Settlement Reached in Lake Tahoe Workforce Housing Litigation

Settlement Reached in Lake Tahoe Workforce Housing Litigation

Contact: Jeff Cowen, 775-589-5278

TRPA Solutions to Environmental, Equity Issues Remain Unchanged by Settlement Agreement

Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. – The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and Mountain Area Preservation (MAP) reached a settlement agreement this week over a lawsuit brought by MAP against affordable housing policies approved by the TRPA Governing Board in December 2023. The litigation sought to block new land use policies in the highly protected Lake Tahoe Region that combined incentives for water quality, transportation, and workforce housing improvements, according to TRPA.

According to the settlement agreement, MAP will be invited to join other organizations on the Tahoe Living Working Group that TRPA formed in 2020 to advise on housing policies.

“We look forward to engaging Mountain Area Preservation in a more productive dialogue along with the full range of stakeholders,” TRPA Executive Director Julie Regan said. “We must keep the Tahoe Basin moving forward to address an affordable housing crisis that is impacting Lake Tahoe’s environment and marginalizing members of our community who deserve to live and work here. Resort communities everywhere are facing similar challenges, but we have proven over the years that environmental protection and community revitalization can go hand-in-hand.”

“We are satisfied that the settlement supports the Governing Board’s decision and shows that TRPA’s high environmental standards can be maintained while advancing more affordable and workforce housing projects,” said TRPA General Counsel John Marshall. “Across the nation, we are seeing important environmental laws being leveraged to block equitable housing policies. Fortunately, the MAP litigation was short-lived and the agency is able to apply its time and resources to the important work of modernizing land-use policies.”

TRPA has kicked off a new phase of housing policy work and seeks additional perspectives on the Tahoe Living Working Group the agency formed in 2020 to advise on housing policies. According to the settlement agreement, MAP will be invited to join other organizations on the working group.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement that paves the way for more inclusive and equitable housing policies in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” TRPA Board Chair and Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson said. “Moving these critical policy updates forward will help us support our region’s local workforce. The agreement underscores our commitment to addressing the housing needs of our community while preserving the natural beauty and environmental integrity of Lake Tahoe.”

Under the direction of the TRPA Governing Board, in 2020 the agency set out three phases of affordable and workforce housing policy work. The first phase approved in July 2021 encouraged more accessory dwelling units for local workers and made it easier to convert small motels to residential uses. The Phase 2 amendments approved last December made it possible for property owners building deed-restricted affordable and workforce housing to apply for building incentives that result in appropriately designed multi-family or mixed-use buildings in certain areas, as long as they improve walkability and include water quality improvements. With the signing of the settlement agreement, those policies can move forward as originally proposed with no cloud of legal challenge, according to TRPA.

The TRPA Governing Board approved technical clarifications to the December policy updates and new policies requiring affordable housing as part of mixed-use projects at its meeting Wednesday, June 26.

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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.

TRPA Plans Vigorous Defense Of Affordable Housing Policies

TRPA Plans Vigorous Defense Of Affordable Housing Policies

Lake Tahoe CA/NV – The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is planning a vigorous defense of a lawsuit filed last Friday against affordable and workforce housing policy changes adopted for the Lake Tahoe Region in December 2023, TRPA General Counsel John Marshall said in a statement today.

“Mountain Area Preservation, a Truckee-based group whose members identify themselves as people who live and work in the Lake Tahoe Region, seeks to close off opportunities for others of limited means to enjoy the same opportunities,” Marshall said.

TRPA’s recent policy changes created additional incentives for affordable and workforce housing close to transit and services, along with increased requirements for stormwater treatment to protect the lake’s famed clarity and measures to promote walking, biking, and transit use.

“Lake Tahoe has some of the strongest environmental protections in the nation thanks to the bi-state compact that created the TRPA in 1969,” said TRPA Executive Director Julie Regan. “The TRPA Governing Board has made it a priority to stand up for local workers to help revitalize our communities and protect the lake for future generations.”

Facts about environmental conditions at Lake Tahoe
  • Strict development caps through the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan are unparalleled in the United States and remain in effect for the Tahoe Basin under the amended policies to promote affordable housing.
  • Less than 1 percent of the land area of the Tahoe Basin is in a town center where new policies apply to deed-restricted affordable and workforce housing projects. The housing units reserved for the policy incentives have been set aside for decades.
  • More than 70 percent of the pollutants harming Lake Tahoe are coming from urban upland areas where reinvestment brings water quality and transportation improvements.
  • Monitoring of environmental conditions in the Tahoe Basin shows that the full-time population dropped 12 percent from 2000 to 2020 as home prices became out of reach for most residents.
  • Traffic statistics show the number of cars and visitors in the region has remained flat over the last decade even as leisure activities have shifted to outdoor recreation.
  • See also: presentation on demographics and transportation, pollution reduction progress reports, environmental threshold carrying capacity reports conducted every four years.

