Lake Tahoe took a body blow today, as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency handed off responsibilities for basin protections to local governments by issuing a greatly weakened new regional plan. The new plan allows increased development around the lake and throughout the basin, weakens protection for the lake and surrounding land, and entrusts local counties and the city to assert their new-found authority to care for Lake Tahoe.
“The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has mangled current planning protections, turned them on their head, and abandoned the lake,” said Laurel Ames, of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club Group, noting that ”there is no evidence over the past 40 years that local agencies have the motivation, interest or ability to protect Lake Tahoe.”
Lake Tahoe is one of the largest and deepest mountain lakes in the United States. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) was created by California, Nevada, and Congress in 1969 to protect Tahoe in response to the failure of local jurisdictions around the lake to regulate development or take the steps necessary to protect water clarity. After ten years of continuing local exploitation of private property around the lake, Congress revised TRPA in 1980 to get tough and strictly regulate the basin through a new set of standards.
TRPA’s latest plan, approved today, delegates critical environmental protections back to local jurisdictions, leaving many to wonder if a Tahoe on development steroids will soon turn into a series of corporate resorts. Without better protections, the scenic Tahoe loved by so many will likely morph into one with more paving and less open space, new eight to ten story hotels, and mega-size recreation resorts built on acres of once-pristine lands. The result will be a murkier lake and fewer views of the mountains and the lake as local communities add three and four story buildings along the roadways.
“This plan is based on the belief that the pathway to environmental improvement is through economic development. There is definitely some merit in encouraging development to replace aging commercial buildings and parking lots. But putting all of TRPA’s eggs in that basket is too risky for the golden goose that lays those eggs—Lake Tahoe,” said Bob Anderson, Chair of the Lake Tahoe Sierra Club Group.
Wendy Park, an attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, agrees that the new plan poses new and bigger risks. “Earthjustice has represented local interests and conservation groups in the past to protect the lake and regions around its shoreline from unbridled construction and development. The population of California is growing rapidly and Lake Tahoe needs stronger, not weaker, protections to stay the very special mountain lake everyone cherishes,” Park said.