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Lake Tahoe. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Conservation Groups File Lawsuit Against Placer County

Conservation groups vow to file a similar lawsuit against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Washoe County

By Megan Barth, November 30, 2023 3:00 pm

The Friends of West Shore, TahoeCleanAir.org, and North Tahoe Preservation Alliance have filed a lawsuit (see below) against Placer County, CA for failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in approving new amendments to its Tahoe Basin Area Plan (TBAP).

The conservation groups claim the lawsuit is necessary to “protect Lake Tahoe, safeguard the interests and safety of Placer County residents and nearby Tahoe communities, which rely on limited infrastructure, and to maintain environmental and safety impact transparency surrounding important code amendments that will materially change the Tahoe environment.”

The conservation groups contend that Placer County has failed to provide a necessary and subsequent Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to the TBAP. They claim a subsequent report is required due “the numerous changes and increased safety threats that have occurred since 2016 when the last EIR was filed.

North Tahoe Preservation Alliance President Ann Nichols, stated: “Rather than protect and preserve a national treasure, the focus, with the help of developers and their lobbyists, seems to be on finding new ways to build out the Basin in service of attracting more and more people to come here. If Placer County truly cares about protecting the environment and the impacted community’s public safety, and not just developer profit margins, it will act now to prepare an EIR. Placer County has so far refused, only providing an environmental checklist. The County has ignored thousands of pages of public comment during hearings. Now it’s time for a judge to decide.”

Since 2016, an increase in tourism, traffic, and development have occurred around the basin which has led to an increase in trash, congestion, environmental damage and an impact to water quality. Additionally, safety concerns regarding a wildfire evacuation  have escalated.

Underscoring the evacuation crisis, Doug Flaherty, a retired fire battalion chief, and TahoeCleanAir.org President, said, “Government officials have demonstrated that they prefer to ignore or punt the creation of a critically needed data-driven roadway by roadway evacuation capacity evaluation, even though fire agencies have stated that ‘we have a long way to go to protect the Tahoe Basin and our citizens with fuel reduction and evacuation planning.’ No data-driven, worst-case fire evacuation capacity based plan currently exists. Communities are gravely concerned about the current unsafe gridlock on our two-lane roads which will only be exacerbated by these amendments making evacuations that much more difficult.”

Chair of the Washoe County Commission and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) board member Alexis Hill (she/her/hers) recently noted that traffic congestion has reached a critical point and has proposed a user tax on visitors to and residents of the Tahoe Basin.

As reported by The Globe, an influx of new residents and tourists since the pandemic has created so much traffic that Fodor’s recently listed Lake Tahoe as a “No Go Zone” due to congestion and ecological concerns.

The Globe spoke with Doug Flaherty who was preparing for the upcoming Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) meeting on December 6th where the agency will consider increasing the height and density of developments in the Tahoe Basin.

The Globe asked Flaherty if a lawsuit against Washoe County/TRPA should be expected in light of this recent filing against Placer County.

Flaherty told The Globe: “We will have no choice. We will immediately take legal action if TRPA fails to provide a subsequent EIR plan to the 2012 Lake Tahoe Regional Plan. There hasn’t been a cumulative or updated EIR since 2012. They use an “environmental checklist” which is specifically designed to avoid cumulative analysis. The checklist is used by counties for their own regional plans. The respective counties and TRPA have not analyzed the cumulative effect of these projects in 11 years. In case of a wildfire, due to overcapacity on our two-lane roads, the safe evacuation of residents and visitors is in jeopardy.”

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