BY ROGER PATCHING

The 2013 Lake Tahoe Summit came off pretty much without a hitch. Nice booths, the usual cast of characters on the stage and in the audience, and the standard mutually congratulatory comments from speakers wrapped in rallying calls to do better, work harder, and keep Tahoe pristine. California Gov. Jerry Brown appeared to fall asleep occasionally, but many might feel it was warranted. It was a gathering, by all accounts, of mostly well-intentioned people who appear to care about the lake both environmentally and economically.  

Oblique comments by some of those on stage, and later echoed in press interviews following the event, confirmed their belief that the Regional Plan Update (RPU) approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is sound. This blueprint for the governance and development of the Tahoe Basin for the next 20 years is currently being challenged in court by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore.  

The environmentalists, with the exception of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which has withdrawn from the community, believe uniformly that the RPU will result in massive corporate commercialization and urbanization of the Basin by the resort industry. Abandoning its charge to monitor and protect the environment, the TRPA’s RPU authorizes the counties to take control of the bulk of large-scale development.

For some, the issue doesn’t even warrant intellectual discourse. In very emotive language regarding the Sierra Club, Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid proclaimed: “I tried to prevail upon them. They didn’t listen. I’m right; they’re wrong!” Similarly, Gov. Brown added, “We reject their lawsuit. We think they don’t quite get it!” Without explanation, they scoffed.  

What is interesting is that given how full their plates are, Brown, Sen. Feinstein, Reid, and other politicos who support the RPU can’t explain their positions because they are simply voicing what they’ve been told. And, what they have been told is an a priori fallacy that has morphed from a fanciful illusion, crafted to sell the RPU to them and the public, into the perception of a factual reality. Essentially, the RPU is based upon false planning premises that then have been used to support conclusions which are logically invalid. It is based on nonsense. But it is wonderful sounding nonsense — some would call it propaganda — and is very appealing to well intentioned people, such as many Tahoe Fund contributors.

This is not particularly new. One need not reach too far back in recent history to recall the similar origins of America’s economic collapse and why so many mortgages are still underwater while bank profits are off the chart. Remember the economic cause and effect claims that most believed were true?  

Indeed, it is also clear that former Vice President Al Gore, the keynote speaker at the summit, heeded a letter from the Friends of Lake Tahoe and others that was widely circulated in the press not to buy the propaganda that championed both the TRPA and the RPU as saviors of all things environmental at Tahoe. He correctly mentioned neither and also, in terms of lake clarity, pointed out: “… in order to continue making progress, we have to recognize, as the Schladow Report noted that — from UC Davis — that we’ve had some favorable developments that have helped increase the clarity … We had dry years where the natural flow of sediments has been cut down … and it gives us a false sense of reassurance … if we don’t have dry years then we need to be prepared to do the things that will continue moving the lake in the right direction even when the rains are/have returned.”

In the Friends of Lake Tahoe letter to Gore we closed with the following: “Sophisticated propagandists in support of resort planning that delivers high profits to distant owners and destroys local businesses have already done a relatively good job at selling inapplicable planning principles to many of your colleagues. You do not want to join those who have been duped with false claims.” Fortunately, he wasn’t and didn’t.

~ Roger Patching is a retired political science professor, president of Friends of Lake Tahoe (friendsoflaketahoe.org), and a member of the Coalition to Protect Lake Tahoe.