Guest Column: What’s the goal of the Tahoe Fund?
October 30, 2014
A couple of decades ago resort developers began their invasion of the Tahoe area. They bought homes in our communities, enrolled their kids in local schools and almost immediately became active locally by joining committees and doing volunteer work.
Then they started offering "donations" to our local, struggling nonprofits. Some far-sighted people, realizing that this was a thinly veiled attempt to buy their loyalty and cooperation for future development plans, declined to take the money … some even resigned their jobs with the nonprofits they helped create.
Fast forward 10 years or so. These same resort developers began offering money to our local environmental and public agencies. Fearing these donations would constitute a conflict of interests and be seen by the public as bribes from special interest groups, the agencies danced around this issue for several years, publicly denying any money exchange.
In 2008, some local agencies appeared desperate for money, as government spending was drying up. Along comes the California Tahoe Conservancy's new executive officer, with a "great" idea.
He would start a "nonprofit" composed of local environmentalists and developers to cooperate and provide financing for small, local projects. But it brings up a simple question: Is it legal for a state public environmental agency to start a nonprofit with such powerful special interest groups as Vail, KSL, JMA, et al?
TRPA tells us this public/private cooperation is the economic future for Tahoe.
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Enter the "Tahoe Fund." The picture that's been painted for the general public is that of a nonprofit group of environmentalists and developers working together to help restoration efforts by providing funding, and presumably, expertise to all sorts of natural resource projects in the Basin.
The stated purpose of the Tahoe Fund is "to become a major source of private funding for environmental projects around the Lake Tahoe Basin …" Sounds good at first, right?
In reality, this group is part of an iron triangle, a result of the sub-government structure that dominates in the basin. This "cozy triangle," as it is often called, consists of federal government, state and local government and special interest groups (pressure groups), both public and private.
The public group wants resource protection and education while the private groups want profit! The problem is these two pressure groups do not have equal resources, in that private groups have much, much more money and thus way more influence.
The Tahoe Fund is a perfect example of private "special interests" controlling the average Tahoe citizen's life and environment. Add this to the fact that the majority of our local governments are run by non-elected, appointed officials.
Where does this leave the less powerful public interest groups and the public in general? It leaves them virtually powerless in Tahoe's "cozy triangles."
A final insult to the public, but a great deal for developers, is they can throw money or what amounts to their "pocket change" at small projects around Tahoe while proceeding with their mega developments.
These projects, even those costing $10-12 million, are great for a localized area, but can in no way offset the widespread, massive environmental and cultural damage caused by huge, unnecessary developments.
What they can do is provide developers (and other private investors) with mitigation offsets, potential development right transfers, a nonprofit tax shelter and most egregiously, a powerful and cheap public relations tool to convince Tahoeans that developers are great people who support "community, environment and economy."
Otherwise, why is the Tahoe Fund board composed of ski industry CEOs such as Andy Wirth and Art Chapman, CTC's Patrick Wright, local government officials, venture capitalists and "token environmentalists" (who are also donors)?
Why is the Fund's CEO a public relations and marketing specialist? And, is it possible that these "special interests" receive favors for their monetary contributions in the form of extra TAUs, rezoning conservation areas, expanded coverage, height and so on?
The Tahoe Fund is not an altruistic entity. It is big developers' strategy to influence public opinion. Does anyone really trust these "special" entities to protect and enhance our communities and natural resources when their main goal is money?
Jacqui S. Grandfield is a wildlife biologist, environmental policy expert and 29-year resident of Carnelian Bay.