I am a member of one of the environmental groups at Lake Tahoe. We’re presently facing the results of a great deal of over-building over the past 10 years, which brings with it lots more traffic, record-breaking tourism, clean air issues, the absence of a realistic evacuation plan, and a noticeable drop in the quality of life at Lake Tahoe. Now we’re facing another wave of development: Boulder Bay, Cal Neva, Tahoe Inn, 39 Degrees North, Laulima, Martis Valley West, Neptune Investments, Alpine View Investments, Boatworks Redevelopment, Palisades, Homewood, Tahoe City Lodge, and Dollar Creek Crossing. And that’s not a complete list of all the proposed projects. Most of them will proceed and receive a permit to begin construction even though we submit proof that the lake has already exceeded its carrying capacity and it’s time to stop.
When you think about it, environmentalists and the public have a very lopsided relationship with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the adjacent county agencies. They draft the rules of the game, they set the public hearings, they go through the motions of listening to the public, then they make rulings that often are incompatible with what most of the public thinks should be happening with an environmental agency managing Lake Tahoe: protecting the environment.
I mean, just think about it for a moment: The agencies are well-staffed; they’re very well-funded — in fact, I’ve often heard TRPA is a multimillion-dollar agency. And most of us assume that if Lake Tahoe is healthy and beautiful, the business side of the lake will be prosperous and flourish. But we’re learning that there are special interest groups that see a huge opportunity to make a lot of money. So, most often they get on the boards and they help craft the rules and amendments, whereas the general public is too busy making a living, raising families, and in general surviving and assuming the environmental boards will do the right thing.
When you read the controlling law, including California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, and National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, you quickly see that the laws and legislatures clearly are aimed at protecting the environment — that’s it. These agencies really should have one primary focus: Lake Tahoe’s health as measured by air and water quality, traffic, and similar common-sense factors. I think we have a right to know and not just assume that the decision makers, i.e., the agencies, are solely protecting Lake Tahoe’s health, and not the special interest groups and their investments.
It’s time to stop and first determine what is the carrying capacity of Lake Tahoe. And if we’ve reached that capacity or exceeded it, we have to stop and jointly figure out the best course of action.
The time may have come when we need to stop further development. I, for one, think we’ve reached if not exceeded the lake’s carrying capacity and we need to stop further development.
~ Ron Grassi is a retired attorney living in Tahoe City. He graduated from law school at New York University in 1965 and after two years of military service practiced law in San Francisco until 2004. He is a board member of Friends of the West Shore and a member of the Motherlode Litigation Committee of the Sierra Club.