After a marathon of nearly five years, the finish line was pushed back for adopting the Truckee 2040 General Plan Update, Downtown Truckee Plan, and associated documents.
Thursday evening, in a continued item from Tuesday, Truckee Town Council members voted 4-1 to defer a decision until the May 9 council meeting. The move allows additional conversations to take place between council and community members who feel like they haven’t been heard during the planning process. It aligns with the town’s planning commission March decision, which recommended rejection of the general plan and final environmental impact report (though approval of the Downtown Truckee Plan).
“It’s important to have community cohesion, community trust,” said Councilmember Jan Zabriskie during his deliberation comments. “I don’t want to lose that, and I’d be willing to give up a short time to try to make the effort to reestablish it.”
There’s a careful line council members hope to walk between now and the decision time: Coming conversations and changes will ideally assuage community concerns, but stay short of any modifications to the proposed Truckee 2040 documents that would trigger a recirculation of the environmental impact report. Should the latter happen, town staff estimated that it would take several more years to make the general plan update ready for adoption once more.
“We’re not going to change the EIR,” said Councilmember Anna Klovstad. “We are looking at possibly changing language, policies, priorities. That’s really the parameter of it.”
The meeting on Tuesday, April 11, when adoption of the general plan was first tentatively expected, ran five hours and about 120 people attended, with 48 individuals speaking during public comment.
Top-of-mind concerns about the general plan, voiced and written in public comment, center around action item prioritization, development height and impacts on Jibboom Street, the inclusion of the Tahoe Forest Health System’s master plan, and climate action language.
In response to the decision to delay, and in particular Zabriskie’s comments on healing relationships, key community groups are grateful and excited to move forward.
“I am very happy,” Alexis Ollar, executive director of Mountain Area Preservation, a Truckee-based environmental advocacy nonprofit, said to Moonshine Ink. “I think the council’s decision extended a bridge to the community, extended a bridge to MAP, [Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe], the hospital. This is a signal they’re willing to work with community stakeholders.”
Ollar explained that over the next few weeks, the most key item MAP staff will focus on adding is additional policies around the town’s disadvantaged populations.
“One of the things we’ve been consistently saying for the last five years is we have ignored marginalized community members,” she said, adding that MAP would like to see a commitment made for improved consideration of under-served locals. “Do we have areas of town that are inadvertently hurting our marginalized community members?” An example of this is residential zoning in unhealthy conditions, such as adjacent to Interstate 80.
Tahoe Forest Health System executive staff members and Board Chair Alyce Wong spoke to the absence of the hospital’s proposed master plan in the general plan — which they believe will make it impossible to implement the district’s long-term vision for growth without increased density. “I’m stunned that the hospital has not been included in [this process],” Wong said.
Kathryn Oehlschlager, partner at Downey Brand and legal representative for the hospital, said, “The current general plan update completely omits the hospital from its planning effort. Even though the plan contemplates development in every other area of Truckee, the zoning and allowable uses for the hospital campus remain unchanged. In taking this approach, the town appears to be taking the legal position that no development at all is reasonably foreseeable on the hospital campus. This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that … the district has already submitted a detailed master plan application.”
A message from TFHS president and CEO Harry Weis on April 12, published on the hospital system’s website, backed up those statements: “Deliberately omitting the hospital affects our ability to fully support patients, their families, and caregivers — and jeopardizes the quality of the compassionate care and support our hospital provides. The general plan document that was discussed on Tuesday night by the town council does not achieve our shared objectives for quality care and should be rejected, as recommended by the planning commission and the dozens of residents that spoke against it.”
Klovstad reacted to Weis’ statement on Thursday, saying the town has no intention of obstructing the master plan process, and believes a separate process “is your fastest and most expeditious approach to achieving that master plan approval … I’m failing to see why there’s any benefit to the hospital or to the town or to the community to stop our process and incorporate their master plan. I don’t understand the benefit to anyone; it seems like a lose-lose-lose.” Town manager Jen Callaway confirmed keeping the processes separate will be ultimately faster for the hospital plan advancement.
“I was terribly disappointed in Harry Weis’ op-ed,” Klovstad continued. “… I do not expect this to be the way that we create partnership in the future. I hope that the board will hold Harry accountable for the disintegration of that partnership, at least for the time period that it took me to calm down.”
Town staff made it clear that inclusion of the hospital’s master plan into the general plan update would cause a recirculation of aforementioned EIR. TFHS did not respond to Moonshine’s questions about the district’s next steps.
“We hear and understand the council,” said Ted Owens, the hospital district’s executive director over governance and business development. “I believe they hear and understand us, and this delay period is going to allow us to work together on what a path forward looks like for the both of us.”
Between the two council meetings this week, there was a lot of back-and-forth between council and community members — as reported by council members during the meeting as well as to the Ink directly, resulting in changes to document language and moving up of action item timelines.
“To get to the 11th hour this week and be willing to sit down and talk and make changes, it’s mischaracterizing our advocacy,” said Ollar, who said she’s attended all general plan meetings, and MAP has submitted numerous letters and comments to staff over the years. “… We could’ve had an opportunity a year ago to make some of these changes.”
Still, she’s looking forward to the bridge-building ahead.
Edward Vento, the new executive director of CATT, said he, too, was pleasantly surprised with the decision to delay adoption, having heard that the expected vote would be 5-0 in favor of approval. “Ultimately, we know what the vote’s going to be, we know it’s going to pass … [but] I’m very grateful and happy they decided to give the community more time.”
Vento said he worked with CATT members and Klovstad between Tuesday and Thursday to improve language around specific climate action plan goals — described in more detail in the Ink’s A Hazy 2040 Vision from January. “Are we 100% happy? We prefer it to be completely aspirational or taken out, but we’ve reached some language that’s satisfactory for both sides.”
Vento is already in contact with Zabriskie about setting up a meeting to discuss the general plan update and CATT’s other concerns. He’s also pleased with the positive relationship that has come out of working alongside MAP on the same side of an issue when they so often aren’t (MAP is more environmentally focused; CATT mostly building-industry oriented). “I hope that’s something in the future [that] will come out more, that partnership and working together with MAP will continue,” he said, adding that he considers Ollar a good friend.
Councilmember David Polivy was the sole no vote in the decision to postpone adoption. Polivy, who ran for council back in 2018 in part to help shape the general plan update, shared his frustrations with what he considered 11th-hour pleas for change.
Polivy’s suggestion was to either adopt the plan that evening or take an additional nine to 18 months to truly buckle down and dedicate staff and money to changes. The remaining council members wanted to act more quickly without moving the needle too much.
“Massive changes require incredible amounts of work and could be that 9-18-24 months,” said Councilmember Courtney Henderson. “That’s not what you’re going to see on May 9. We have to be realistic and honest with one another about that.”
Community members will be able to comment publicly once again during the May 9 council meeting. Recordings of both the April 11 meeting, which includes public comment, and April 13 meeting, where discussion and deliberation took place, are available online.