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A Simplification of the Tahoe Basin Permit Process

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If you read last month’s column about building vs. buying, you are now more familiar with a couple of the local planning agencies; but have you found yourself wondering what exactly these agencies do?

Let’s talk about the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).

According to its mission statement, it leads the cooperative effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region, while improving local communities and people’s interactions with our irreplaceable environment.

I recently attended a Tahoe Talk put on by the TRPA and Placer County, held at the Tahoe City Public Utility District boardroom. This event addressed the building and permitting process in an attempt to simplify the complicated, and at times overwhelming, process. This was a complimentary afternoon session open to the public, and I encourage all readers to look into attending one in the future.

At one point in the late 1960s, plans called for building a city in the basin, similar in size to San Francisco. Conservationists fought for oversight of development in our unique area and in the end, the good guys won.

On Dec. 18, 1969, President Richard Nixon delivered his signature on the bi-state compact between the two states Lake Tahoe calls home, and created the TRPA. The newly created agency managed to unify six jurisdictions, California, Nevada, and the federal government, and was the first compact of its kind.

Now that we have a brief history lesson on TRPA’s past, let’s learn about how it benefits the Lake Tahoe region today.

1) Permits: To build a property from the ground up, you must first obtain a permit granting permission to do so.

Depending on the property’s location and the proposed project, Placer County (our local building department is located in Tahoe City) can likely issue a permit without review from the TRPA. This process is called a memorandum of understanding, or a MOU. These MOUs were put in place to save property owners time and money, and keep North Lake Tahoe property owners from having to drive to TRPA’s South Lake Tahoe office in order to obtain a permit.

It is worth mentioning that Placer County will not issue permits for any lakefront properties. Lakefront permits require issuance from the TRPA directly.

Placer County recently introduced their Tahoe City office to a new program referred to as “Over the Counter” Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, a staff member from the North Tahoe Fire District will be available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to issue same-day permits for simple projects. While building an entire home will not qualify for this specific program, many other projects will. Think deck additions and rebuilds, kitchen remodels, bathroom remodels, other minor remodels, and solar installations.

2) Managing Lake Tahoe’s Best Management Practices, otherwise referred to as “Tahoe BMPs.”

These proven practices are put into place to “minimize soil erosion and capture polluted water before it enters Lake Tahoe.” By implementing these measures, you will be personally contributing to preserving our beloved Big Blue’s water clarity, as well as improving water quality.

Pulled from, BMPs prescribed for residential properties may include:

• Paving dirt driveways

• Protecting the soil under drip lines of roofs by installing drain rock

• Stabilizing or retaining steep slopes and loose soils

• Vegetating and mulching bare soils

3) Regional Plan: The bi-state compact referenced earlier included a clause requiring the TRPA to create a regional plan “to establish a balance, or equilibrium, between the natural environment and the human-made environment.”

What is the regional plan exactly?

According to the TRPA website, “The Regional Plan is a regulatory framework that includes several initiatives and documents. The Plan is meant to be updated every four years, in conjunction with an environmental evaluation report, so that the plan can adapt to changing needs, circumstances, and emerging threats.”

In fact, this January the TRPA will be voting on and likely adopting the Placer County Tahoe Basin Area Plan for the entire portion of Placer County that sits within the Tahoe Basin.

Many will agree that the building and permitting process in the basin can be especially challenging, but there are numerous sources available to help streamline and expedite your experience. TRPA has an incredibly resourceful website and an entire staff happy to sit down and share their knowledge with you.

Visit the TRPA website at to get started.

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July 12, 2018