Confronting Existential Threats with Modern Solutions

Confronting Existential Threats with Modern Solutions

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.
2024 Draft Public Participation Plan Available for Public Comment through April 5

2024 Draft Public Participation Plan Available for Public Comment through April 5

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and DKS Associates staff spend time listening to community members at outdoor events and community meetings throughout the year.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency places a high value on public participation in planning and decisions. The public should be given ample opportunities for early, meaningful, and continued involvement. Specifically in the agency’s transportation planning, collecting diverse public input is important for determining the types of projects that meet public needs and ensures funds are directed to the areas of highest need.

The agency is releasing the Draft 2024 Public Participation Plan today for a forty-five (45) public comment period. The draft plan outlines key decision points for consulting with affected communities, local, regional, state, and federal agencies and Tribal governments. This announcement and the comment period are required parts of the Public Participation Plan. The comment period for the document commences on February 20, 2024 and closes on April 5, 2024. Public comments will be accepted through 5:00 p.m. on April 5.

Staff will present the final plan to the TRPA Governing Board for potential adoption at its regular monthly meeting on April 24. We look forward to your feedback!

The Public Participation Plan document is available upon request or can be accessed online at: https://www.trpa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2024-Public-Participation-Plan-DRAFT-Feb.-24.pdf

Comments should be sent to:
Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization
Attn: Kira Richardson, Senior Transportation Planner
P.O. Box 5310
Stateline, NV 89449
Or via email: krichardson@trpa.gov

Please direct any questions or other inquiries regarding this notice to Kira Richardson at (775) 589-5236.

South Tahoe Students Explore Winter Science

South Tahoe Students Explore Winter Science

Environmental Coalition Elevates Science Learning at Heavenly Mountain Resort

 

Heavenly Ski Patrol demonstrates how they train the avalanche dogs, and what they do to protect people on the mountain. Credit: Lily Summerville, South Tahoe Refuse

South Lake Tahoe, CA – Two hundred and seventy middle school students are delving into the realms of science, snowmaking, winter wildlife, and snow safety this week at Heavenly Mountain Resort with a coalition of environmental educators. This Thursday will mark the culmination of the tenth year of this immersive, snowshoeing educational experience for local students, the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (STEEC) said today.

“Don’t tell my teachers, but yeah, this is way better than school,” said one eighth grade student at South Tahoe Middle School, who wishes to remain anonymous. “Until today, I had no idea I could take classes in high school first aide and go to college here for free to get my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certificate to be a ski patroller at Heavenly.”

Generously supported by a grant from Vail Resorts EpicPromise, this collaborative winter adventure program by STEEC brings together professionals from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Lake Tahoe Unified School District Career Technical Education team, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Tahoe Institute for Natural Science, Sierra Avalanche Center, Sugar Pine Foundation, USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, South Tahoe Refuse, the City of South Lake Tahoe, and South Tahoe Public Utility District.

Students practice measuring trees from afar using best practices taught by the Sugar Pine Foundation. Credit: Victoria Ortiz, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

“Taking the classroom outside, these field trips educate and connect students with their alpine backyard, making scientific concepts easily accessible through hands-on sensory learning,” said Victoria Ortiz, event organizer and community engagement manager with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

This marked the tenth year STEEC has offered the field trip, although in previous years the program was geared toward fifth grade students. Over the course of two days, every South Tahoe Middle School eighth grader will ride the Heavenly aerial tram to the top of the mountain, where they split into groups and rotate between interactive stations.

Tasha Thomas (center) with Sierra Avalanche Center teaches students how to discern the shapes of the snow crystals and the protocol used in the backcountry to test the snowpack. Credit: Victoria Ortiz, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Students learn about winter animal adaptations, how to measure trees, and how to discern the shapes of snow crystals. They also meet Heavenly’s avalanche rescue dogs. Ski patrollers explain how they train the dogs, and then treat students to a demonstration of how they dig out someone buried by an avalanche.

“This program is one of many that STEEC organizes throughout the year,” said Alissa Zertuche, career technical education specialist for Lake Tahoe Unified School District. “We’re grateful to all of our partner organizations for creating curriculum that aligns with science standards and brings science to life!”

