Monday, March 29, 2010

Bonanza Column 178 – Boulder Bay and IVGID

I yield to no one about my credentials as an environmentalist. I have been a consultant to both the executives and Board of Directors of the Sierra Club, and consider myself to have been "green" before green was fashionable. This long-standing interest in and commitment to the environment makes the attitude of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Area Sierra Club, and other local groups toward the Boulder Bay project baffling to me.

In other parts of the country, environmental organizations seem to take a fairly rational view of the need to balance progress and change with environmental concerns. Unless there are clear indications that irreparable damage will be done with no compensating environmental benefit, these organizations, the Sierra Club among them, generally work with government and private interests to find acceptable solutions. The environmental organizations here at Lake Tahoe, however, seem to have as their objective to turn everything here back to a "natural" state and to oppose any change that does not simply remove people and human habitation.

TRPA has been very open to input on the Boulder Bay EIS – they have made many changes based on that input and are in the process of one more revision of the draft study. While I don't advocate making environmental or societal decisions based on public sentiment alone, it's worth noting that the input TRPA received was overwhelmingly in support of the project, particularly alternative C, and where substantive questions and objections were raised, TRPA has been responsive. Nonetheless, at what is probably the eleventh hour, a coalition of the League, the Sierra Club, the California Watershed Network and local groups of questionable provenance has come forward with objections, but no alternative solutions.

I question the provenance of the local groups because at least one of them, the North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, seems to have been formed for the express purpose of opposing the Boulder Bay project and has had a problematic relationship with the facts in its arguments. The others, "Friends of the West Shore," "Friends of Tahoe Vista," and "Friends of Crystal Bay/Brockway," are unknown to us and we have no indication of who they represent, how many they represent, or whether they know what they're talking about.

The Boulder Bay project, particularly alternative C, is a huge improvement over the current dinosaur on the property, which is an environmental disaster on almost every count you can think of. While the Wittenbergs are great people, I think it's extremely unlikely that they will level the property, plant grass, trees, and flowers, and stock it with Bambi-esque forest creatures. They are business people, and it is a given that they will run a business on the property. That being the case, they have done a terrific job of designing and redesigning a property and amenities that will be eco-friendly, down to plans for bicycles, car-sharing programs, shuttle service, etc., as well as health and wellness facilities and an aesthetically pleasant and non-intrusive design. But it seems nothing will satisfy our local environmentalists. If Roger Wittenberg were a spiteful man, which I know him not to be, he would say to hell with all of them and leave the current monstrosity in place. Thank heavens he's smarter than they are.

On another note, the IVGID budgeting process has been remarkably open and transparent. Still, they have done the unthinkable and are considering an increase in the rec fee, so naturally people are up in arms, with the shopworn argument "I don't use the facilities, why should I pay?" OK, listen carefully, here's why: whether you use the facilities or not, access to them significantly increases the value of your property. If they are not kept up or in some cases renovated, they will deteriorate and so will the value of your property. When you moved here you knew that part of what you were getting was a set of community amenities. Those require maintenance and upkeep. The Board and staff of IVGID are doing everything in their power to keep the budget process rational – let's try to keep the discussion of the process the same.

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