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What’s Changed in Tahoe Since 2012? Far more than TRPA admits

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What’s Changed in Tahoe Since 2012? Far more than TRPA admits

Dec 11, 2023 | 8:28 am ET
By Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos
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What’s Changed in Tahoe Since 2012? Far more than TPRA admits
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Traffic backed up on Hwy 50 as people evacuated ahead of the Caldor Fire in August, 2021. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Think about the past dozen years of your life.  How much has changed? A few things, perhaps? It’s hard to argue the world isn’t markedly different. 

Let’s look closer to home. The size of Reno’s metro population, for instance, in 2012 was 415,000 people. Today, it’s 531,000 and counting. The number of building permits issued since 2020 in Reno alone was 31,128. 

Yet, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) COO, staff and advisory planning commission want the public – incredulously – to believe that in 12 years nothing in Tahoe’s environment has changed.  

This assertion from the TRPA’s recent meetings would be laughable if the implications for the Tahoe basin environmental health weren’t so dire.  TRPA executives and staff want to rely on a simplistic environmental checklist for transfers of land coverage, conversions of entitlements, transfers of development and extensive code amendments. In doing so, this will forever transform Lake Tahoe’s environment. 

As though inhabiting a parallel universe, the TRPA staff maintains that there will be ‘no significant impacts’ from its significant proposed amendments and that its 2012 Regional Plan Environmental Impact Statement reflects today’s reality.

Let’s recap a few of the changes: 

  • Lake Tahoe has been warming at a record rate of 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit a decade since 2012. Toxic algae blooms populate the shoreline.  
  • Climate headlines from the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in November 2012 noted that rising temperatures foreshadow forests more susceptible to diseases and fires.  
  • In other sciences news, December 2012: Scientists say Lake Tahoe area overdue for another earthquake.
  • In 2017, a Tahoe Transportation District report noted that in 2014 alone 24.4 million visitors entered the Tahoe Basin, equating to 9.4 million vehicles.
  • The Caldor fire in 2021 burned nearly 222,000 acres, roughly the size of San Diego. Tahoe’s wildland urban interface (WUI) double hazard zone risk is now well documented. Confusion and horrors from Lahaina, Caldor and Paradise wildfire evacuations remain fresh.
  • Pandemic visitation to Tahoe led to all-time highs in hotel and vacation rental room revenue. Accompanying traffic congestion is awful summer and winter with epic gridlock.
  • Population growth surrounding the Tahoe basin continues to soar. To the west of us, Folsom, CA, plans to add 11,000 homes to accommodate some 30,000 people. Marketing materials extol easy proximity to Tahoe. 
  • In July 2023, a research team found Lake Tahoe’s lead levels along with other toxic materials surpassed the EPA-approved limit by more than 2,500 times.
  • Also in 2023, the scientific journal Nature revealed Lake Tahoe has higher concentrations of microplastics than some of the garbage patches swirling in the world’s oceans.
  • Invasive New Zealand mud snails, anyone? They made news in August 2023.
  • There are currently a dozen large-scale projects under way in the basin, but there has not been a cumulative analysis of their impact on the limited infrastructure.

These facts are just a sampling of what a curious citizen can find in a quick online search. Now pack into Tahoe still more new multi-story buildings, food trucks, tiny houses, and many accessory dwelling units with near non-existent parking requirements (who needs a vehicle in mountainous terrain, right?). All this and more are on the drawing board for the ecologically fragile Tahoe basin – all at the same time. 

This story problem requires more than your average fifth grader (oh, and that’s right, they weren’t alive when the last full TRPA EIR was completed). So, you be the judge. From 2012 forward, with the above headlines and the new proposed buildings, related construction bottlenecks, people – let’s not forget pet waste – and the parade of international visitors, do you think there might be some extra impact on the Lake, the surrounding habitats, and the Tahoe infrastructure?

If your answer is yes, then you must agree it’s time for an updated comprehensive environmental impact review and some proper analysis before TRPA loosens up land use requirements and gives the greenlight to developers. 

Imagine if all the goodies packed into TRPA’s latest round of developer-friendly amendments to encourage more high-rise buildings and new dwellings were allowed, say, around the rim of the Grand Canyon. 

While Lake Tahoe doesn’t have the protection of a national park or national monument it is supposed to have protection from none other than the TRPA. This development juggernaut is so large and unpalatable a PR firm was hired to sell the plan to the public. (Doesn’t a good idea sell itself? And wouldn’t those funds be better used to clean up the trash around the lake?)

If unchecked, these extensive land use changes are just the start. Phase 1 began during the pandemic when most of us were busy trying to stay alive. We’re in phase 2, but there’s still time to demand that an updated environmental impact report be completed before, not after damage is done. TRPA’s governing board meets Dec. 13.

More than 450 pages of public comment have come in so far. Let’s continue to speak up for the lake. Learn more from one of many local grassroots teams united in concern. Wouldn’t sound environmental policy with local community involvement and support, and strong leadership that protects Lake Tahoe and its fragile environment be a better direction for the TRPA governing board? Let’s say yes to that.

With the click of this link send a letter to the TRPA governing board and the state and federal officials with oversight and funding authority. 

We don’t want future generations to ask: what happened in 2023 and 2024? Why did TRPA further endanger the lake and allow developers to pave over more of paradise?