Appeals court settles Tahoe agency's clash with environmental groups

By Mary Anne Kress | Nov 22, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – An ongoing conflict between the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) has come to an end ... for now. The environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr, appealed their lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit after U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez dismissed it in April 2014. The appeals court upheld the TRPA plan.

Regarding the two sides' points of conflict; "Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore did not feel 2012 Regional Plan does enough to protect Lake Tahoe's environment," said Tom Lotshaw, public information officer for TRPA. "TRPA feels very differently. We think the 2012 Regional Plan is the best path forward to conserve and restore important natural areas that were degraded by legacy development put on the ground before TRPA's creation, and revitalize our communities with mixed-use redevelopment that makes them more walkable, more bikeable, and upgrades the built environment so that it meets modern environmental protections that reduce storm water pollution that harms the lake's famous water clarity."

The people of the area seem to largely support the 2012 Regional Plan. In addition to enhancing the recreational attractions of Lake Tahoe, it also will improve the affordable workforce housing issue in the area. "This widely supported plan was years in the making, involved extensive public outreach and comment, and in the end, built the broadest consensus ever achieved at Lake Tahoe with the states of California and Nevada, dozens of government agencies, nonprofit groups, environmental groups, and chambers and visitors authorities all supporting the plan," said Lotshaw.

The challenge of affordable workforce housing is a complex issue that threatens the state of California's economic recovery. The median home prices of $500,000 on the North Shore and $400,000 on the South Shore put the cost of home ownership or even rent out of reach of the region's low-wage earners. Because of this situation, many people commute long distances for work, which is creating pollution and transportation issues. "There are multiple provisions and incentives that allow housing projects for moderate income and low-income people to build without the usual development rights needed for residential projects at Lake Tahoe," Lotshaw said. "We are working with many partners around the lake on affordable housing problems, and the problems and solutions will most likely vary around the lake."

TRPA believes that by focusing on redevelopment of the existing town centers, removing legacy development from the outlying environmental fragile areas will not only transfer development back to the existing town centers but also restore the outlying areas back to their natural function. As the communities are revitalized, TRPA is expecting to create additional revenues to help implement programs like the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program. This is a capital investment plan for high-priority projects that conserve or restore the environment for public recreation opportunities.

So as the tightrope walk of trying to protect the beautiful and environmentally sensitive areas of Lake Tahoe while revitalizing the communities economically continues, all parties agree this national treasure is worth the struggle to find an ideal middle ground.


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