Opinion: TRPA spectacularly unsuccessful in creating harmony
In a recent op-ed, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Executive Director Joanne Marchetta wrote: “TRPA is taking partnership to the next level and is making epic collaboration its central strategic goal. Collaboration has not always been easy to achieve at Lake Tahoe. … Fortunately, it is alive and well at Tahoe.”
Really? When did collaboration over environmental issues ever exist between TRPA and the community? There has always been a contentious struggle between developers, environmentalists, and the agency.
Even the new Regional Plan that Marchetta wishfully says allows our communities “to reimagine their futures and craft their own visions of environmental restoration” is being bitterly challenged in the courts by the Sierra Club and Tahoe conservationists.
Ironically, it was conservationists who are responsible for the formation of TRPA. Almost 60 years ago, a small group of young, Bay Area environmental activists organized to prevent the State of California from building a bridge across Emerald Bay.
Emboldened by their success, the activists formed an organization that later morphed into the League to Save Lake Tahoe. They insightfully believed that the Basin’s land use should be regulated by a common, highest-authority entity. To those forward-thinking LTSLT founders, TRPA can thank their existence.
When the federal agency was formed 45 years ago by an agreement between California and Nevada, its core mission was straightforwardly stated to be unification of the two states’ interests to protect and restore the Tahoe Basin’s environment for all.
No mention was made of the community crafting their visions of environmental restoration. In fact, that is precisely why TRPA was created — because Tahoe communities couldn’t agree on their environmental vision.
It’s not surprising that bureaucratic creep now has Marchetta writing that TRPA’s mission is to “harmonize the needs of the region as a whole so as to ensure equilibrium between the region’s natural endowment and its man-made environment.”
Since its inception, TRPA has been spectacularly unsuccessful in creating harmony. Less than two years ago, the agency was precariously close to being shut down because there was no collaboration between Nevada and California. Seven times since 1975, Nevada has threatened to withdraw from TRPA when they believed the agency was unaccommodating to their needs.
Only because California Governor Jerry Brown understands that it is better to have a quasi-functional federal agency administer Tahoe’s land use and environmental programs than to have no adult at the table that the list of more than 2,000 federal agencies wasn’t reduced by one.
At Lake Tahoe, it’s not collaboration that maintains equilibrium but ongoing, contentious deadlock between California’s seven members on the TRPA Board of Governors and Nevada’s seven members who have never agreed on land use and development standards.
After California acquiesced to Nevada’s latest threat to withdraw from TRPA and gave Nevada most of what they wanted, Laurel Ames of the Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe wrote in the Sacramento Bee that the “plan would strip Lake Tahoe of protections.” David von Seggern, chairman of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club said, “The (new Region) Plan doesn’t do justice to the lake.” And a California attorney for Earthjustice told the Los Angeles Times: “We got rolled.”
Since 1997 when President Bill Clinton promised federal assistance “to protect Lake Tahoe’s environment, and with it the area’s economy and quality of life,” there has been epic collaboration between the more than 50 agencies and organizations that cozied up with TRPA to share in the more than $100 million that has annually flowed to environmental programs managed by TRPA.
In the public sector, that kind of serious money buys major collaboration. But the money is drying up, and in September Marchetta wrote that TRPA “is staring straight into an impending breakdown in funding.” But we foresee “another breakthrough. To that end, we are bringing our best creative thinking; our strongest collaborative skills to imagining new funding sources, new collaborations, and partnerships.”
Creative thinking to imagine epic collaborations can’t be what the environmental activists who spawned TRPA had in mind when they championed a federal agency to preserve and protect Lake Tahoe.
And many believe that it’s not collaboration, but strong, insightful leadership that is needed to accomplish what TRPA was chartered to do.
Steve Urie, a Truckee resident, is the author of “Tessie, Quagga Mussels, and Other Lake Tahoe Myths.”
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