The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is often viewed as an unchanging, bureaucratic regulatory agency. But as the organization most recently demonstrated in a historic Dec. 12 vote to approve a new regional plan (read more here), the powerful bi-state agency has re-invented itself, or been forced into reinvention, numerous times over its 40-year history.

Formed in 1969 by the combined efforts of California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt, and President Richard Nixon, the agency started as a symbolic and ineffective response to rampant casino development and residential growth across the Tahoe Basin. Tahoe had emerged from disastrous decades of clear-cut logging and cattle ranching only to follow those poor choices up with even more permanent environmental destruction — large-scale wetlands obliteration such as the building of the Tahoe Keys.
The 1969 iteration of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency did little to curb the tide of development. Harrah’s 18-story casino tower sprang up on the South Shore, and the post-Olympic building boom rolled on unabated by the new bi-state agency.

In 1980, the TRPA’s compact was revised, and this time growth ground to a halt. When the agency’s 1984 regional plan went to the courts under two separate legal challenges, a judge ordered a moratorium on all building at the lake. After three years of negotiations and two settled lawsuits, what is now known as the 1987 Regional Plan went into effect with growth controls and a focus on achieving the environmental thresholds that were adopted in 1982 to improve the ecology of Lake Tahoe.

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  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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