Skip to main content

Land Use Abuse at the North Shore

Lake Tahoe straddles two states. In 1969 a bi-state compact between California and Nevada - and ratified by Congress - established the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to address environmental, economic and cultural values at both regional and local levels and implement region-wide solutions to protect those values. As the years have gohe by, though, it seems the agency is evolving into just another untouchable government entity devoted to developer-friendliness with large, out-of-area corporations. at least that's what one of TRPA's former employees says in a recent article in Moonshine Ink.

Changing not only the zoning of the developer’s parcel but also an entire area of a town center, allowing for multi-million-dollar condos in the commercial core with no analysis of cumulative environmental impacts is the definition of poor planning.
Kristina Hill in "TRPA No Longer Serves the Environment or 'Us'”, Moonshine Ink, April 13, 2023.
May contain: architecture, building, hotel, resort, pool, water, swimming pool, person, plant, tree, nature, outdoors, scenery, house, housing, and villa
The former Tahoe Biltmore, envisioned as a luxurious Waldorf-astoria hotel by muntinational corporate parent, HIlton Hotles of Tysons VA. It is but one of several upscale projects on the drawing board. close your eyes and imagine the traffic on Highway 28 between NV431 in INcline and CA 267 in Kings Beach.

And that's often how it goes when development projects target unincorporated areas. With governance systems optimized for project approvals by people who are not elected by those who would suffer the impacts of a development, unincorporated areas are target-rich environments for land use abuse. There is just 1 locally-elected resident the North Shore on the TRPA, Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustavson. She is the current TRPA Chair and able to significantly influence the other members of the governing body, but, ultimately, she only holds 1 vote among the 15 members of the TRPA Board. In other words, decisions about what happens at the North Shore are not driven by local residents.

Formation of a new city means local people get to decide on the blueprint for their community's future. The existing County General Plan will remain in effect until the new city adopts its own General Plan, usually about a 3-year process with extensive public involvement. Once the new city adopts its own, locally-driven plan, the legacy of county land use abuse can begin to be corrected. The healing process often feels like turning a supertanker  around - it seems to take forever. But in new city after new city, the tincture of time has worked its magic. With civic engagement, neglected nooks and crannies of the local area can get attention, infrastructure investments that benefit local residents and businesses can be made, and people's faith in their elected leaders can be restored. There is no guarantee, of course, because local voters can always put unsavory politicians into office. But they can vote to get rid of those people as well.

More importantly, though, local leaders are reminded daily of their obligations to the community that elects them. Being local residents themselves, local elected officials are in constant contact with their constituents, whether during the transaction of everyday business or at the grocery store, youth sports events, or city council meetings. Being local residents means local officials are predisposed to want to make their community better, not worse. That's a whole different attitude than knowing you can to take advantage of a defenseless community without suffering consequences.

South Lake Tahoe, incorporated years ago, is California's only city within TRPA's jurisdiction. Whether you agree or not with how South Lake Tahoe has evolved, at least local people made it happen. Can the North Shore also obtain self-determination? That's up to the locals. With enough money, they could get it done. However "enough money" means an astronomical amount plus an inordinate length of time, because the California Legislature has managed to gum up the process of municipal incorporation. Given that Tahoe is such a widely-known, precious resource, one would think the Legislature would be open to reforming that process. We shall see.

Join our mailing list