By Joanne S. Marchetta

If ever there was a time to draw on the healing powers of Lake Tahoe, it’s now. The COVID crisis, complete with loss of life and wide-ranging financial impacts, is being compounded by human struggle and a wellspring of social justice demonstrations that are gripping the nation. One of our core values at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is collaboration — building collaborative relationships to protect Lake Tahoe. I can tell you that Tahoe’s successes have not ever come from reinforcing divisions. The imagined “us vs them” simply creates false divides.

We recognize the need for a tectonic shift, here and more broadly, in thinking and attitudes toward one another and the world. Across five decades of TRPA’s bi-state leadership, Lake Tahoe has needed these tectonic shifts in mindset to adapt to new and emerging threats. Each time, we have reached across the artificial lines that divide us to create shared solutions for Tahoe.

We have done it to reduce the threat of wildfire and make our communities safer. TRPA works with fire agencies to create landscape-scale fuel reduction strategies. We’ve removed barriers to forest health projects and helped secure tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to protect our forests.

As the summer season approaches, and visitors return after being quarantined, TRPA is working with partners to address climate change and transportation solutions. We’re addressing the gridlock and congestion that can plague our busiest weekends by fostering alignment around a seamless system of mobility where options other than the personal auto are widely available. Here, the tectonic shift needed is for people to accept going at a different time, going in a different way, or going to a different place.

On the invasive species front, we’ve partnered with private marinas and public recreation managers to create for the Tahoe Region one of the most comprehensive watercraft inspection programs in the U.S. Since boat inspections began, there have been no new introductions of aquatic invasive species in over a decade. This year, we were prompted by COVID to work out a broadly supported, phased reopening of Tahoe boating and invasive species inspections. The phased approach provided boat launches, watercraft inspectors, and recreation areas additional time to open and implement COVID precautions to ensure public safety. Soon, all boaters will be able to launch when invasive species inspection stations become fully operational.

Importantly, we are creating foundations for sustainability and social justice. TRPA’s Regional Plan prioritizes the creation of walkable, bikeable communities that include affordable housing and multiple transportation options so that those who work here can also afford to call it home. When we address inequality, we release what holds us back from real environmental and social progress.

Understandably, during tumultuous times, pristine alpine destinations like Lake Tahoe are popular escapes. At Tahoe, the pressure is building and while our hospitality workers and businesses deserve some relief, recreation sites and health organizations are bracing for an unprecedented season and building health and safety protocols into their operations. To again span invisible divides, TRPA is convening dozens of recreation management agencies in the Tahoe Region to achieve consistency and coordination needed to protect the health of visitors and employees. As restrictions on business and travel rapidly ease, Lake Tahoe’s strength and well‐being will lie in us acting together for the common good.

We are truly living in historic times. The COVID crisis and crumbling social cohesion are calls for the next tectonic shift in mindset — once again, away from division and toward action for the common good of humanity. Our lake and our society are stronger when we are united. In these difficult times it’s important that we learn from and stand by each other to overcome these challenges. Any lasting change takes time, and we at TRPA are committed to supporting our communities and the environment that sustains us all.

Joanne S. Marchetta is the Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency