Tahoe City Amphibian Smuggler Charged; Grant Supports Washoe Tribe Involvement; Reservations at Sand Harbor; More

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News Briefs

Tahoe City Resident Charged With Smuggling Amphibians

SACRAMENTO

Andrew Laughlin, 47, of Tahoe City, pleaded guilty June 24 to one count of smuggling goods into the United States, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Laughlin acted as a middleman in an international amphibian smuggling ring. In a conversation with an undercover agent, Laughlin admitted that he participated in the ring in order to acquire hard-to-find newts. He shipped or received at least four packages of amphibians, including packages to or from individuals located in Hong Kong and Sweden. The packages were falsely labeled as items including a toy car, rubber toys, or a ceramic art piece. In reality, the boxes contained live animals including eastern box turtles, spotted turtles, fire belly newts, Asian warty newts, and newts native to California. 

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Certain of the defendant’s shipments contained injurious species prohibited from being imported into the United States because their introduction could harm the country’s ecosystems and natural resources. A search warrant executed on the defendant’s residence uncovered 81 live newts of various species. Some seized newts tested positive for Bd, a virulent fungi which originated in Asia and is spread through the illegal pet trade. Scientists estimate that Bd has caused significant declines in the populations of more than 500 species, more than 90 of which are presumed extinct.

AMPHIBIAN SMUGGLING: Several of the newts seized via search warrant from Laughlin’s residence. Courtesy photo

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine T. Lydon is prosecuting the case.

Laughlin is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb on Oct. 7. Under the plea agreement, Laughlin agrees to pay restitution for the costs of caring for and testing the seized newts. He also agrees as part of his plea agreement to undertake a voluntary public education campaign at his kayaking store about the harms of illegal amphibian trafficking. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the federal sentencing guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

~ United States Department of Justice press release

Conservancy Award to Support Washoe Tribal Involvement

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE

The California Tahoe Conservancy board awarded a $220,000 grant to help fund the creation of a new Lake Tahoe Basin liaison position for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. The Washoe Tribal Liaison position will help ensure meaningful tribal participation in Basin land management decisions and actions.

“As Tahoe’s original stewards, the Waší∙šiw, or Washoe people, were the first ecologists, biologists, hydrologists, botanists, and land managers for the Basin,” said conservancy board chair Adam Acosta. “Restoring tribal stewardship and incorporating the tribe’s traditional ecological knowledge into land management will help the conservancy and our Basin partners develop better projects to restore the Basin’s ecological resilience.”

At the Washoe Tribe’s request, the conservancy is awarding this grant to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, and the league will then provide a grant to the tribe. The conservancy is joining a coalition of funders who have collaborated to establish this position.

The conservancy board also awarded a $150,000 grant to Tahoe Resource Conservation District to conduct surveillance for invasive New Zealand mudsnails in the nearshore of Lake Tahoe. They also adopted the conservancy’s 2024 to 2029 strategic plan. Over the last year and a half, the conservancy developed the new strategic plan with engagement from the Washoe Tribe, partners, and the public.

~ California Tahoe Conservancy press release

New Sand Harbor Reservation System

INCLINE VILLAGE

The Nevada Division of State Parks announced the implementation of a new day-use reservation system for vehicle entry at Sand Harbor State Park. This initiative aims to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 28, assist with trip planning, and prevent overcrowding on the beach.

On Monday, July 1, Sand Harbor State Park day-use reservations will go live at reservenevada.com for late-summer reservation opportunities.

BEACH RESERVATIONS: Sand Harbor State Park is implementing a new reservation system to prevent overcrowding. Courtesy photo

On Saturday, Aug. 17, reservations will be required for vehicle entry on weekends and holidays from park opening until 10:30 a.m. To ensure opportunity for all visitors, reservable days will open on a three-tiered system:

  • Tier one: 200 day-use reservations are reservable 90 days in advance.
  • Tier two: 100 day-use reservations are reservable 30 days in advance.
  • Tier three: 50 day-use reservations are reservable 7 days in advance.
  • Same day: Day-use reservations that have not been booked are available up until 10:29 a.m. Same-day reservations do not include the $5 reservation processing fee.

Spots still available after 10:30 a.m. will open to first-come, first-served visitors.

Additional details:

  • Reservations must be made through reservenevada.com and are non-transferable. The reservation holder must be present in the vehicle and able to present a valid ID matching the name on the reservation.
  • A $5 processing fee will be charged for all reservations, except for same-day reservations. 
  • The park entrance fee is $10 for vehicles registered in Nevada and $15 for vehicles registered out of state.
  • Reservations for the group use area include 25 parking spots. Group use area visitors will not need to make a day-use reservation. Vehicles entering the park for group use must pay the vehicle entry fee.
  • The boat launch will remain on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Shakespeare Festival ticket holders: Those arriving before 10:30 a.m. will need a valid day-use reservation.

