By Julie Regan

People’s connections with Lake Tahoe have always run deep. For the Washoe Tribe, the lake is the center of the world, both geographically and spiritually. According to tribal elders, there is no distinction between the health of the land and the health of the Washoe. People and communities continue to form long-lasting connections to Lake Tahoe today. As the connections have deepened, the health of the lake and the very well-being of our communities have become inextricably interconnected.

Solutions to Tahoe’s greatest challenges most often share this bridge between community and environment. This is critical because the challenges we face today are nothing short of existential. The convergence of climate change impacts and the affordable housing crisis threatens the integrity of Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and the sustainability of our communities. By building on the progress and innovative policies of the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is bringing forward regional solutions that address housing, equity, and climate goals together.

The affordable housing crisis strikes at the heart of our communities. Without accessible, secure housing options, our workforce struggles to put down roots, families face impossible choices, many more community members experience homelessness, and substandard conditions can be rampant. There are environmental consequences as well. Workers commuting from outside the basin add to traffic congestion and vehicle miles traveled, which is key metric for environmental quality. People who share our passion for the lake deserve to share the opportunity for connection to it as well.

As TRPA has begun modernizing policies to improve water quality and remove inequities, the agency’s mission and vision have never wavered. The states created our regional framework to unify local governments and provide consistency for property owners to protect the lake while improving local communities.

Guided for over half a century by the Bi-State Compact, the agency set caps and size limits on all development in the basin, helped establish the Environmental Improvement Program and the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team to restore the watershed and forest health, and is leading water quality strategies that are keeping more than 600,000 pounds of pollutants out of the lake every year. After losing about 30 feet of its famous clarity, Lake Tahoe’s clarity has remained stable since the 2000s. While most environmental targets are improving, there is much more to do.

The enduring success of the Regional Plan lies in our ability to adapt and respond to new scientific insights, environmental and economic shifts, and emerging threats. Today, our 15-member volunteer Governing Board is replacing outdated regulations with innovative policies to confront the intertwined issues of housing affordability and climate change. TRPA’s mission remains as relevant as ever with the visionary Bi-State Compact guiding our way.

Addressing the affordable housing crisis requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional solutions. While subsidized housing projects and financial assistance are crucial components, we must also embrace creative strategies that leverage private investment and community engagement. Just as property owners play a vital role in protecting water quality and preventing wildfires, new policies approved in 2022 encourage homeowners to contribute to housing solutions by building accessory dwelling units (granny flats).

TRPA’s board took action in December to help create new markets for affordable and workforce housing. Now we’re going to the next level to address the fundamental imbalances that are leading most new projects toward high-end upscale price points rather than affordable homes. The agency will also work with local partners to establish long-term engagement with underrepresented communities and advance housing choices, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and build upon the region’s transportation plans and Sustainable Communities Strategy.

However, our journey toward a more resilient and equitable Lake Tahoe is not without challenges. Following the board’s December decision, Truckee-based Mountain Area Preservation filed a lawsuit against the approval. This move is a reminder of the complexities inherent in our mission. Differing opinions are inevitable in a diverse community and the courts will have the final say. The agency stands by the new policies that support communities and protect the lake and we’ll continue working to find common ground.

We must act together to confront these existential threats. It is unacceptable that people working in our communities are living in substandard, untenable, and unsafe housing while others are forced to commute into the basin, exacerbating climate change impacts. The lake deserves better. By drawing upon our connections to this treasured lake we not only honor the legacy of those who came before us but also ensure a legacy of resilience and sustainability for generations to come.


Julie Regan is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.