TRPA trashes Tahoe Area Plan, ignores serious public safety, environmental, wildfire concerns (Opinion)

A screenshot from a video Tsigdinos took on Highway 28.
Provided / Pamela Tsigdinos

June 28’s Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting had all the makings of satire. It would be laughable and lampoon-worthy if the consequences weren’t so dire. 

The agenda contained motions that, if approved (spoiler alert: they were), open the door to multiple negative impacts on the livability, environment, and public safety of Tahoe Basin communities.  

Despite opposition from the League to Save Lake Tahoe; the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance; and the Tahoe Area Group, Sierra Club; plus more than double the number of residents who spoke against the amendment than who supported it in the meeting, the governing board voted 11 to 2 to amend the Washoe County Tahoe Area Plan. It was a decades-long, community negotiated document codified just two years.  

TRPA’s Area Plan change did more than clear the way for a multi-story, 40-unit luxury condominium to go up on Highway 28 in an area previously designated solely for mixed-use commercial and achievable, affordable housing. The precedent-setting decision also makes it economically unlikely that any affordable housing will ever be built.

Further, every business in a leased building or strip mall in the Tahoe Basin can now be replaced by luxury development. So, when small business owners find their lease rates increasing precipitously to chase them out, they’ll know why.  

Again, this is not about one project in Incline Village. The scope of this change is immense; it reaches Basin wide. With this effective rezoning, TRPA has opened the door for large new developments in the small cores of all Tahoe Basin communities. 

How? The 102-page copy submitted with the amendment contains precedent-setting material changes that now incentivize developers seeking the best return on investment to go big and to price developments as high as the market will bear. Among the seven people entreating the governing board to approve this project were the developer, his spouse, his attorney and two realtors who stand to profit handsomely.  The project website, confidently promoted online long before this TAP amendment was approved, is nakedly greedy. The website copy reads: 

“Ownership at Nine 47 opens the door to Nevada’s enviable tax incentives including: 

  • No state income tax
  • No inheritance or estate tax 
  • No business tax 
  • Lower property taxes and more 

No wonder the affluent are drawn to this village in the sky. It’s your haven of financial protection now, and for your future.” 

Where’s Mark Twain, the one-time chronicler of the absurd, when you need him? 

He’d have had a field day recounting the governing board’s hypocrisy. There was plenty of lip service paid to affordable and achievable housing, but several board members took great pains to highlight how difficult life is for developers, some stating aloud, “I’m pro-development!”  

John Muir and the TRPA’s originators must be turning in their graves. 

Among the most memorable moments came 3.5 hours into the meeting when board members defended developers’ good intentions. Shelly Aldean, Carson City’s TRPA representative, seemed genuinely distressed at the “sacrifice” the Nine47 project developer would make tied to the loss of potential profit by setting aside four of the 40 luxury units for affordable/achievable requirements. Those four units will pencil out at a paltry $1 million each. Hardly affordable for the Raley’s worker or the nail salon employee. It’s noteworthy that Aldean didn’t highlight the lucrative profit associated with the remaining 36 units priced from $2.5 to $5 million or more.   

About TRPA’s substantive authority in setting Basin-wide policy priorities and directives, Aldean pleaded lack of influence: “there’s only so much we can do.”  

Ashley Conrad-Saydah, California Governor’s TRPA appointee, voiced concern that the amendment change might well ensure that affordable housing may never be built. “I’m very torn over this decision,” she said, while later voting to allow the luxury condominiums.  

Only two board members, former League to Save Lake Tahoe program director, John Friedrich, now South Lake Tahoe Council Member, and Brooke Laine, El Dorado County Supervisor, voted against the area plan change. 

Within the several hours of discussion about development and increased density, no board members raised the issues of environmental impact or what it will take to protect the land, the Lake and the people who live and visit the Tahoe Basin from the increased wildfire risks that accompany development. 

TRPA, the former environmental watchdog of the Tahoe Basin, is now clearly a pit bull for development.   

Once again, with this decision, our public officials and their allies are pushing a development concept that the fragile Tahoe environment, limited local infrastructure and public safety cannot support. Seems the joke is on us.  

Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos is a writer and Tahoe resident who volunteers with grassroots Tahoe Basin groups. 

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