neither an enviable nor easy task. But that’s the new way we’re doing business at TRPA – trying to find solutions, solve problems and get things done where others have failed and to do so as balanced a manner as possible.

There have been many meetings, workshops and conversations over coffee to discuss the several shorezone proposals under consideration by the agency. Let me confirm that TRPA wants, like all of you, to do what’s best for the Lake Tahoe community in preserving our greatest natural asset – this spectacular place that we call home. We all love the lake and recognize there are very different opinions about how best to protect and preserve it.

TRPA may be damned by some for putting ideas on the table. But ideas are not decisions and ideas promote debate, which ultimately leads to new or better ideas. That’s where we are now. This democracy in action would only be improved if we could remove the rancor and personal attacks in order to meet at a collaborative or at least constructively critical middle ground. For the sake of democracy, I hope we can move the process in this direction.

Rumors can be counterproductive

A few rumors have run rampant and I’d like to set the record straight:

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1.) TRPA is NOT trying to ban boats now or in the future from Lake Tahoe. The shorezone environmental document actually analyzes impacts of a greatly increased amount of boating on the lake. A fundamental issue to be addressed is whether the future projected increase in boating will bring detrimental levels of pollution to the lake and what, if anything, should be done about it.

2.) TRPA is NOT pulling the shorezone proposals out of thin air. Many people have commented that there is no science to support the shorezone proposals under consideration. Some of these comments include good suggestions for TRPA to consider; other statements about scientific evidence are completely inaccurate. Because TRPA held the hearing to listen to others, we didn’t have the opportunity to respond, but we will. Studies are available that support the environmental document; the scientific evidence will be refined and added to before the TRPA Governing Board selects a preferred alternative. The public comment process is designed to gather input and fix any flaws. Now is the time to consider what’s been said and to refine what needs fixing.

3.) The Emerald Bay proposal is NOT a done deal. No decisions will be made by the Governing Board until the agency considers and responds in writing to public comments and then selects a preferred alternative. The proposal to close Emerald Bay to motorized watercraft eight days per year is only one idea; it is not a decision. We’ve received other suggested solutions, which we will evaluate.

TRPA never claimed that fuel contaminants in Emerald Bay were violating today’s standards – we are looking ahead 20 years to make sure that lake quality can be protected for the next generation.

Reviewing Alternative 6

Let’s set the rumors and distrust aside and focus on constructive review of the ideas. Here are some key highlights of the sixth alternative of the shorezone document. All aspects of the proposal are open to public comment and debate:

Density standards – “Alternative 6” proposes a density-based approach to piers around Lake Tahoe. For the next 20 years a maximum of approximately 220 new private piers and 10 new public piers is proposed.

Under a “go-slow” approach, TRPA would issue only 10 private pier permits each year. Total pier densities would not exceed an average of one per 200 feet of sandy shoreline or an average of one per 100 feet of rocky shoreline. All piers would be required to meet minimum scenic and environmental standards.

Buoys – Two buoys per lakefront parcel is being proposed for a total of 1,862 new buoys. A streamlined application process would be created to reduce the permitting paperwork for buoys along with an aggressive buoy enforcement program.

Boat sticker program – Boating is part of life at Lake Tahoe, but as this pleasure activity increases over time, it may affect the lake’s water quality.

The shorezone document proposes a new “boat sticker” program as an inspection measure to make sure all boats entering the lake are free of invasive weeds, have lake-friendly engines and meet other measures to protect water quality. This proposal is open for public comment and debate.

Emerald Bay Ð TRPA is planning for the potential of increased boat traffic on the lake as a result of additional piers and buoys. The proposal to limit power boats in Emerald Bay on a few peak days has admittedly been met with resistance. If there are other solutions to protect the environment of what many consider to be one of the most special places at the lake, we’re open to them.

What’s next on the shorezone timeline?

The public comment period is open until Sept. 2 on the Sixth Alternative of the shorezone environmental document. The TRPA’s Governing Board is currently expected to vote to adopt new shorezone regulations by early 2006. For a complete copy of the document and the new proposals, visit You can also e-mail your comments directly to TRPA from the Web site.

Thanks for joining me in your concern to preserve Lake Tahoe and in this process of democracy in action.

– John Singlaub is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.