Beginning April 15, 2025, day-use reservations will be required for vehicle entry 7 days a week from park opening until 10:30 a.m. The full implementation will go into effect every year from mid-April to mid-October.

If reservation holders do not enter the park by 10:30 a.m., they forfeit their reservation. For answers to frequently asked questions, visit parks.nv.gov/about/frequently-asked-questions/sand-harbor-reservations.

~ Nevada Division of State Parks press release

TART Connect to Serve North Lake Tahoe Through June 2027

KINGS BEACH

The Placer County Board of Supervisors has approved a contract with Tahoe Downtowner to continue the Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit micro-transit service TART Connect through June 30, 2027, with two 1-year renewal options. 

TART Connect is free to the rider and offers curb-to-curb, on-demand service for any trip within the defined service areas. Residents and visitors are able to request a ride through the mobile app and can travel to any number of places within an established zone or connect to the TART fixed route bus service for travel outside of specified zones.

The program has improved connectivity and convenience, enabling riders to travel efficiently throughout the day.

The $13,487,862 contract will allow TART Connect to serve the Placer County zones in the North Lake Tahoe region and zones in Washoe County. Washoe County is designated to fund $4,323,830 of the contract agreement.

Through April 2024, TART Connect has carried 1,027,164 riders, system-wide, with 481,835 of those rides occurring in Placer County zones.

TART Connect is available throughout the North Shore and Truckee with four zones in Placer County, one in Incline Village and Crystal Bay, and one in the Town of Truckee.

Learn more about micro-transit in the region and TART Connect here.

~ Placer County press release

Nevada County Budget Approved

NEVADA CITY

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $387.7 – million budget for fiscal year 2024/25 to fund essential services while maintaining $40 million in general fund reserves given ongoing economic uncertainty.

The 2024/2025 budget includes funds to support infrastructure projects related to  transportation, solid waste, animal shelter, and libraries. The budget also reflects the county’s focus on bringing in additional grant dollars to increase programs and funding for community priorities such as wildfire, housing, economic development, and more.

Supervisors have also allotted $450,000 to go towards priority projects in the recently approved  Recreation and Resiliency Master Plan and the Economic Development Action Plan.

Find more information about Nevada County’s budget process and adopted 2024/25 budget  on the county budget portal at nevadacountyca.gov/budget.  

Learn more about the progress on the supervisors eight board objectives at  nevadacountyca.gov/boardobjectives

~ Nevada County press release

Agency’s Amended Housing Codes Approved

STATELINE

On June 26, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board approved amendments to the agency’s recently-updated housing codes. One amendment reinstated a requirement that 50% of the new units allowed under the updated bonus unit criteria would be reserved exclusively for affordable housing. Another amendment is intended to strengthen requirements related to stormwater collection and treatment for certain types of new housing.

The TRPA Governing Board adopted updates to the TRPA housing codes in December. The updated codes add flexibility to the development standards in certain areas and for certain types of new housing construction within TRPA’s bonus unit designation. For something to qualify as a bonus unit, it must be located in or near town centers, transit stops, or areas designated for multi-family housing. It must include either an income-related deed restriction or a requirement that at least one household member works full-time in the Tahoe Basin. As originally adopted, the codes faced significant public concern about the potential impacts the updates would have on housing affordability, public safety, and air and water quality. In response to the updates, Mountain Area Preservation filed a lawsuit against TRPA outlining its concerns.

MAP plans to continue its advocacy to protect environmental health and public safety for Tahoe’s workforce, residents, and visitors.

“There is an undeniable need for truly affordable workforce housing in the Basin, but encouraging new building is not the only way to address that need, especially quickly in Tahoe’s economic climate,” said Alexis Ollar, executive director of MAP. “We would like to see TRPA consider policies around short-term rentals, for example, before moving toward drastic changes like much taller buildings with unlimited density in town centers. We hope to see additional refinements to the housing codes moving forward to meet local workforce housing needs while minimizing impacts on public safety and the gem of our community: the lake itself.”

To learn more about MAP’s position on TRPA’s updated housing codes, see mountainareapreservation.org/trpa.

