Placer County approves amendments to the Tahoe Basin Area Plan
Droves of people came out for the October 16 Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting to voice their opinions about the Tahoe Basin Area Plan (TBAP) up for approval. There was so much public comment that the Supervisors finally had to cut the meeting off after five-and-a-half hours and postpone its decision to approve the Plan until October 31.
“Postponing a meeting to a later date on Halloween, down in Auburn, when you were there to participate at the Oct. 16 meeting Kings Beach…it just feels like they don’t care what we have to say. It’s a tough position for the community to be in. You’d think they’d want to be making [the TBAP] as accessible as possible and get as much public feedback as they can, but they’re making it difficult to participate,” says Mountain Area Preservation Advocacy Director Sophia Heidrich. “At the October 16 meeting, they took a recess and then came back and said, ‘meeting’s over’, postponing it until now.”
Mountain Area Preservation, the grassroots environmental advocacy group that formed in 1997 to protect open space and advocate for responsible development in the Truckee-Tahoe area, sent out a MAP Action Alert after the October 16 meeting sharing what it agreed with and was concerned about regarding the TBAP amendments.
For instance, MAP supports focusing and incentivizing redevelopment in town centers and creating incentives for workforce and affordable housing. However, it is concerned about building massing, the definition of achievable housing, building heights, multi-family projects allowed by right, and what MAP feels is an “inadequate EIR addendum.”
Since the TBAP was adopted in 2017, MAP asserts that the community and local conditions have changed since then with different development projects now on the table: wildfire risk, lake clarity impact, and more.
“Placer County has attempted to fulfill this requirement by completing a 17-page addendum to the existing TBAP Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and subsequently issuing a 3-page addendum erratum. However, the addendum lacks any new analysis or studies, and prematurely concludes that the amendments would not result in any new or substantially more significant environmental impacts. The Erratum takes a closer look at cumulative impacts but fails to consider impacts from Truckee’s recently adopted General Plan, which outlines more growth and population in an adjacent jurisdiction, or the TRPA’s housing code amendments, which will add even more density to Town Centers across the Tahoe Basin. Placer County’s EIR Addendum and Erratum are serious issues as they fail to fulfill their requirements under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act),” MAP’s October 27 Action Alert stated.
In the hour-and-a-half long conversation about the TBAP at the Placer County Administrative Center in Auburn on Halloween, Chairman Jim Holmes started the discussion by giving a quick recap of the October 16 meeting – how they held a public hearing, heard the staff report and public comments, then closed the hearing and adding it to the October 31 agenda. Following the October 16 meeting, Placer County staff took all the public comments and put them all into a document with responses, inserting it into the 352-page October 31 TBAP Memorandum under Attachment M.
Acting Community Development Resource Agency Director Crystal Jacobsen gave a presentation addressing the public comments received between October 16-31, 2023 (available in detail on pages 339-352 of the October 31 Memorandum). She said that the TBAP was launched to eliminate barriers to workforce housing and encourage modernization of economic sustainability. Since the Plan’s introduction, Placer County has held dozens of meetings, wrote an addendum to the Plan which was passed in a 5-0 vote within the past year, and held the public hearing on October 16.
Jacobsen’s presentation included a summary of the Policy Document & Implementation Regulation before addressing the changes to the development of town centers, the EIR, and how changes must be substantial and have more severe impact or new factual information presented to trigger launching a subsequent EIR.
Stacy Wydra, Placer County Senior Planner based in the Tahoe City office, talked about removing the “setbacks” and massing requirements which limit building square footage for residential and commercial spaces in town centers. It was recommended from the TRPA that they remove limits on “setbacks” since they are likely to change over time.
“If it’s residential, it may have to have a 15-ft. setback, commercial space may have a 5-ft. setback,” Wydra said.
Principal Planner Emily Setzer talked about parking (making requirements for multi-family developments more consistent with those of single-family developments), school enrollment numbers, and sidewalk vendors. In 2019, California passed a law to decriminalize street vending and food trucks in town centers (vendors are required to have a business license, pass environmental review, and show proper waste disposal). She talked about overnight vehicle camping in public and private lots, and how there’s really been no change in Truckee Tahoe School District enrollment numbers between 2016-2023.
