Sustaining the ‘Tahoe Vibe’ Means There’s Work to Do

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By Heidi Hill Drum

The Lake Tahoe/Truckee region is surrounded by many distinct communities, each with its own unique makeup and perspectives. Sometimes our differences are frustrating, and sometimes we paint caricatures of those on the “other” shore.

Yet, as a participant in a recent community focus group stated, “There’s a certain ‘Tahoe vibe’ that connects us all.” Call it a vibe, an ethos, or a culture, but there is something intangible that we all share in pursuing a mountain community lifestyle, even though it might be easier to make it somewhere else.

A recent public opinion poll, Envision Tahoe Community Survey, conducted by the Tahoe Prosperity Center shows just how unified we are in what we love about our region, what we fear, and what non-negotiable things we must confront to keep Tahoe a place where families can live, work, connect, and thrive.

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In many ways, the survey results aren’t too surprising.

Overwhelmingly, Tahoe residents say they love Lake Tahoe, the surrounding natural beauty, and our amazing access to year-round outdoor recreation. But they are also worried that our housing crisis, traffic congestion, wildfires, vacation rentals and second homes threaten our quality of life.

We want leaders to prioritize housing solutions for workers, develop creative transportation options, and enact restrictions on short-term rentals, which churn visitors and exacerbate housing and traffic concerns. And, to no one’s surprise, residents think visitors should help fund these solutions for our communities and our environment.

All of this concern for Tahoe was reflected in the nearly two-thirds of residents who feel we’re on the “wrong track.” As we might expect, people who are struggling to make ends meet, which disproportionally includes young people and community members, are even more sure that Tahoe’s trajectory is going in the wrong direction.

What was truly surprising is how consistent the survey results were across Tahoe’s communities, no matter if you live in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, or Incline Village. 

We had an ambitious goal for this survey to be one of the largest ever conducted among Tahoe residents on these issues, and with the help of our community partners and the local news media, we achieved our goal, receiving 1,799 responses in Spanish and English.

We set this goal for two reasons: first, to maximize participation and ensure the results were inclusive; and second, to be able to compare how location, age, income, and other factors might influence responses and show areas where opinions differ and thus solutions need to be localized.

Interestingly, virtually every analysis we ran showed the same results. Residents love the same things about our home, and see the same threats to its future and that will drive our kids and neighbors away.

As concerning as the survey results may appear, the unified attitude among our communities is a reason for hope. Whereas Tahoe has struggled to create — let alone pursue — a single, shared vision for our future, we now have a mandate for working together to plan the future we want and collaborating to make it happen across city, county, and state borders.

Collaboration in Tahoe has never been easy. Just because we agree on our problems, many barriers remain to solving those problems in a collaborative manner. We have economic forces, governance issues, and other entrenched systems that, without action, will keep pushing us down the same worn paths. These paths have created prosperity for some, but not all, and the gap is widening.

The challenges to maintaining Tahoe as a resident community, with its own sense of place and people, have never been more urgent. And, according to this survey, it’s possible that we have never been more connected by a “Tahoe vibe.”

For those of you who took our survey: Thank you. And please don’t stop there. This is a plan created by and for the community. For you. Stay engaged and get your neighbors engaged, too. Reach out to your elected officials. The power is in the community to demand that we sit down together, have challenging conversations, and work as one united region. We have more in common than we don’t, and it is up to us to envision what Tahoe should and can be for current residents, and for generations to come.

~ Heidi Hill Drum is the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center, an innovative economic and community development nonprofit with a mission of uniting Tahoe’s communities to strengthen regional prosperity. She lives in Tahoe Vista with her husband, two sons, and two dogs.

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