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What’s next for Lake Tahoe?

There’s been tremendous progress at Lake Tahoe since the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency adopted a long-range regional plan in 1987. That plan spurred a quantum leap in environmental management. We successfully stopped runaway growth and have managed the restoration of streams, forests and hundreds of acres of environmentally sensitive land.

But Lake Tahoe’s communities have not thrived as well, and science is pointing to a lack of investment in Lake Tahoe’s aging infrastructure as a stumbling block to the continued restoration of the Jewel of the Sierra.

The planning agency is updating the Lake Tahoe regional plan this year with fresh policies that will accelerate environmental gains, support revitalization in Lake Tahoe’s town centers and reduce ineffective and cumbersome regulations. Among the proposed updates are incentives for property owners to make upgrades and investments in their homes and businesses and improvements to the permit process for homeowners as well as for projects in town centers.

The agency recognizes that while we’ve made substantial ecosystem gains, current policies have had the unintended consequence of discouraging reinvestments in our built environment. Those policies were necessary when over-development was the main issue at Lake Tahoe, but today nearly 90 percent of the basin is now in public ownership and will not be developed. Of the remaining private property, less than 10 percent is undeveloped. We are virtually built out and dated development is harming the lake. What this means is that the next quantum leap for Lake Tahoe will come from continued restoration along with environmental redevelopment.

The draft regional plan proposes to keep what has worked while raising the agency’s focus to the regional level. Growth caps, prohibition on land subdivisions and urban boundaries are staying in place. Also, the Environmental Improvement Program will continue restoring streams and habitat and fixing the network of roads that channels harmful pollutants and fine sediment into our waters. However, more is needed to stimulate restoration and water quality improvements on private lands, particularly in light of shrinking public funding for Tahoe.

While the draft plan update provides a safe and balanced approach to Lake Tahoe’s continued restoration, it has drawn critics as well as supporters. Some are advocating for us to continue relying on regulation and control and are concerned that creating incentives for environmentally beneficial redevelopment will bring too much growth, people and activity to the Tahoe Basin. To be clear, the amount of new development proposed as allowable is an incentive for significant environmental gains. In fact, the basin-wide population projected 25 years out would still not surpass that measured in 2000. In a sense, the debate has become whether Lake Tahoe will be able to thrive and improve within a healthy ecosystem, or whether it will be left behind with declining communities.

From now through June 28, The agency is taking public comment on the technical adequacy of the draft environmental analysis. We also encourage comments and input on the draft plan now and throughout most of this year. The agency’s governing board is scheduled to act on the final plan at the end of 2012 and will be discussing it at public meetings each month. We welcome your input. To be engaged in the plan, visit www.trpa.org.

Joanne S. Marchetta is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

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