~ Mountain Area Preservation press release

Placer County Budget Approved

AUBURN

The Placer County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to formally adopt the fiscal year 2024/25 budget. The budget’s operating funds total $1,223,744,843, which reflects a 4.2% decrease compared to the FY 2023/24 budget and includes $52.2 million for capital projects. 

A total of 36 new positions have been added to the county’s employment roll over the past 12 months and the additions are now reflected in the newly adopted budget. 

The newly adopted budget funds all operating expenses with new revenues and does not rely on one-time funding reserves to support ongoing operations. The budget also provides continued funding of pensions and other benefits provided to former employees.

The budget allocates approximately 50% of its operating funds to support health and human services and public safety. It includes approximately $142 million for the capital and road funds to support construction and maintenance of county facilities and ensure public access to services through road and bridge infrastructure, storm maintenance, and snow removal.

It maintains a reserve of 10% of annual expenditures that enables the county to set aside resources for difficult budget years and provides a foundation for county operations.

Residents are encouraged to review the county’s budget-at-a-glance webpage to gain a high level overview of funding allocations for the fiscal year, which begins July 1. Find it at placer.ca.gov/budget

~ Placer County press release

Tahoe Awarded $24 Million for Transportation, Trail Improvements in East Shore Corridor

STATELINE

The Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) are announcing the awarding of a $24 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant to TTD to improve the State Route 28 (SR28) Corridor along Tahoe’s East Shore. U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) pushed to secure this funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with the assistance and support from the TRPA and 12 partner agencies under the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP).

This pivotal federal funding will support implementation of the next phase of the SR28 corridor management plan from Sand Harbor State Park to Thunderbird Cove, one of the most visited recreation corridors in the Basin. The multi-benefit project will improve water quality, enhance public safety, provide equitable recreation access, and reduce roadway congestion. 

Key project components include:

  • Trail Expansion: Extend the 3-mile trail an additional 1.75 miles from Sand Harbor to Thunderbird Cove to provide a safe and scenic route for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Parking Solutions: Develop managed parking solutions in several key segments to keep cars from parking on the highway and improve pedestrian and bike safety.
  • Water Quality: Reduce stormwater runoff and erosion on steep slopes and impacted road shoulders to protect the clarity of the lake.
  • Improve Transit Access: Increase transit availability in the corridor to decrease cars and congestion.

The project will also implement priority actions in TTD’s Regional Transit Plan and is a funding priority for TRPA in its role as the federally designated Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, or TMPO. The East Shore is just one of Tahoe’s recreation corridors in need of transportation improvements to protect the environment, access, and safety, according to the agencies.

For details on Tahoe Transportation District and its current projects, visit tahoetransportation.org or call (775) 589-5500.

~ TTD, TRPA press release

Business Succession Planning

TRUCKEE

The Truckee Chamber of Commerce’s July Lunch & Learn, De-mystifying Succession Planning with Pam Hobday, will take place on Wednesday, July 10, from 12 to 1 p.m. at Truckee Town Hall in the Town Council Chambers.

This informative session will focus on strategies and considerations for business owners planning for the future and ensuring smooth transitions for succession and/or ownership. Hobday will share insights and practical advice tailored to the needs of Truckee’s business community. President of Pamela Hurt Associates, Hobday brings over 40 years of expertise in management consulting. 

Lunch & Learn is a monthly event hosted by the Truckee Chamber of Commerce on the second Wednesday of the month. Bring a brown bag lunch; the chamber provides beverages and cookies. The program is free for members and $20 for future members.

Register at truckee.com

~ Truckee Chamber of Commerce press release

Placer County Supports New Truckee Library

KINGS BEACH

The Placer County Board of Supervisors took action to sign a letter of support for the Truckee Library Joint Powers Authority. Nevada County has also committed an additional $500,000 for construction costs in the next phase.

Construction of the 20,000-square-foot concept is anticipated to cost $30 million, which will require further fundraising and a potential future bond measure. Placer County’s support of the JPA included direction to staff to discuss a multi-county library service area, which will increase the voter and property tax base for a bond measure into the Donner Lake, Martis Valley, and Northstar areas of unincorporated Placer.

Placer County Library Services has also pledged support to a regional library in Truckee, noting that expanded Nevada County services may also benefit the Tahoe City and Kings Beach libraries. Nevada County planners have envisioned the opportunity to share materials, programming, staffing, and possibly provide shuttle service between branches.

For more information on the Truckee Library concept and fundraising efforts, visit truckeefol.org.

