Ah, the growth wars. What would we land use journalists do if there were ever a truce?

Last month, I wrote about Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director Joanne Marchetta's speech to the state planning conference. Although I took issue with some of what Marchetta said, I and several planners I spoke with agreed with Marchetta that environmental groups frequently fight the wrong battle. I wrote, " The knee-jerk reaction from environmental groups is opposition to any development within the Tahoe basin." I suggested that Marchetta and TRPA could do California a favor by figuring out how to convince environmental groups to support good infill and redevelopment projects.

A friend who is an environmentalist warned me that I might get a sharp response to this characterization. And I did this week in the form a letter from six Tahoe-area environmental groups. Here's what they have to say:

Dear Mr. Shigley,

The following is in response to your article "The Case For Regional Planning?" written as a result of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Executive Director Joanne Marchetta's speech to the APA, California, conference on September 14, 2009.

You wrote, "If TRPA figures out a way to combat the environmental organizations' conventional wisdom that all development must be halted, the agency will truly have a lesson for the rest of the state to emulate." You have been misinformed. Lake Tahoe's conservation groups have long been strong supporters of good infill projects and responsible redevelopment. We believe, however, that Lake Tahoe is a resource of statewide and national significance that must be protected as a scenic and recreational resource for the benefit of all – including future generations.  

For 40 years the states of California and Nevada have been parties to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Compact which created the TRPA. The compact required TRPA to establish environmental standards known as  "thresholds" and charges it "adopt and enforce a regional plan and implementing ordinances which will achieve and maintain the thresholds while providing opportunities for orderly growth and development consistent with such capacities."

The compact required an updating of the regional plan in 2007. TRPA has yet to develop a coherent approach to the maintenance of its thresholds and compliance with the compact. However, early indications are that TRPA intends to focus on stimulating growth of the local population and increasing urbanization, rather than on achieving environmental thresholds, protecting scenic values, and providing high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities.  Ominously, the agency has already approved an exclusive new subdivision and the conversion of a campground that provides recreation and seasonal affordable housing into a luxury fractional timeshare resort.     

Recently nine environmental groups around the basin, including the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club, formed together to demand accountability from the TRPA. We are NOT arguing that "all developments must be halted." We are arguing that new subdivisions – prohibited in Tahoe for nearly 40 years – are unnecessary, that affordable housing, scenery, and recreational values must be protected, and above all that environmental standards must be achieved as required by law.

Rochelle Nason, Executive Director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe
Ron Grassi,  Tahoe Area Sierra Club
Friends of Tahoe Vista (FOTV)
Ann Nichols, Friends of Crystal Bay/Brockway
North Tahoe Preservation Alliance (NTPA)
Laurel Ames, California Watershed Network