Opinion: With development, how much more can Lake Tahoe handle?
September 1, 2016
Do you know our lake's environmental capacity for accepting more projects?
I'm told that we had 4.5 million tourists visit Tahoe 7 years ago, and I can only guess that number has increased dramatically over the past 7 years largely due to the increased population and increased availability of more homes and esp. more condos.
Further, the Tahoe Transportation District projects that annual visits will increase up to 20% over the next 20 years at the lake. Just look at Tahoe City's mid-day summer traffic jams for confirmation of this trend.
Such an influx of visitors carries with it a significant adverse effect on the Lake's ecosystem. How much more can the Lake handle?
“Common sense tells me that the developers stand to make millions of dollars off these projects, but the lake won’t be doing so well; it is suffering.”
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I also see numerous articles in the Sierra Sun that our lake clarity, or lack thereof, is primarily due to fine sediment finding its way into the lake — caused by ongoing development; crushed dirt by cars on the highways sending fine particles into the Lake; and the ever increasing number of cars carrying more visitors to the lake each year and emitting tons of carbon monoxide into our air.
And I recently read that the Village at Squaw Valley and Martis Valley West projects, if granted permits by the Placer County Board of Supervisors, will add possibly 1,500-plus new residential units and put over 2,000 cars on the already overly congested roads on the North Shore.
This doesn't even address the traffic and other problems posed by the proposed Tahoe City Lodge Project. Can our lake handle this without more environmental harm?
Common sense tells me that the developers stand to make millions of dollars off these projects, but the lake won't be doing so well; it is suffering.
In a recent opinion article in the Sierra Sun ("NIMBY mentality with Martis Valley West not ideal" 8/19/16), an attorney employed by a firm representing developers throws out the usual name-calling of those working to protect the environment by implying that residents are blinded by a "not in my backyard" mindset.
First of all, the most likely people who may be concerned and aware of the relevant facts are those closest to the proposed project site (i.e., in or near their so-called backyard).
And none of those people are suggesting, for example, that the proposed hotel scheduled for Tahoe City be moved to someone else's backyard. Nor are environmentalists trying to relocate the problem-plagued Martis Valley and Squaw Valley projects to some other part of the lake; rather, environmentalists are simply asking that their size be scaled down due to their locations and the belief that the lake is environmentally maxed out.
Second, there can be no doubt that developers make their proposals to build hundreds of more condos in order to make a large profit here at the lake.
Profit is their primary, if not sole, motivation. But you don't see environmentalists calling them greedy profiteers or whatever. So let's stop the labels and have an intelligent conversation instead.
I'm not a land use planner, but I wonder and am asking each of you and each member of both of the TRPA and Placer County boards a question: Before we grant a permit for Martis Valley, Squaw Valley the Tahoe City Lodge Project and the other 10 or more projects at Tahoe and in Truckee presently working their way through the system — which will increase our traffic jams and pollution in both the air and the lake — have we defined the limit of growth, i.e., the Carrying Capacity, for the lake, given our understandable environmental concerns?
And if we find we've exceeded the lake's capacity, are we able to temporarily stop these potential projects until the lake recovers?
Do any of you dispute that we have traffic jams along several parts of the lake that increase the difficulty of evacuation in the event of a fire? And that detract from the pleasure of living or visiting here? And that make it a nightmare to drive to and through cities like Tahoe City in the summer and parts of the winter?
Do any of you dispute we've spent billions of dollars in the past 25 years trying to save the lake's environment while encouraging millions of tourists to visit?
So here's my question to everyone: Who has a figure in mind beyond which we will stop granting permits for new homes and condos and hotels?
If none of you has any "end game" to this mad process of unending issuance of permits, shouldn't we first come up with a plan that sets a limit?
Ron Grassi is a Tahoe City resident, a retired lawyer and former co-conservation chair of the local Tahoe Area Sierra Club.
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