The new priority
There comes a point where enough is enough — and we’re there. A tragic thing happened on the way to Pathway 2007. A tragic thing happened while the TRPA and the community were finally recognizing the need to consider the economy and the local community as important and integral as the environment is. A tragic thing happened as Lahontan, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Club and the Sierra Nevada Alliance were working to stymie the concept of the triple bottom line and make the environment the only priority. That tragedy was the Angora fire.
Words on paper will never ease the pain of those who have lost their homes or been displaced. But they will recover. As I have said to many of my friends who do not live here, they are mountain people and are as resilient as they come. Through their own efforts, the support of the local community and all levels of government they will overcome this tragedy. While it is hard to see now, the cleanup will be complete and we will see the first new house built, then another and another, and neighborhoods will begin to take shape. Some people will move away; other new people will move in, but the fire will never be forgotten. It is forever etched in the collective memory of this community; the pictures of destruction, of teary eyed friends are impossible to forget. Like the new houses that will come out of the ashes, there will be other positive changes.
One of the most important changes, the new priority if you will, will be fire safety. It’s non-negotiable. You see, up until now the spoken priority among many has been lake clarity. That priority has now forever changed, as it should. It’s not to say that lake clarity and all the environmental goals we all would like to see are achieved. It’s just that those will no longer be the priority.
Up until now every policy debated at the TRPA has been viewed through the prism of the environment. Sadly, fire safety was also. This is not to say that the TRPA or anyone else has not supported fire safety — they have. However, when it came to the policy of implementing treatment, getting it done has always been secondary to how it gets done. A perfect example of this was scheduled to be discussed at the last TRPA board meeting (cancelled due to the fire). The Forest Service was seeking to treat Slaughterhouse Canyon. To do this they proposed to open a fire road that would give them access to the area so it could be treated. The plan was opposed by the TRPA, Lahontan, The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club. Why? Because a small portion of that old road was in a Stream Environment Zone, or SEZ.
It’s viewing fire policy through this prism that has been problematic. Now, every policy debated at the TRPA, and every other agency that has impact on the environment, will be measured in terms of fire safety first.
While nothing can change what has happened to our fellow community members, I can only hope they take comfort in knowing that one enduring and positive outcome is that our priorities have forever shifted for the better. The fire will be the invisible hand that shapes the policy debates at the TRPA and Lahontan, to say nothing of the California and Nevada legislature. The scar on the Angora Ridge will have the dominant seat at the table. If some in these agencies and organizations resist the new priority, they should resign.
It will be the new priority that shapes policies from this point forward, and the new priority of fire safety looming large will go along way toward making sure this tragedy never happens again. Enough is enough.
— Carl Ribaudo is president of the Strategic Marketing Group and chair of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce.