Op-Ed: Help save Lake Tahoe from losing its iconic skyline | Digital Journal

By Ted Lipien

Published December 11, 2014 by Digital Journal

Tahoe Vista – Community campaign to protect iconic Lake Tahoe skyline from development needs state, national and international support.As one of the signs of the times of declining appreciation for public good, Lake Tahoe and other natural landmarks are being targeted for development that threatens to destroy their environmental health and beauty. Such projects for the enjoyment of the super rich are a growing trend nationwide and around the world. Once disturbed, these skylines are forever changed and lost for current and future generations. 


Some cities and towns famous for surrounding natural wonders have strict zoning regulations to protect them from greedy developers eager to make large profits from building expensive homes with gorgeous views. Lake Tahoe, one of the most iconic scenic places in North America and the world, is not one of the sites being protected from Sierra Pacific Industries, a logging company, and its developer agent, East West Partners.Local politicians in control of the Tahoe basin, who critics say bend over backwards for developers, lack a long-term ecological and economic vision for the region. They know and care very little about geotourism and have allowed Lake Tahoe to become a target of rapacious development. All Americans and and everybody else in the world who cares about the environment need to pay attention and demand zoning protections for the Lake Tahoe skyline, as well as for nearby Squaw Valley USA, the iconic 1960 Winter Olympics ski resort threatened with the proposed construction of a water game park by another developer, KSL Capital Partners. The water game park has been dropped due to a storm of local protests, but other development projects for Squaw Valley are still being pushed by the developer. This has prompted local residents to start a process to incorporate their area as a town separate from Placer County, which many locals believe has sold out to the developers seeking out attractive locations such as Squaw and Lake Tahoe. But local action may not be enough. The proposal to build more than a hundred new multimillion-dollar luxury homes in a likely gated community at the top of the ridgeline of Lake Tahoe has horrified many residents of the Tahoe basin and the nearby Martins Valley. They have started a campaign to prevent Sierra Pacific Industries and East West Partners from getting the area rezoned and proceeding with construction. But community leaders and conservationists who met this week in Truckee, California fear that local politicians, many of whom have close ties to the construction industry, will approve this project as they have approved many other similar projects to the detriment of the fragile natural environment around Lake Tahoe and the lake itself.

Save Lake Tahoe ridgeline and skyline meeting in Truckee, CA, December 9, 2014.

It was made abundantly clear at the community meeting this week that local residents have absolutely no faith in local government officials. The Placer County Supervisors and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) are charged with developing and enforcing zoning limitations and adequate ridge line controls. Many residents, including lawyers and other professionals, expressed fears of the developers’ ability to pay their way through any local environmental and zoning reviews and get the results they want. Having lived in the area for several years, I can honestly say that this is not an unreasonable fear.Ann Nichols who spoke on behalf of North Tahoe Preservation Alliance said that the ridgelines of Lake Tahoe and Martis Valley are one of the most outstandingly beautiful features of America and a basis for the area’s popularity and economy. Representatives of other local environmental organizations also expressed concerns about depletion of water sources and threats to wildlife from increased water use, car traffic, jet noise, and air pollution. The project could lead to an even greater reliance for water on Lake Tahoe, which is already visibly shrinking from the effects of California drought. 


The real larger danger is that if successful, these developers will use the Tahoe skyline homes as a model for bringing their business to other iconic scenic areas in California and in the rest of the United States, and perhaps even to other countries. They can certainly advertise these homes to rich foreign buyers. Developers will always be able to find people who jet in and out of these scenic areas without much concern for the environment. Their private planes landing and taking off from the local Truckee-Tahoe general aviation airport are already causing increasing jet noise, air pollution and otherwise disturb character and peace of the mountain resort town of Truckee, CA, where I live. The coalition of developers and politicians even managed to get property tax subsidies for such flights as being good for the local economy. Many residents have no idea that they are paying for it. The local airport authority plans to spend tax dollars to build jet hangars to be used by luxury home owners. To avoid criticism and bad publicity, it recently gave donations to two local environmental groups based directly on jet fuel sales. The more jets over Lake Tahoe, the bigger the donation. Incredibly, these organizations took them. The current state of governance and politics at the local level does not bode well for the lake and the area around it.Lake Tahoe belongs to all Americans. It belongs to the world. Local government officials who are primarily interested in short-term revenues cannot be trusted with protecting this great national and world treasure. The insane project to build a gated community for the super rich on the top of Lake Tahoe ridge line must be stopped with the help of all Americans and concerned citizens of other countries before it gets off the ground. If friends of the environment wait to take action, it may be too late.

Coral Amende addressing Save Lake Tahoe ridgeline and skyline meeting in Truckee, CA, December 9, 2014

You can start by signing a Change.org petition and writing letters to government agencies in the Tahoe region.  Save Tahoe Forests website has more information on local initiatives to stop the project, as does the Eco Truckee Tahoe eco-journalism website, which I have launched. But, according to my neighbors and other Truckee-Tahoe residents, this may not be enough because of corrupted local politics. The State of California needs to pay attention, as does the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress at the national level. International support for saving Lake Tahoe would also help. Don’t let this unthinkable development project become an irreversible reality and spread to America’s other landmarks. Let’s Keep Lake Tahoe Blue, Beautiful and Wild. 

Ted Lipien (tedlipien@gmail.com) is an author, international media expert and investigative reporter whose work has been noted by or appeared in Congressional Record, Washington Post, Washington Times, NPR, Fox News and other U.S. and world media. He volunteers with Eco Truckee Tahoe.

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