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Developers should follow environmental lead

Sara Urch, program associate with the League to Save Lake Tahoe

For the last six months, we have all been hearing quite a lot about the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency 2001 Threshold Evaluation. Nearly every TRPA Advisory Planning Commission and Governing Board meeting has focused on this evaluation period, and what it means for the TRPA and the local jurisdictions. To some, the Threshold Evaluation signifies the time to battle it out for what slice of the development allocation pie each county receives. For others, this is a time to question TRPA’s relevance and to challenge some of the thresholds themselves. But why does TRPA perform the Threshold Evaluation, and what does it mean for Lake Tahoe?

Every five years, TRPA creates a Threshold Evaluation report in which the agency evaluates its progress on the nine environmental threshold carrying capacities, and based on its progress, reallocates the development rate in the Tahoe Basin for the next five years. On July 25 the TRPA Governing Board adopted the threshold report and its policies. By taking this action, the TRPA Board took a step in the right direction. However, TRPA’s job is far from finished. As part of their decision, TRPA gave themselves 60 days to make two of the most critical and difficult decisions on the report: the scenic threshold recommendations and development allocations.

Of the nine thresholds, the scenic threshold has been in rapid decline throughout the last 15 years. And yet, the TRPA Compact, an Act of Congress creating the TRPA, repeatedly singles out Tahoe’s scenic beauty as an irreplaceable asset that must be preserved. TRPA’s proposed scenic threshold recommendations speak to this splendor, and serve only to preserve the lake’s unparalleled natural beauty — the beauty that millions of tourists come to visit every year, and for whom hundreds of lakefront property owners pay millions.



Some argue, however, that TRPA’s restrictions to protect scenic quality are too strict. They argue that it is actually the large lakefront homes that draw visitors to Tahoe, not the lake. But ask yourself which of Lake Tahoe’s qualities you would want preserved for your children. TRPA is not asking anyone to remove their home, or to hide it, as some suggest. The proposed scenic recommendations require new and remodeled homes merely blend with the natural environment, creating a balance that harmonizes with Tahoe’s unique landscape. These restrictions, which some argue will lower property values, will actually improve the environmental quality we all hold so dear — adding to the value of property on Lake Tahoe, not reducing it.

The second item which TRPA will soon act on is the development allocation system. The thresholds were adopted based upon the premise that environmental improvements and development would run on a parallel track. That is, if the Threshold Evaluation revealed that TRPA had not made enough progress on environmental improvement, development allocated by TRPA would decrease. Impacts on the environment from development can be partially mitigated by the proper installation and maintenance of Best Management Practices and other measures, but soil disturbance, increases in traffic, and other impacts created by development continue to play a role in the loss of lake clarity. It only takes a cursory glance at TRPA’s evaluation to see that environmental quality in the basin has in fact declined. Of the nine thresholds adopted nearly 15 years ago, not one is fully in attainment. In fact, according to the final draft of the threshold report, TRPA projects little to no progress will be made on many aspects of water quality until after the year 2020.



Thus it is vital that TRPA take a hard look at development allocations. Because TRPA has identified that progress on thresholds has been slower than expected, TRPA must reduce allocations and increase the rate at which environmental improvement projects are implemented. The 2001 threshold report is the final evaluation before TRPA prepares to write the new 2007 Regional Plan. Therefore, this evaluation sets an important precedent for the future of our lake. We should all view the Threshold Evaluation period as an opportunity. If we take this opportunity to act, we have the chance to make significant changes for the better–to preserve Lake Tahoe as an international treasure for generations to come.


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