“Unfortunately, litigating affordable housing solutions under the guise of environmental protection is becoming a common tactic in communities across California and the nation, and is a major reason why shortages of affordable housing continue,” Marshall said. “In the case here in Lake Tahoe, these litigants are blocking both affordable housing solutions and progress toward lake clarity.”

Housing planners at TRPA have been following stories of similar litigation elsewhere:

How environmental law is misused to stop housing, CalMatters, January 8, 2023
https://calmatters.org/commentary/2023/01/how-environmental-law-is-misused-to-stop-housing/

How major environmental groups ended up on the wrong side of California’s housing crisis, Mother Jones, November 17, 2023
https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2023/11/green-groups-housing-crisis-ceqa-environmental-density-nimby/

NIMBYism as a barrier to housing and social mix in San Francisco, National Institute of Health Library of Medicine, May 26, 2021
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8149917/

Measure O and the downtown Santa Cruz library project, Santa Cruz Local, November 8, 2022
https://santacruzlocal.org/election/2022-nov-08/measure-o-downtown-library/

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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.
Settlement Reached in Lake Tahoe Workforce Housing Litigation

TRPA Advances Workforce Housing Solutions

Image Rendering by Design Workshop

Lake Tahoe, NV/CA – The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Governing Board approved a package of affordable and workforce housing incentives Wednesday to help address the housing crisis that is impacting Lake Tahoe’s environment and communities. The targeted changes to Lake Tahoe zoning regulations will lower the cost to provide affordable and workforce housing, benefit water quality, and reduce traffic and vehicle use, the agency said today.

Following three hours of public testimony, the board adopted the policy changes with refinements based on community and board member feedback.

Rising property values are only part of the housing crisis affecting Lake Tahoe communities, according to TRPA. The development caps and building design requirements enacted by the agency decades ago to save the lake are partly driving the market toward large, single-family homes versus smaller, more affordable multi-family units such as duplexes, triplexes, and apartments.

With a limited amount of new development allowed under the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan, major renovation, redevelopment, and new projects must achieve multiple goals, according to TRPA. Existing incentives encourage water quality and transportation improvements on commercial and tourist accommodation properties. Extending additional incentives to deed-restricted multi-family projects is a key priority for the agency.

“When you look at this breathtaking lake and then recognize what is happening to people and businesses in our communities, it’s heartbreaking,” said TRPA Executive Director Julie Regan. “In resort communities in Tahoe and across the nation, it’s getting harder for people to live where they work. The status quo is unacceptable and these changes are one of many solutions needed.”

The approved policy changes require a high level of stormwater Best Management Practices to protect water quality. The goal is to build public-private partnerships that deliver more affordable housing throughout Lake Tahoe.

Highlights on the new housing incentives:

  • They apply only to projects close to transit and services that provide permanently deed-restricted units for lower income and local workers.
  • Projects in town centers can apply for more flexible building designs with additional land coverage, up to 9 additional feet of height, more units allowed within the building envelope, and reduced parking if the project will implement alternatives like a car-share or shared-parking agreement.
  • Smaller projects in surrounding multi-family residential zones can apply for similar, stepped down incentives to encourage more duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units.

“Our communities are struggling,” said TRPA Governing Board Chair and Placer County District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson. “I am seeing boarded up buildings in my community of Tahoe City for the first time in the 40 years I have lived here. This approval gives the Tahoe Basin one more tool that the local jurisdictions can choose to use, but we know we need to keep making progress on additional solutions to strengthen our communities and protect some of Tahoe’s most at-risk community members.”

Within a year, local governments are required to align the changes with their local area plans. Area plan updates also allow local communities to tailor the extra allowances as long as they work toward regional housing goals.

Starting in early 2024, TRPA staff will initiate a multi-year effort to more comprehensively integrate housing, equity, and climate goals into key land-use and water quality programs. The agency was recently awarded $2.4 million in grant funding from the California Department of Housing and Community Development to help with further improvements that will benefit the entire region.

To get involved, visit trpa.gov/housing and sign up for the agency’s housing eNews.

Background

In 2020, TRPA convened a working group of TRPA Governing Board members, local government staff and representatives of communities with expertise in housing or that are directly affected by the housing crisis to identify Regional Plan policy changes needed to encourage more affordable and workforce housing in the Tahoe Basin. The Tahoe Living Working Group suggested changes that are being publicly reviewed in three phases. The first phase changed policies on accessory dwelling units. The approval Wednesday accounted for the second phase.

TRPA Principal Planner Karen Fink says more workers are living in unsafe, untenable housing conditions or being forced out entirely, which increases commuter traffic along with the climate and water quality impacts that come from more cars on the road. A regional housing needs assessment estimated an additional 5,800 workforce housing units are needed in the basin. The new policies apply to around 940 development rights reserved for deed-restricted workforce housing units.

Additional data on the growth management system in the Tahoe Region is showing that earlier Regional Plan environmental analyses planned for new development under the growth caps that hasn’t all come forward. Overall, there is less development happening in the Tahoe Basin than what was projected in both the 1987 and 2012 Regional Plans.

“We have to do a lot with a little,” Fink said. “Our housing strategic priority doesn’t add residential units beyond the existing development caps. We are making it more likely that our limited remaining growth, approved years ago by the Governing Board, will be built as homes that are affordable to local workers and families. There have to be feasible alternatives to building high-end, single-family homes.” She said Tahoe’s land-use, transportation, and water quality programs should be able to accommodate and benefit from multi-family projects that house vital community members, such as firefighters, teachers, and health care and service workers.

The agency received comments of support and concern­­ during the public vetting process. Feedback led to refinements that added greater ability for local governments and communities to tailor some of the changes. The incentives were also changed to offer lower height limits in areas surrounding town centers and specified certain income and local employment criteria for the 25 percent of workforce housing development rights reserved for the “achievable” level of deed-restriction.

Additional protections built into the policy changes include:

    • Projects that apply for incentives cannot be used as short-term rentals or become high-end homes. Deed-restrictions are enforceable, and units will be monitored through annual compliance programs.
    • All projects in the basin are required to meet high standards for water quality protection, scenic quality, and compatibility with local communities.
    • The policies aim to reduce employee car travel into and out of the basin and concentrate multi-family units in walkable areas close to transit and services. All development in the basin is capped and no new development above the caps is allowed by the changes.
    • TRPA scientifically measures and reports cumulative changes in the Tahoe Basin every four years through the Environmental Threshold Report. The report ensures policies are working to achieve and maintain environmental threshold goals for the region. The next one will be published in 2024.

Next Steps

Starting in early 2024, TRPA staff will initiate the third phase of the Tahoe Living strategic priority. This will be an approximately three-year effort to more comprehensively integrate housing, equity, and climate goals into key land-use and water quality programs.

The agency was recently awarded $2.4 million in grant funding from the California Department of Housing and Community Development to help with Phase 3 improvements that will benefit the entire region. In particular, the agency will work within the community to consider fundamental imbalances in policies such as those that continue to skew development toward higher-end uses rather than naturally affordable homes.

Over the coming year, the agency will work with local partners to establish long-term, two-way community engagement with a particular focus on disadvantaged and historically underrepresented communities to advance housing choices, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and build upon the region’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, a key transportation policy document.

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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.

2023 in Review: Challenge and Progress for Lake Tahoe 

2023 in Review: Challenge and Progress for Lake Tahoe 

By Cindy Gustafson 

The slow march toward winter at Lake Tahoe this year is starting to make last winter seem like a distant memory. However, reflecting back on a year of both challenges and wins for the lake and our communities, it would be impossible to leave out the 70-year record snowfall Tahoe received last winter. The crushing series of atmospheric rivers brought emergency conditions that tested the basin, but when it came down to it, we saw people and agencies digging in to help one another dig out.  

The lake itself also experienced rare events. Not only did Emerald Bay freeze completely over for the first time in 30 years, in February researchers working with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) witnessed a full depth mix of the lake that briefly produced some of the clearest surface water imaginable. The natural process of the lake “flipping” helps clarity, but as climate change continues affecting the ecosystem, it is happening less often. Fortunately, for the last 26 years the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) has brought together over 80 partners to increase our region’s resilience to climate change. EIP partners have completed hundreds of forest health, transportation, and water quality projects like the California Tahoe Conservancy’s Upper Truckee River Marsh restoration project that restored the stream channel and flood plain in Lake Tahoe’s largest marsh ecosystem. 

Progress in fire and fuels management can be seen in the acres of powerline resilience corridor projects around the basin, which are building upon the more than 500 acres of powerline corridor work completed in 2022. Also, more than 36,000 logs from the Caldor Fire have been delivered to a new sawmill just 10 miles from the Tahoe Basin in Carson City, Nev. The mill is a partnership between Tahoe Forest Products, LLC and an affiliate of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California that will help make Tahoe communities safer by providing a viable location to deliver excess forest fuels from forest resilience projects in the region. The TRPA Governing Board this year also opened a process for a small-scale biomass facility pilot project at South Tahoe Refuse that could be an important start to unlocking renewable energy in Tahoe’s forests.  

More progress on lake clarity is coming from environmental redevelopment projects every year. In March, the Governing Board approved a reduced Waldorf Astoria project in Crystal Bay that will result in a 90 percent reduction in sediment runoff into Lake Tahoe from the site. On the South Shore in June, the free Lake Link microtransit service launched ahead of the much-celebrated opening of the Tahoe Blue Event Center. Along with TART Connect service across North Lake Tahoe, since 2021 more than 760,000 free microtransit rides have significantly reduced vehicle miles traveled in the basin.  

This year also saw the culmination of several years of public input and partnership building around outdoor recreation and tourism and transportation improvements. TRPA helped launch the first-ever Lake Tahoe Destination Stewardship Plan in June that brought together 18 public land management, non-profit, and destination management organizations. The group has already established a destination stewardship council to help foster a tourism economy that gives back through more than 30 actions that benefit our lake and communities. TRPA also approved a critical parking lot improvement project by the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit on Tahoe’s popular East Shore recreation corridor that will improve safety and reduce roadside parking. Major ski resorts, including Palisades Tahoe and Vail’s Tahoe resorts, are launching parking management programs this winter to reduce roadway backups and get more people using transit and microtransit to get to the resorts.  

Finally, TRPA and partners made important progress tackling the affordable housing crisis deeply affecting the entire region. The agency approved a 100-bed student housing project on the Lake Tahoe Community College campus earlier this year, and construction is well underway on the 248-unit Sugar Pine Village workforce housing project in South Lake Tahoe.  

Next Wednesday, December 13, the TRPA Governing Board will consider targeted policy changes that could remove barriers to workforce housing in the region. TRPA has guided a public process for more than two years to review these policies and they have received both concern and letters of support. The policies are only one solution needed to lower costs to construct housing for local workers and families. I encourage everyone to learn more about the policy changes and get involved in the process at trpa.gov/housing. 

May our incredible progress continue in 2024 and many years to come! 

Cindy Gustafson is Placer County District 5 Supervisor and Chair of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board. 

TRPA Board Approves LTCC Affordable Housing Project

TRPA Board Approves LTCC Affordable Housing Project

Deed-restricted project will house 100 students

Stateline, NV – The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) Governing Board on Wednesday unanimously approved the Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) Student Housing Project, which will provide up to 100 students on-campus affordable housing, the agency announced today. Among other items heard by the Board and committees yesterday were affordable housing incentives for local workers, permit process improvements, and an amendment to the Washoe County Tahoe Area Plan.

TRPA and the City of South Lake Tahoe worked with LTCC to ensure the project could move forward this year, similar to the collaborative, all-hands planning process that helped the 248-unit Sugar Pine Village affordable housing project break ground in record time in 2022.

“We commend the college for helping provide new affordable housing options to its students, whose educational pursuits are often thwarted by a lack of housing,” TRPA Executive Director Julie Regan said. “Solutions to the housing crisis in the Tahoe Region are coming from every direction and this project is a shining example of the kind of progress we can make when we work together.”

Environmental benefits of the LTCC project include reduction of vehicle trips to and from campus and heated sidewalks that reduce the need for snow removal equipment and de-icing. Very little additional parking was needed for the 100-bed project, largely due to the existing adjacent parking lot, trail and transit connectivity, and on-campus services the college features. The college recently added an electric bus mobility hub on campus in partnership with the Tahoe Transportation District and Liberty Utilities and contributed to construction of the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway Trail.

LTCC is one of just 11 California community colleges to receive state funding for housing projects under a new initiative to address housing affordability in communities throughout the state. The expedited permit process helped the college meet tight timelines required by the $39 million grant. The facility is expected to open to low-income students in 2025.

You can also view a fly-through video of the architectural plans. Images and video credit: Lake Tahoe Community College and JK Architecture Engineering.

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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.