Placer County staff said that the Tahoe Basin Area Plan Environmental Impact Report (EIR) requires projects to implement and complete mitigation measures related to topics including but not limited to transportation, mobility, housing, and total maximum daily load/lake clarity, so as development projects come forward, the mitigation measures are applied. They looked at 11 projects that’ve been on the table since 2017 (stated in the Memorandum) and only five of them have been approved.
They said they performed an analysis of lake clarity and the concern about microplastics entering the lake that was addressed in 2017. Staff also said that the proposed amendments do not affect growth limits and there are no alterations to the Plan regarding carrying capacity. County Counsel Clayton Cook emphasized that the 2017 EIR assumed a full buildout of the plan but considering that the Martis Valley project got rescinded, it freed up 760 dwelling units that were originally included that are no longer in there. “That’s the Errata to the Addendum and puts forth smaller projects like those proposed up in Olympic Valley,” Cook said.
Staff said that less development outside of town centers are expected to reduce miles traveled, no “piecemealing” is occurring in the Plan, and that wildfire risk was evaluated in the 2017 EIR following the 2014 King Fire and four other wildfires that same year.
“They were an issue then and they’re an issue now,” Cook said. There was the question of the ability to evacuate Kings Beach, especially since the roundabouts were installed after the Plan was drafted in 2017, and the Sheriff’s Office responded to this in Amendment M and explained that evacuation routes depend on a few factors.
“I one hundred percent feel we are prepared for evacuations,” said Shane Wright of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. “We touched on 100,000 people in an evacuation order in an area with roundabouts in place and it went smoothly.”
“We collaborate on a level that’s special in the Lake Tahoe Basin [regarding wildfire evacuations],” Fire Chief Brian Estes added.
Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, who represents the Tahoe area, reiterated that there are no new building heights or density proposed in the Plan, and asked Jacobsen to explain the “massing” issue (it’s regarding pulling out the length of buildings).
Gustafson, who also sits on the TRPA board, said, “I want to be clear; we’ve dropped it and it’s not going to be approved…anything regarding length, density would go through an extensive approval process with the TRPA.”
Jacobsen added that any major proposed developments would need to be evaluated and made consistent with other area plans.
“Regarding the larger projects in the works, nothing is in here that is rubber stamping a significant project like the Boatworks Mall; this Plan allows for public input and design review, EIRs,” Gustafson reiterated.
“When I came on the board there were concerns that there was no new development, boarded up buildings, and I think this is a good next step and that this will really benefit the community,” said Supervisor Bonnie Gore.
Supervisor Jim Holmes then said that since there was no new information that would change the TBAP analysis, he didn’t think it was necessary to open a public hearing.
“I believe that the public was very patient, and I heard they felt they were disrespected in having to wait that long to talk at the October 16 meeting, but I also appreciate the rest of the board driving to Tahoe to listen and understand this issue. I know they want to be heard again but I also understand the board’s decision to not reopen the public hearing”.
Another supervisor reiterated that she reviewed every comment that was within the 300-plus page document. The Placer County Board of Supervisors passed the resolution/amendments to the Tahoe Basin Area Plan in a 5-0 vote.
“The outcome was unsurprising,” MAP’s Sophia Heidrich commented after the meeting. “I was hoping that the supervisors would have had more discussion amongst themselves and would have re-opened public comments before voting on the amendments, but it was clear that their minds were made up. We had suggested that they consider removing the housing amendments from that package of proposals, so that they could conduct a site specific analysis. This would allow for a thoughtful approach to identify specific sites that can accommodate large multi-family housing projects without compromising natural resources or public safety, but they didn’t discuss that suggestion.”
The TBAP is targeted to be discussed at the December 6th TRPA meeting.
For details about the Placer County Tahoe Basin Area Plan, visit https://www.placer.ca.gov/tahoebasinareaplan. For information about Mountain Area Preservation, visit https://www.mountainareapreservation.org/.
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