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The South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition is a collaborative network of more than 20 local agencies and organizations with an aligned mission to bring environmental education resources to Lake Tahoe youth by providing high quality environmental and outdoor education programs. For additional information, contact Jeff Cowen, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Public Information Officer, at (775) 589-5278 or jcowen@trpa.gov.

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Honored with Rosa Parks Award

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Honored with Rosa Parks Award

Image: Lead staff on the Transportation Equity Study Victoria Ortiz (L) and Kira Richardson (R) accept the award on Wednesday at the WTS event in Sacramento, Calif.

 

Sacramento, Calif. – The Sacramento chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar International (WTS) bestowed its 2023 Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award Wednesday to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Transportation Equity Study, the agency announced today. Sacramento WTS leaders presented the award to TRPA staff at the annual awards and scholarship event in Sacramento, Calif.

Many citizens are underrepresented in traditional transportation planning and TRPA is working to ensure all Lake Tahoe community members are heard and engaged. Surveys of Tahoe’s small, rural communities show at least 30 percent of residents are underrepresented. Many live below the poverty line and nearly 1,000 households have no access to a car.

Lead staff for the equity study, Senior Transportation Planner Kira Richardson and Community Engagement Manager Victoria Ortiz, accepted the award on behalf of the agency alongside Kendall Flint of DKS Associates, the project consultant.

“We are honored for this recognition of the agency’s work with local community-based organizations and partner agencies to create a more equitable and accessible future for everyone at Lake Tahoe,” said TRPA’s Richardson. “We are also grateful for the relationships we’ve strengthened with many local residents who face unique adversities every day.”

The Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award honors organizations seeking to promote diversity and cultural awareness in the transportation industry. TRPA completed the first-ever Transportation Equity Study for the Lake Tahoe Region in 2023. The study team conducted multi-lingual community engagement to improve TRPA’s connection with underserved communities and to understand how transportation planning and decision-making can remove inequities.

“Equity in our transportation system is a cornerstone of environmental quality and community well-being,” said TRPA Governing Board Chair Cindy Gustafson who is also Placer County District 5 Supervisor. “The Transportation Equity Study will foster fair and efficient transportation options and lead the way to a healthier Lake Tahoe that is inclusive and accessible for all. I applaud the agency and its staff for this incredible recognition.”

The equity study brings forward a suite of policy recommendations such as improving winter access to work, recreation, and services by providing transit shelters and cleared sidewalks and pathways. The study also includes an interactive storymap to educate the public and help guide transportation projects and plans, including the Lake Tahoe Regional Transportation Plan update underway this year.

Background

TRPA has a lead role in identifying solutions for the region’s transportation challenges. As the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the Lake Tahoe Region, TRPA plans transportation system improvements and brings in state, regional, and federal transportation funding for programs and projects. Local, state, and federal partners implement projects and operate transit services throughout the Tahoe Region. Since 1997, partners have constructed or improved 198 miles of bike and pedestrian trails.

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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency leads the cooperative effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region, while improving local communities, and people’s interactions with our irreplaceable environment. For additional information, contact Jeff Cowen, Public Information Officer, at (775) 589-5278 or jcowen@trpa.gov

Working Together Toward Progress in 2024

Working Together Toward Progress in 2024

By Julie Regan

What a difference a year makes. This time last winter, many of us delighted in a promising snowpack, unaware that we were facing what would become the heaviest winter in more than 70 years. It was a tough one, even for some of us who survived the 1997 rain-on-snow disastrous winter. We got through it together, and 2023 had many bright spots with real progress for Lake Tahoe and our communities.

Regardless of the unknowns for 2024, maintaining collaboration and partnership will be critical for us to continue making major strides in water quality, climate resilience, community revitalization, and ultimately, Lake Tahoe’s restoration and protection. Simply put, we do better when we work together, and the stakes couldn’t be higher right now.

With temperatures rising globally and locally, the urgency around climate change cannot be understated. What may seem like a small shift – a few degrees in temperature – is consequential. Think about temperature change in the human body. A one-degree rise in body temperature can lead to a fever. Five degrees can land you in the hospital with your body shutting down. Over the past 100 years, Lake Tahoe’s daily minimum air temperature has risen 4.3 degrees. Just since 1970, the lake itself has risen 1.4 degrees and researchers are saying the lake is warming faster and faster.