~ Placer County press release

Tahoe Big Year Invites Birdwatchers

INCLINE VILLAGE

The Tahoe Big Year, an event which is held every 3 years by the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, welcomes birders of all abilities to head outside to find as many different species of birds as they can during the calendar year. While many treat the event as a competition (with some prizes available, thanks to sponsors like Patagonia), it’s also a way to get started in birding or get more serious birding; and it’s a fun, free, family-friendly activity. 

“Starting right now through September is really the best time of the year to get out and do some birding,” says TINS co-founder and executive director Will Richardson. “The group has already seen over 200 different species, and you can expect to see all of the migrants and wintering birds to come through Tahoe again throughout the remainder of the year.”

Participation is open to anyone; however, TINS members enjoy additional perks such as monthly guided tours, eligibility for end-of-year prizes, monthly challenges, random prize drawings, and other special events. There are two categories of official competition: youth (15 years of age or younger) and adult. For more information visit, tahoebigyear.org/about.cfm.

As part of the 2024 Tahoe Big Year, TINS member Lynn Harriman is hiking around the Tahoe Rim Trail to raise funds for TINS. This is the third time that Harriman has taken pledges for TINS based on how many species she finds along the way, raising thousands of dollars for TINS programming in the process. 

Harriman is welcoming TINS members to join her on July 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. while she hikes the Tahoe Rim Trail from Ward Creek through Page Meadows to Tahoe City.

For more info on the fundraiser, and to support Lynn’s efforts, visit tinsweb.org/tbybirdathon.

~ Tahoe Institute of Natural Science press release

Community Health Report Results

AUBURN

On the heels of once again ranking among the healthiest counties in California, Placer County Public Health has published a new report highlighting health disparities that persist among county residents and identifying key areas of focus for the division.

The 2023 Community Health Assessment explores the health status, behaviors, resources, and needs of Placer County residents, identifying key health priorities. The top five priority health issues identified include substance use, homelessness, mental health, cancer, and cognitive/aging health issues. Findings will guide a community health improvement plan.

Placer residents reported excessive drinking at a higher rate per capita than Californians overall. While lower than California overall, the death rate from opioids per capita has risen substantially in recent years, fueled by fentanyl.

Suicide or intentional self-harm is within the top 15 leading causes of death for Placer County, and the county’s death rate due to suicide exceeds the statewide per capita rate.

Placer County experiences high rates of cancer compared to many other counties, yet this may be due to screening and surveillance bias, where more people are diagnosed in a certain area because they have access to and financial means for better care.

While the rate of homelessness in the county is one of the lowest in the state, it is still a visible and ongoing problem.

The county has a higher rate of Alzheimer’s/dementia, in part due to the population skewing older than California as a whole, with a higher death rate per capita than is seen statewide.

Beyond identifying key health issues, the CHA also explores a handful of neighborhoods that experience more difficulties achieving health than the county as a whole. Extensive data collection and analysis went into the CHA, involving analysis of secondary data along with surveys from residents and input from community organizations.

For more information on the 2023 Community Health Assessment and to view the full report, visit placerdashboard.org, or find a hard copy at any of Placer County’s libraries.

~ Placer County press release

CHOMP, CHOMP: Goats helping eat vegetation as part of wildfire mitigation. Courtesy photo

Livestock to Help with Wildfire Mitigation

NEVADA CITY

Goats and sheep will soon play a key role in Nevada County’s wildfire mitigation efforts. The board of supervisors approved a $150,000 contract with the Nevada County Resource Conservation District to manage the Livestock Fuel Reduction Program from now through Dec. 31, 2025. Primary goals and initiatives of this program include:  

  • Vegetation treatment on strategic school and publicly owned properties
  • Community education regarding livestock as a wildfire mitigation resource, youth  engagement, climate resilience, and the many benefits of the agricultural industry
  • Supporting and enhancing the agricultural industry and workforce development

Residents can learn more about preparing for fire season, wildfire mitigation projects, and  resources at readynevadacounty.org

~ Nevada County press release

Share Insights Related to Downtown Parking 

TRUCKEE

The Truckee Chamber of Commerce Town Talk: A Downtown Parking Chat will be held on Monday, July 22, from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Lift. This Town Talk is a community event aimed at fostering accessibility, convenience, and support for residents and visitors regarding downtown parking. Here’s what to expect:

Hear directly from the Town of Truckee transportation, public works, and police departments, who work on the downtown parking plan that has guided downtown parking. Share challenges and observations related to downtown parking in an open, non-judgmental space. Through collaborative brainstorming, explore innovative approaches to improving downtown parking.

Coffee and light snacks will be provided. This event is free to the whole community; attendees are encouraged to confirm their participation to help with event planning. To learn more and register, visit truckee.com or contact Jessica Penman at jessica@truckee.com.

