North Tahoe Is Still Alive and Well

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By Ellie Waller

I take issue with many of the statements in the December opinion piece When You Stop Growing, You Start Dying written by Wally Auerbach and co-authors.

They write, “North Lake Tahoe is in trouble. Look around. Over the past 40 years, very little redevelopment has taken place in the Tahoe City and Kings Beach town centers.”

Contrary to this statement, successful projects like Peak 10 Townhomes have given an updated look to Kings Beach under current ordinances, and the nonprofit North Tahoe Arts Center has repurposed a vacant property. Heritage Plaza, refreshed with new integrated artwork since 2018, the Penny Bear, is a nice bright spot in Tahoe City.

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There are new and long-standing businesses thriving in Kings Beach and Tahoe City such as the Tree House Café, Tahoe Backyard, Spindleshanks, Las Panchitas, JavaHut, Basecamp Hotel, Tahoe House Bakery, Rosie’s Café, and The Dog & Bear Tavern in Tahoma, just to name a few. 

“Yet, there is a loud and angry subset of our population that feels, despite the evidence, that there is too much development in North Tahoe.”

I have been called a NIMBY, noise, the vocal minority. Now I am called “loud and angry” because I don’t agree with the business/development community. This is a bit insulting to people like me and others who take the time to attend meetings, provide comprehensive comments, and make suggestions to better the broken processes that exist, which don’t include public participation and promoting compromise by both sides. We are not advocating for no change; we want our local communities’ character acknowledged. We want affordable housing for all income levels, not just achievable, or market-rate, housing. We want to be heard, not disrespected.

The authors continued, “The Cal-Neva is another project that is set for a makeover. It’s been closed for 10 years but the hyperbolic opposition says redeveloping it into a thriving business again is a new, unmitigated impact that will destroy the lake. What about Ferrari’s Crown Motel and the boarded-up Falcon Lodge? There is a project planned to redevelop it, but that is also just too much.”

It’s not about “too much,” it’s about what fits and what’s needed. The Kings Beach Lakeside Redevelopment project, a residential-commercial development formally known as Laulima, is the last lakeside property in Kings Beach. (Editor’s note: That project is no more and a new applicant has not yet submitted a full application.) But the town needs a hotel, not more luxury condos. The Cal-Neva, purchased by the real estate investment firm McWhinney in 2023, has had its share of issues with developer after developer turnovers. The most recent developer has a plan that the community at-large is supporting.

“The horrible traffic jams that plaster the Nextdoor and Facebook feeds of those who are shocked at how we have allowed the tourists to spoil our lake are just a different version of what used to be.”

Tourist visitations have increased substantially with thousands of vacation home rentals that didn’t exist 20 years ago. There are noticeably more day-trippers because of inflation and the recent pandemic. Tourists are less respectful of the Jewel of the Sierra as evidenced by the trashed beaches and illegal parking. One year after Tahoe made Fodor’s No List due to over-tourism problems, the publication says not much has improved: “A year after landing on our annual cautionary tale, trash, traffic, and tourism in Tahoe still seems murky.”

“Tahoe Basin Area Plans … were intended to create incentives to improve our built environment … The recent area plan amendments proposed by Placer County and TRPA are such a subtle tweak to the already oppressive rules that it’s hard to see how they make redevelopment more affordable or feasible.”

The Placer County Area Plan promotes over 20 significant changes in land use patterns in North Lake Tahoe that do not honor community character or take into consideration that one size does not fit all. Amendment after amendment provides more and more incentives such as letting developers decide parking standards for deed-restricted housing, reducing minimum lot size reduction from 10,000 square feet to 2,904 square feet for commercial and residential properties, and supporting relaxing TRPA scenic standards for town centers.

We do need change but at what expense? Are there ever going to be enough incentives for the developers?

~ Ellie Waller lived in Tahoe Vista for 20 years and now lives in the Carson Valley in Nevada. She is an advocate for good land use planning, and participated in efforts with state and local representatives to produce a 20-year regional plan update for the Lake Tahoe Basin. Waller was a member of the Placer County Citizen Advisory Team for the 2017 Placer Area Plan.

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