My Turn: ‘Smart growth’ not so smart in Tahoe
October 6, 2008
When I read your column in the Sept. 19 issue of the Sierra Sun, that proposed “smart growth,” I was very disturbed. First, I was amazed that you, as the most important steward of Lake Tahoe and the Basin and sworn to protect and preserve the environmental quality of this national treasure, would propose such an unimaginative, debilitating and potentially disastrous approach to fulfilling TRPA’s interpretation of its mandate from the bi-state compact. We have come to expect such misguided and misleading plans and justifications from both local and transient carpetbaggers, but not from one who has been charged as you have been.
Secondly, these concepts, at the time not labeled “smart growth,” were the basis for the development of the cores of cities in Europe perhaps as early as the 16th century. In the United States this occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many, if not most, of these “innovative” areas have become slums of the worst kinds, rife with poverty, crime and neglect. Attempts to rejuvenate this concept in the 1930s with high-rise apartments were dismal failures, and many of these “vertical slums” have been torn down. John, let’s face it, you and a lot of urban planners are trying to reinvent the cities of past centuries. Cramming families together, planting trees in the sidewalks, and providing “pedestrian-friendly” destinations do not make livable and viable communities. Crowding does not make for happy people. (Suggestion: Contract for an unbiased urban psychologist to research the social viability of “smart growth” policies.)
Another inherent fallacy of the “smart growth” concept, i.e., “mixed-use urban core/tourist walkable town centers,” is that it is based on the belief that “mom and pop” businesses, e.g., groceries, drug stores, hardware stores, sandwich shops, etc., can financially survive serving only clients living within walking distance. It appears to me that even if the “smart growth mom and pops” could compete with large chain stores on the bases of cost and merchandise variety, they need drive-in clients in order to survive. Another significant deterrent to small business survival in any resort community is the cyclic nature of tourism and second-home occupancy. It appears that the developers of “smart growth” projects are targeting the potential buyers of second and third homes, i.e., part-time residents, as opposed to a year-round populace that so badly needs affordable housing. Even now, small locally owned businesses have difficulty surviving the tourism-oriented cycles of North Lake Tahoe.
(Suggestion: Take a much closer look at the viability of small businesses under the “smart growth” concept in tourist communities.)
From ecological standpoints also, your “smart growth” concept does not make any sense. For example, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) data for Lake Tahoe clarity clearly shows that the “bulk of the total (contaminant) load is anthropogenic”, i.e., “related to or resulting from the influence of human beings on nature.” (See Merriam Webster … Dictionary, 10th Edition.) With this evidence I cannot understand why TRPA continues to encourage, permit and promote increases in residential and tourist populations in the Tahoe Basin. It appears that TRPA has lost sight of the fact that “growth” is not inevitable and that increases in population inevitably lead to more and more pollution and degradation of the area.
Let us also face the fact that TRPA is admitting that it is willing to sacrifice the ecological, scenic and “quality of life” characteristics of the Basin by acquiescing to entrepreneurs who view Lake Tahoe and the Basin only as a resource to be exploited for personal financial gain. I will admit that the “smart growth” concept may be successful in some urban situations, but it is not appropriate for the Tahoe Basin. In my opinion, in this area your “smart growth” is an oxymoron.
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John, I do see your problem: You are between “a rock and a hard place.” Nevertheless, you and TRPA cannot continue to serve two masters: the pro-growth developers and the residents and officials who believe in the bi-state compact. As the old saying goes, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
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