As a member of a family that has had property in Tahoe Vista for over 80 years, I have spent much of my life as a supporter of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. I was there when, in the 1960s, developers were carving roads into the hillsides and washing massive amounts of nutrients into the lake. Others were building huge casinos, hotels, and condo developments along the pristine shoreline. Plans were made for a highway bridge across the outlet of Emerald Bay. It’s not an exaggeration to imagine Lake Tahoe looking like Waikiki or Miami Beach if the TRPA had not been created to protect the environmental, scenic, and natural quality of the Basin. We still have our beautiful lake vistas and clear water thanks to the TRPA.
Like many homeowners, we have spent thousands of dollars on consultants, plans, and modifications to do our part with best management practices (BMPs) and stormwater compliance. Even when it seemed silly, like removing stepping stones, we helped out. The rationale was that the TRPA could get more environmental improvement from thousands of single-family homes than from a few mansions and commercial projects.
Now some of us are sensing a change. The TRPA says that many commercial properties are blighted and don’t meet current environmental requirements. Along with the four counties bordering Lake Tahoe, they are now encouraging developers to redevelop old properties.
On April 26, I attended the TRPA Governing Board meeting via Zoom and saw the process in action. One agenda item was the redevelopment of the old Tahoe Biltmore hotel and casino in Crystal Bay. EKN Development, the owner and developer, gave a presentation and the project looks wonderful. Not only would it be a big improvement for the immediate area in nearly every way, but there are also massive environmental improvements planned. They even scaled back the development in some ways from the original 2011 Boulder Bay proposal to increase the “resort experience.” It will also be open to the public in the form of shops, restaurants, and special event space. Incredibly, the TRPA says this will all result in less vehicle traffic through the casino corridor. Anybody who has sat through mile-long gridlock in Crystal Bay can argue with that point, but TRPA has studies from years ago that say there is less traffic now than they imagined, so it’s all good. But that is not the biggest problem.
The big problem is that the TRPA and Placer County, for example, are planning on several similar projects on the North Shore. All will encourage even more visitors. More recreation facilities and trails are planned. I love trails, but they will attract more visitors. As far as I can see, all of the projects plan to be bigger than the ones they are replacing. Each project will be wonderful for that site. But what is the cumulative effect on the North Shore and Lake Tahoe? Our representatives insist there will be no more traffic or population density or burden, but how can that be? Common sense tells us that newer, bigger, better attractions will attract even more people and traffic.
It’s not just roads. We got a letter from the Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency this spring saying their system is maxed out and they are doubling the monthly rate to pay for expansion. In five years they plan on doing it again. What about water and power, police, and fire protection? We will have time to write those checks while stuck in gridlock gazing upon the lovely Waldorf Astoria.
I am not against tourism. I am not against redevelopment. I am not against a property owner making a profit. I am against rampant expansion without the necessary regional infrastructure and protection of the values that created the TRPA in the first place.
It seems the developer/government strategy is to approve individual projects while ignoring the current and future negative cumulative effects. Developers and our representatives must provide the infrastructure to support growth, otherwise, after the profits have left the Tahoe Basin, we will be left with an even worse environment, wealth disparity, blight, and quality of life.
~ Now retired, Rick Cooper is from Grass Valley and lives in Washoe Valley, Nevada, and has followed the region’s issues throughout his life. His family has had a cabin on Lake Tahoe since 1938. He has a BS in environmental science from Sierra Nevada College.