~ Truckee Chamber of Commerce press release

Understand Local Government at Citizen’s Academy 

NEVADA CITY

Nevada County’s Citizen’s Academy offers a behind-the-scenes look at county government. This is an opportunity to learn about the people, places, and programs that make the county government work. For example, how the county plans for emergencies, who develops the annual budget, or what it’s like to serve time in the jail.

“Understanding how local government operates and responds to the needs of our community  has never been more important,” said county executive officer Alison Lehman. “Democracy  requires an informed and engaged community. Our Citizen’s Academy program connects  community members who have a desire to learn with leaders from across the county  organization.”

Participants will tour eight county facilities and learn from over 20 department presentations covering a wide range of services, from agriculture to zoning.

Citizen’s Academy takes place on ten consecutive Tuesday evenings from 5 to 7:30 p.m. from  Sept.17 to Nov. 19. Participation is free, and a simple meal is provided at each session. 

Visit nevadacountyca.gov/citizensacademy for more information or to apply online. Applications are due by July 14 at 5 p.m. Interviews will be held in early August.

~ Nevada County press release

Music Series Adds New Venue

TRUCKEE

Tahoe Donner announced the return of Music by the Meadow and Grooves by the Greens and introduced a new weekly music series at the Alder Creek Cafe. The new Sierra Summer Nights event will offer outdoor dining experiences with live outdoor music every Saturday night. The series will run from July 13 to Aug. 17 from 5 to 8 p.m.

SIERRA SUMMER NIGHTS is a new music series at Alder Creek Adventure Center on Saturday nights beginning July 13. Courtesy photo

The lineup of artists includes Robbie Gade and Friends, The Socks, Funky Frontier, Ew Wave Crave, Ben Fuller, Wild Ginger, Down the Rabbit Hole, Dad’s Lame Playlist, and more. 

The Elder Group, Woodward Tahoe, Northern Nevada Sierra Medical Center, and GaryAir Air Taxi help make these free live outdoor music shows possible.

For more information, visit tahoedonner.com/summer-music.

~ Tahoe Donner Association press release

Moving In, Moving On, Moving Up

Shakespeare Festival Welcomes New Directors 

INCLINE VILLAGE

Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival announced the appointment of Joe Atack as its new executive director, while LTSF, Great Lakes Theater, and Idaho Shakespeare Festival announced Sara Bruner as the new producing artistic director designate.  

Atack’s 20-plus years of regional theater experience and commitment to educational programming in the community made him an ideal candidate to deliver on the theater’s mission. He succeeds former executive director Bob Taylor as part of a planned retirement transition. He has served LTSF for the past 17 years, most recently as director of education since 2011.

Coinciding with Bruner’s announcement on March 18 is the news of Charles Fee’s retirement as producing artistic director of Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theater, and Idaho Shakespeare Festival, effective at the end of the 2025/26 season. As part of a planned succession, Bruner will transition into the role at the end of Fee’s tenure.

A formal announcement celebrating Fee’s retirement and legacy will be released nearer his retirement date.

Bruner has a long history with each company, with tenure with all three as an actor, director, artistic associate and, most currently, associate artistic director, when she worked alongside Fee to spearhead casting, play selection, contract negotiation, and budgeting, and more. Bruner has also contributed to educational initiatives, particularly with ISF’s outreach programs, which aim to bring the arts to underserved communities. 

In her new role, Bruner will collaborate with Fee to steer the organizations for the next 2 years.

~ Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival press releases

Business Briefs

Four High School Seniors Receive Scholarships

OLYMPIC VALLEY

Palisades Tahoe announced the recipients of the 2024 Palisades Tahoe Scholarship. This year, four outstanding high school seniors from Truckee High School and North Tahoe High School have been selected to receive the scholarship, which awards $1,000 to each student to support their post-secondary education. The scholarship awards went to Tatum Akers and Maya Demm from Truckee High School and Marion Snideman and Rider Lopeman from North Tahoe High School.

Established in 2017 by former COO Andy Wirth, the Palisades Tahoe Scholarship is open to graduating seniors from North Tahoe and Truckee high schools. Applicants are required to submit an essay responding to the prompt, Describe your relationship and connection to the outdoors in 3,000 characters or less.

Palisades Tahoe values the importance of education and the significant role the outdoors play in the lives of students in our community. The scholarship aims to encourage students to reflect on their personal experiences with nature and how it has shaped their lives. 

The scholarship funds will be disbursed when the students enter their chosen college, university, community college, or trade school next fall. 

~ Palisades Tahoe press release

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