This is a doozy. The draft 2020 Linking Tahoe: Regional Transportation Plan & Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP) is out. For the last 13 years the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance (of which I am the president) has been addressing the need for growth to be in sync with our infrastructure.
NTPA believes while the RTP contains projects and plans that may be beneficial to transportation at Lake Tahoe if actually completed and funded, we are extremely concerned about the basis of the report and its connection to other disturbing new funding proposals such as One Tahoe and the 2020 Prosperity Center Report.
Our concerns include: The RTP, with TRPA’s blessing and in advance of the full RTP report, changes the historical vehicle miles traveled (VMT) standard, which is their solution for not meeting the existing capacity-based TRPA standard for VMT. Although environmental thresholds are the baseline standard which projects are compared to, changing environmental thresholds have become TRPA’s de facto solution to its inability to improve the reality of Lake Tahoe’s environment. Manipulating the numbers is not the solution. The new proposed greenhouse gas-based VMT standard would allow traffic in the Basin to increase without any capacity limits. Uncapped VMT growth would result in negative impacts to other thresholds, including water quality. We have begged TRPA for decades to determine a capacity that our existing infrastructure can handle. TRPA’s response has been crickets. It refuses to provide a lake resident and visitor population capacity maximum, citing VMT as a restricting determination. Now TRPA is changing VMT to fit their narrative.
The RTP fails to address the underlying problem at Lake Tahoe which is overdevelopment. Lake Tahoe is clearly at maximum capacity now in advance of the unbridled growth projected for the Reno area and a surge in population increase in the Tahoe Basin since COVID hit. We are over the capacity tipping point without the completion of TRPA-promoted community enhancement projects in Homewood, Boulder Bay, Ferrari Crown, and Kings Beach. Don’t forget the Martis Valley West project and Nevada County’s promotion of crushing new Truckee development.
In the last 15 years, none of TRPA’s development solutions to traffic problems have worked. To be realistic, even the East Shore Bike Trail didn’t get people out of their cars as much as create a new “attraction” drawing more people.
The RTP ineffectively addresses issues associated with all Lake Tahoe visitors, and does not adequately deal with associated traffic, especially by day-only visitors. Lake Tahoe requires a limit on visitor capacity now. Residents are currently prisoners confined to their homes due to existing traffic with no respite during off season. Unrestricted VMT growth also poses threats to public health and safety (i.e. in the event of an emergency evacuation). Shelter in place is a sad and terrifying cop-out. The RTP fails to identify adequate funding and continues to place the heaviest burden on residents despite the greatest impacts coming from visitors. One Tahoe is another attempt to change TRPA’s bi-state compact and is represented as the solution to the RTP’s $1.5 billion financial shortfall. One Tahoe wants to generate $60 million-plus per year from visitors, residents, and the Truckee area by charging tolls or creating a special use district. In addition, the 2020 Prosperity Center Report proposes increasing residents’ property taxes. The proposed money grabs are unrelenting and there will never be enough money. It’s the same old thinking, the same players, and it has led to bigger problems.
The solution is to determine capacity and then shut down access to Tahoe visitors once the maximum has been reached, much like Yosemite does. Our local ski areas often close down. This could be accomplished with a required visitor “Reservation America” type internet permitting in conjunction with Lake Tahoe entrance toll stations. Let’s do the hard work and really fix the problem. We need a major adjustment in thinking about the problem … densifying development is not the solution.
~ Ann Nichols is a Nevada and California Real Estate Broker and has been a Tahoe resident for 50 years. She is the president of the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance working to sustain the natural beauty and rural character of North Lake Tahoe.