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Who Owns and Protects the Environment?

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By DAVE BREW  |  Squaw Valley

An individual or company that owns a legal parcel of the Earth’s surface may think that they own it all: the air, the wind, the water, the views, the smells, perhaps a creek, and the trees next door. This concept allows developers to proceed as if they own everything: to pollute the air, destroy an owner’s view of the mountains, and threaten the local water supply. But this is not right!

We all collectively own the environment and the natural phenomenon that surround us. This asserts that each and every one of us is an owner of all of our surroundings and, if our environment is damaged in any way, then we are all entitled to compensation.

So, who protects our environment for us and looks after our compensation?

For those in Truckee/North Lake Tahoe, the answers are that it is the State of California by way of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and by our elected, appointed, and hired representatives of the Nevada and Placer counties boards of supervisors, the counties’ planning commissions, the Placer and Nevada counties planning service divisions, special district boards, and municipal advisory councils.

And how well do all these different entities protect our environment?

CEQA has an excellent framework for environmental impact assessment, but it is administered by the governmental groups listed above, rather than by an independent state office. Unfortunately, it appears from reading the papers, the Placer County newsletter, and attending meetings, that our county board of supervisors and their supporting planning services favor economic development considerations over any environmental concerns. They appear to be allied with developers’ profit-making interests rather than with protecting the public’s ownership of the environment. So, it’s really up to the grassroots municipal advisory councils and to ad hoc citizens’ groups and individuals to persuade the supervisors otherwise and to stand up against the Goliath developers.

How about compensation to those whose environment is damaged or unalterably modified?

The stock answer is that our elected representatives hold our best interests foremost and that they believe that our interests are served by continuing economic development, with its tax and other income to the county, rather than by concern for our environment.

Think about the push for increased tourism: Approximately 1 million visitors came to the North Tahoe region last year. One recent report projects a 5 percent increase in visitation for the next 20 years. So, in 2035, there would be 2 million visitors, which is twice as many. Is this kind of economic development growth sustainable, and would Lake Tahoe and its surroundings then resemble anything like what we all now enjoy?

So, what to do?

Changing the make-up of the board of supervisors or persuading them to be environmentally conscientious appears difficult in the short term, as does changing the attitudes and procedures of the county planning services division personnel.

What is left is to join, support, and participate with the ad hoc and other groups that speak up and defend our environment on our collective behalf: The Friends of Squaw Valley, Unofficial Alpine, Mountain Area Preservation, Sierra Watch, Friends of the West Shore, Truckee River Watershed Council, Friends of the North Shore, The Sierra Club, and your local municipal advisory councils and design review committees.

~ Dave Brew is a Squaw Valley resident and contrarian.

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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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March 14, 2019