The unanimous passage of Senate Bill 630 by the California Legislature offers the potential to end an era of controversy and begin a new era of renewed cooperation between California and Nevada.
By passing the bill, it signals a renewed commitment by the two states to cooperate in achieving the environmental thresholds established by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). It ends the possibility that the two states would stop working together by walking away from the 45-year-old agreement. And, it endorses TRPA in moving forward with the recently adopted Regional Plan Update.
How did we get here?
Frustration over the inability of TRPA to update its regional plan resulted in legislation by Nevada to withdraw from the compact, largely because of the perception there was gridlock in getting anything done. This frustration became even more visible in August 2011, when three U.S. senators and the two governors gave TRPA a deadline of December 2012 by which to update a plan that had remained largely unchanged since 1987.
In fairness to TRPA, efforts to update the plan had been ongoing for many years, but a lack of consensus prevented action. In response to the deadline established by our elected leaders, TRPA began an intense effort to update the plan.
A committee of the governing board held more than 15 hearings on possible provisions of an updated plan. Consensus was reached on some 90 percent of the issues, but serious disagreements continued on major environmental policies. The two states stepped in and created a bi-state consultation process that was able to close the gaps and bring consensus for the updated plan.
It is important, particularly to me, that this consultation process resulted in increased environmental protections for Lake Tahoe without increasing the amount of development allowed. The Regional Plan Update was adopted by the TRPA Governing Board on Dec. 12 of last year.
Both states have recognized the significance of the updated plan. They worked to remove obstacles to implementation of the new plan and set a course for renewed cooperation. Nevada repealed its law that threatened withdrawal from the compact, and California’s SB 630 carries forth the agreement between the states to support TRPA’s efforts to improve the environment at Lake Tahoe.
However, we cannot break out the champagne yet. A fly in the ointment – a legal challenge by the Sierra Club – must be overcome. That organization has done much to protect the environment over the decades. But, due to apparent misunderstandings on its part of what is in the plan, coupled with an attitude of full opposition unless it gets all of what it wants, the lawsuit is an obstacle to complete implementation of the Tahoe plan.
I have urged the Sierra Club and anyone interested to look at the facts. The strict growth controls that have been in effect since 1987 remain. Science has shown us that small particles released from pavement, old buildings and highways are a large cause for loss of lake clarity. The new plan emphasizes replacement of that infrastructure, thereby improving lake clarity. Some 1,200 parcels are expected to be protected or restored. The number of new homes that can be built is reduced from 300 per year to 130.
The plan will reduce reliance on the automobile and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as required by California’s SB 375. There is an emphasis on removing development from environmentally sensitive areas.
The new plan is not perfect but will achieve the environmental thresholds established by TRPA. It deserves the unfettered chance to be implemented without the cloud of litigation.
Now that Nevada and California have made an unqualified commitment to help TRPA, we at the agency are poised to work together toward the common goal of a Lake Tahoe that remains, as Mark Twain observed, “the fairest picture the whole Earth affords.”
Clem Shute is an appointee of California Gov. Jerry Brown to the TRPA Governing Board, was chairman of the Regional Plan Update Committee, and is current chairman of the Regional Plan Implementation Committee.