By Joanne S. Marchetta
The year was 1969. And what a year it was. On July 20, 1969—the Viet Nam War was raging—American Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the surface of the moon. For much of the decade, America and indeed the world had been mesmerized by the space race.
The end of the decade brought us the music festivals of Altamont and Woodstock. The hippie counterculture movement was at its zenith, and Elvis was still in the building. The iconic Boeing 747 made its inaugural flight from Seattle to New York City. And the Beatles performed for the last time in public on the rooftop of Apple Records in central London. What a year.
As the sixties drew to a close, there was another momentous occasion marking the end of the decade. In December 1969, President Richard Nixon signed into law the bi-state compact creating the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The compact came about as California Governor Ronald Reagan, Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt, and others raised fears that overdevelopment was threatening to destroy Lake Tahoe.
Fifty years later, TRPA remains dedicated to protecting and preserving Lake Tahoe’s natural environment. Looking back, we’ve proven that by working together collaboratively, protecting the natural treasure that is Lake Tahoe is indeed possible.
During the agency’s infancy, we worked to curb runaway growth inside the basin, halting unchecked development that was threatening Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity. Science was proving that Tahoe’s clarity was declining as development continued unabated, paving over wetlands that once filtered polluted stormwater runoff. In the early 1980s, a federal judge issued a moratorium on nearly all development inside the basin that lasted close to three years as the agency developed the first regional plan through a consensus process.
The following decade, President Bill Clinton called Lake Tahoe a “national treasure that must be protected and preserved.” And in 1997, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore convened the first Lake Tahoe Summit, and out of that was born the Environmental Improvement Program (EIP). In the intervening years, Environmental Improvement Program partners—now numbering more than 80 federal, state, local, and private entities—have invested more than $2 billion in nearly 700 lake-saving projects. These projects have helped stabilize the lake’s clarity loss, improved mountain streams, enhanced forest health, and built bicycle and pedestrian paths.
In 2012, with the most recent regional plan update, TRPA embraced the idea of environmental re-development. We discovered a pathway that addressed the development mistakes of the past by restoring sensitive lands. This path allowed for new investments in our communities that benefit the economy while also helping to protect and restore the environment.
So, this December is special for many reasons. The holidays bring us together. Families and friends reunite and celebrate the bonds that tie, and communities come together to celebrate the season and what it means to people of differing faiths, beliefs, and backgrounds. There is a spirit of generosity and giving that is palpable.
The holidays are also a time of reflection. As TRPA celebrates 50 years since our inception, we reflect on our mission. And we reflect on our failures as well as our successes. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” One of the most significant things we’ve learned over 50 years is that we are more effective as an agency when we work as conveners and collaborators. Silos are for grain, not good governance.
It’s the next 50 years where the hard work of protecting Lake Tahoe continues. The mountainous challenges that we face— climate change and adaptation, transportation and tourism, affordable housing, and social justice to name a few—are in and of themselves daunting. And we won’t find solutions to those challenges by shrinking from them. Lake Tahoe has always inspired bi-partisanship. Because on both sides of the aisle, we see a treasure that’s worthy of taking care of for future generations.
From all of us at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency: We say happy holidays. We send to you and yours the warmest of best wishes for the season, and good tidings for a new year and a new decade as we enter the 2020s.
– Joanne S. Marchetta is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency