Friday, June 17, 2011

Bonanza Column 239 - The Lake Knows No Parties

As a veteran of the organizational change business, there are two things I emphasize to my clients – one is that change takes time and the other is that seeing the change reflected in the market’s response to your business takes even more time.
For those of us who watch the workings of TRPA closely, there is no doubt that significant organizational change has occurred since Joanne Marchetta took over as Executive Director, and that that change is continuing in the face of all the stresses impinging on the agency and on Marchetta herself. At the same time, it’s not surprising that much of the public have taken a “we shall see” attitude – I don’t blame them With anti-government feeling at a long-time high, many are not disposed to trust any agency to have their interests at heart, and TRPA has a long history of being one way and a short history of changing.
Now the Legislature has passed the bill that was AB and SB 271, and TRPA will have until 2014 not just to have its house in order, but to meet certain metrics that will, arguably, demonstrate that it has done so. This is not an unreasonable requirement to place on the Agency, and it is one that I am confident it will meet. Ideally I would have preferred that the bill not pass. Ms Marchetta and her staff have, I think, amply demonstrated in action their commitment to change how the Agency does business and responds to the public. Still, the inertia of public perception of change is real and needs to be taken into account, so this seems to me like a good compromise. If I were in Ms Marchetta’s shoes it seems to me that I would see the deadline as a real challenge, but one I and my staff can meet and in doing so prove our bona fides.
And make no mistake – we need TRPA. The agency was not set up on a whim – even in 1969 it was apparent that advances in technologies and increased traffic and development would make regulation a necessity if the unique character of the Lake and Basin were to survive. Tahoe’s unique position of having a state border running down its spine, leaves three options for regulation – each state regulating its side separately, the Federal Government regulating the bi-state area, or a bi-state compact leaving regulation in the hands of the coordinated effort of the two states involved. The Federal option is a nightmare that no one wants to see. The separate states option is a logical impossibility – that line down the middle of the lake is imaginary – what affects any part of the lake affects the lake. The compact is the only option that has any hope of protecting the lake and the Legislature has but some teeth into a demand that TRPA meet its responsibilities under the compact.
The bi-state compact is not perfect by a long shot. Given the varied and often competing interests of Northern California, Southern California, the Central Valley, etc., as well as Northern and Southern Nevada, urban and rural Nevada, etc., I’d rather see the Governing Board composed of people from those geographical areas most affected by the lake, but we have the Compact we have, not the Compact we want and it’s working better than not.
Two things should not enter into the scrutiny of TRPA, though it would be a miracle if they didn’t. One is party politics – this cannot be allowed to be turned into a political football. On January 10, 1945, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan delivered a celebrated speech in the Senate chamber announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism saying “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Vandenberg's Senate career stands as a monument to the benefits of bipartisanship in American foreign policy, and applies no less to the edge of Lake Tahoe than to the edge of the Atlantic.
The second thing is misguided environmental Puritanism – TRPA is not perfect, and local environmental groups have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the good and improving because they can’t have the perfect.
Anything less than TRPA’s meeting the criteria and the Compact being strengthened would be the beginning of the end for the Lake Tahoe Basin.

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