Those few degrees are causing across-the-board impacts to this fragile ecosystem—water quality, aquatic invasive species, forest health and wildfire, a changing snowpack, and more extreme weather events. Tahoe has a fever.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and our partners must continue leading on climate resilience work. We’re updating our regulations to be more climate smart and leading an initiative to deliver more Environmental Improvement Program projects faster and more effectively. We are also supporting the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team in treating 11,000 more acres in the Wildland Urban Interface by 2025, which will complete a key phase of priority treatments.

Along with our work on the ground, we are holding more community conversations. In addition to my series of Tahoe Talks last year, TRPA is co-sponsoring a special event featuring renowned climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe January 23rd in Incline Village with UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UNR Tahoe, and Operation Sierra Storm. Drawing on her expertise as chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy and lead author of multiple National Climate Assessments, Dr. Hayhoe encourages climate conversations like these to build hope and healing to help fight climate change. She will also present at Lake Tahoe Community College later that day. Register for free here.

We’ve learned over the years that at Tahoe, the lake, economy, and community’s quality of life are intertwined in what’s called the triple-bottom-line. This is most apparent in our progress on affordable and workforce housing. TRPA’s Governing Board stood up for locals with an important vote in December adopting policy changes to lower the cost for builders and private property owners to create more deed-restricted workforce housing. On top of earlier policy changes that created incentives for accessory dwelling units, our dedicated housing planners are expanding their work this year to integrate housing, equity, and climate goals into land use and water quality programs.

Lake Tahoe and resort communities across the nation are finding innovative solutions to deep-rooted affordable housing challenges. TRPA and our partners are supporting local workers by addressing fundamental imbalances in the basin. Over the next few years, we will be working with communities to advance housing options, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and establish long-term, two-way community engagement with a particular focus on disadvantaged and historically underrepresented communities.

In a region as diverse as ours, progress comes through partnerships. And everyone has a role to play. From taking micro transit or biking, to reducing plastic use and joining litter cleanups, to private property owners installing water quality Best Management Practices (BMPs) and creating fire defensible space, it is up to every one of us to ensure Lake Tahoe is sustainable, healthy, and safe for the community and generations to come. I hope you join us in coming together to make 2024 a year of incredible progress for Lake Tahoe.

Julie Regan is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
Vision Zero Strategy Aims to Make Tahoe Roads Safer

Vision Zero Strategy Aims to Make Tahoe Roads Safer

Draft Vision Zero Strategy available for public review and input through February 2

Lake Tahoe, NV/CA – From 2013 to 2021, there were 41 fatalities and 183 life-changing serious injuries on Tahoe’s roadways, according to crash data reported by state and local law enforcement agencies. To help prevent these tragic crashes, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) this week released the draft Vision Zero Strategy for the Lake Tahoe Region. The data-backed strategy includes proposed policy changes and priority projects to help transportation partners across the Lake Tahoe Region improve safety for all road users, the agency said today.

The Vision Zero Strategy aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, and fair mobility for all. TRPA encourages members of the public to review and comment on the draft document through February 2.

The Vision Zero Strategy will roll up into the 2025 Regional Transportation Plan update along with the recently completed Transportation Equity Study and Tahoe Trails Strategy. TRPA leads transportation improvement, planning, and funding in the Tahoe Region to improve safety, create more walkable and bikeable communities, and protect Lake Tahoe’s air and water quality.

Vision Zero emphasizes the importance of collaboration with local governments, state agencies, law enforcement, advocacy groups, and the public. During 2023, outreach in English and Spanish gathered input from more than 400 people at community events and 320 survey respondents.

The final strategy will be heard by the TRPA Governing Board at its February 28 meeting. The public can review the draft Vision Zero Strategy at trpa.gov/visionzero and submit comments through February 2 to Rachael Shaw at rshaw@trpa.gov, or by phone at (775) 589-5267.

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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency leads the cooperative effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region, while improving local communities, and people’s interactions with our irreplaceable environment. For additional information, contact Jeff Cowen, Public Information Officer, at (775) 589-5278 or jcowen@trpa.gov.