Stop Endangering Tahoe’s Future

TRPA’s push to increase Tahoe density jeopardizes Lake and lives

Pamela M Tsigdinos
5 min readOct 25, 2023
Tahoe traffic dangerously narrowing Hwy 28 toward Hwy 50 (one of three fire evacuation routes)

Beautiful places draw crowds. In Tahoe, however, the infrastructure is simply not capable of supporting the tens of millions who routinely visit (twice as many as the most visited National Park). With an already congested two-lane ring road connecting small communities, what happens in the Tahoe basin generally affects all — particularly when it comes to wildfires and extreme weather events.

This led a consortium of Tahoe area residents (including me) who live around Lake Tahoe to come together to write a column for Tahoe Mountain News October 2023 issue (p 20). The editor provided permission to share it below.

If you care about preserving Tahoe’s natural beauty, tell the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) to pause its fast-track plans to urbanize Tahoe through updates to its Tahoe Basin Area Plan to increase building height and density. Why? A new or supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) to Tahoe’s 2102 Regional Plan is needed.

We should not put the Lake and lives at risk with incomplete data and analysis. You can reach the TRPA board at

Tahoe Mountain News — Stop Endangering Tahoe’s Future
Tahoe Mountain News — October 2023 issue

As if operating in a parallel universe TRPA acknowledges threats from climate change, aquatic invasive species, and wildfire while at the same time pushing for increased building height and density with little to no parking for new structures, modifying thresholds for scenic standards and exemptions to groundwater interception. Why? To entice developers and pack more people into a basin already straining under the weight of some 25 million visitors.

Adding insult to injury, TRPA and NDOT want to reduce Highway 50 (Spooner Summit to Stateline) from four to two-lanes with a large bike, multi-use path and occasional turning lanes. Who bikes in the winter? Or to Costco? TRPA has long promoted this folly. If these agencies truly cared about evacuating people or road safety, they would not promote lane reductions on a major highway corridor that, among other things, would delay emergency vehicle response time.

At a TRPA governing board meeting, El Dorado County Sheriff Deputy Greg Almos and Tahoe Douglas Fire Chief Scott Lindgren pulled no punches describing today’s wildfire and evacuation challenges. “Our west shore is very vulnerable. There’s only one way in and out and getting people out to the South and North — depending on the time of year — is challenging,” Deputy Almos said.

“We have a long way to go to protect the Tahoe Basin and our citizens with fuel reduction and evacuation planning,” Chief Lindgren added.

“Nobody’s worried about fire until there’s smoke in the air, but we need to be thinking about it year-round 24/7/365 and making sure we’re planning appropriately. We got lucky during the Caldor fire. We got a break in the weather; we had some really good aggressive firefighting, and we got a break in the topography. It all aligned and stopped at the right time, but it could have been a lot worse for us.”

In a moment of candor TRPA board member Shelly Aldean raised the lack of visitor preparedness for wildfires. “Educating residents is one thing,” she said, “educating visitors coming up for the day is entirely different.” Aldean turned to TRPA COO John Hester. “If somebody’s on the beach with their family and there’s a conflagration a few miles away. You alluded to an alert app — can you actually contact people about an emergency within a certain geographical area, somebody visiting for the day?” Hester equivocated, “That’s something we could work on.”

Bingo. Did everyone hear that?

There’s no evacuation system to alert hundreds of thousands of visitors hiking, biking, or camping around Tahoe’s vast mountainous terrain or parked, often illegally, along narrow two-lane roads.

And here’s a “Fun Fact” from the Tahoe Fund concerning forest management: there are 750,000 combustible burn piles around the Tahoe Basin waiting to be cleared. In what world is that fun?

What else is not fun? Watching TRPA representatives and the Placer Planning Commission downplay and ignore resident concerns about dangerous congestion and development-fueled wildfire. Following several hours of respectful, enlightening public comment, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to amend the Tahoe Basin Area Plan. A journalist contacted a North Tahoe Public Utility District board member who told him:

“There is not enough infrastructure for fire hydrants if too many projects are developed all at once.”

As for Washoe County’s touted “evacuation exercise?” It in no way resembled a real-life evacuation. Some Incline Village residents were told to “evacuate” to the nearby recreation center. At a Placer County Office of Emergency Services town hall held in Kings Beach on the shore of Lake Tahoe there were more evacuation questions than answers.

Let’s not sugar coat it. While Nevada and California “build relationships” toward a unified, cross-jurisdictional command structure, confidence remains low on how agencies with differing software and communication modes will function under duress.

Is it any wonder those affiliated with Sierra Club Tahoe Area Group, North Lake Tahoe Preservation Alliance, Friends of the West Shore,, Tahoe East Shore Alliance, and Tahoe Neighborhoods Group oppose new ill-conceived urban development plans as climate-driven fire dangers increase?

It makes zero sense to reduce lanes and add more buildings and more people to Tahoe when local fire chiefs, deputies, and TRPA officials admit we don’t have reliable systems and plans in place to ensure the safety of those already here. The risks are obvious, which is why it’s so frightening Tahoe’s policy makers are eager to add fuel to an already precarious tinderbox. Failed TRPA policies that favor tourism over the environment and development over conservation must end.

All will benefit from a realistic update of the Tahoe Basin’s carrying capacity. It’s time to amend TRPA code to include specific modern-day thresholds such as evacuation, tourism, human capacity and traffic. It’s only with an updated environmental health assessment that we can determine how much more development and tourism Tahoe can safely accommodate. TRPA must stop selling a product that the local infrastructure cannot support. This is a common refrain in the public comments offered to date.

Now, please share this article with those you know who care about the clarity of Lake Tahoe and protecting Tahoe’s environment and natural beauty.

Write to TRPA to ask the board to pause its Tahoe Basin Area Plan amendments to increase building height and density across the Tahoe Basin until TRPA provides an updated environmental impact statement and a more comprehensive wildfire evacuation alert system for residents and visitors alike. We don’t have to put the Lake and lives at risk with incomplete data and analysis and incompatible software and communication modes.

You can reach the TRPA board at



Pamela M Tsigdinos

Writer/Author. Published in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, WIRED, The Boston Globe, Fortune, Reno Gazette Journal