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Peace for Tahoe

April 12, 1987

In many ways the odds were against the development, through consensus, of a new regional plan to guide future growth at Lake Tahoe. But by the end of May the massive job is expected to be completed, and, at last, the Sierra lake basin shared by California and Nevada should have a program in place that enjoys the substantial support of the diverse Tahoe community. Better yet, it will be an effective plan that balances development with the environmental protection that is necessary to maintain the alpine qualities of the basin.

The consensus approach was tried as an experiment starting back in 1985 after a federal court threw out the 1984 plan of the California-Nevada Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) for failing to protect the Tahoe environment. Efforts of the major contenders to negotiate a settlement failed. The decades-old Tahoe debate degenerated into bitter stalemate.

The consensus effort was assembled by Bill Morgan, the new excecutive director of TRPA. Key players included the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the California attorney general's office, plaintiffs in the lawsuit; Tahoe-area home and lot owners organized under the banner of the Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council; local governments, and economic interests.

The results are impressive. TRPA has adopted the group's general goals and policies, and is wrapping up action on a set of implementing ordinances and 182 mini-plans that tailor the general plan to neighborhood needs. A building moratorium at Tahoe was eased last year, and the former disputants agreed on a plan for rehabilitation of piers and other shoreline facilities.

In the meantime, both California and Nevada now have bond programs for the purchase of home lots that have been declared unsuitable for construction because of potential environmentaldamage. As many as 1,000 lots will be purchased through the California plan this year. The $31-million Nevada bond issue passed in last November's election. The Nevada vote demonstrated the Silver State's support for Tahoe conservation efforts, and may help blunt ongoing efforts in the Nevada Legislature to withdraw from the two-state compact.

The news is not all good, of course. The Tahoe area rejected a sales-tax surcharge to finance mass transit in the congested South Shore region, and there is renewed talk of a freeway through South Lake Tahoe as well as improving U.S. 50 between Placerville and the South Shore to freeway status. Something needs to be done about South Shore traffic, but massive highway construction is incompatible with that environment and would undermine the planning effort. Noise from the South Lake Tahoe airport continues to be a source of dispute.

Also, the new Reagan Administration budget would cut off U.S. funds for federal lot purchases. The proposed $14 million for this program should be restored.

Still, peripheral setbacks do not detract from the achievements of the consensus effort. The new plan will allow development to proceed under proper environmental controls, enforced through extensive monitoring, and will establish a program of environmental rehabilitation to protect the clear waters of the 12-by-25-mile Sierra lake. Construction is banned along streams to limit lake pollution caused by erosion and runoff. The need for economic growth is recognized, but, significantly, development will focus on rehabilitation of existing businesses--particularly in the mountain slum that exists along U.S. 50 at the South Shore.

The completion of the Tahoe regional plan will be a turning point. Diligent implementation of the plan in coming years will make certain that there is no turning back.

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