Oct 06 2015

TRPA plan cuts Tahoe ski access – again!

Last week CalTrans finished work that eliminated another handful of parking locations in the Tahoe area, including the prized spots accessing Jake’s Peak, Bliss Peak, plus the Desolation Wilderness to the west. Mike Schwartz, owner of The Back Country, sounded forth the battle cry and the Facebook connected Tahoe community buried the bureaucrats behind this devious plan with a barrage of complaints.

Tahoe's West Shore, target of TRPA's Hwy. 89 improvement program (eliminating parking spots).

Tahoe’s West Shore, target of TRPA’s Hwy. 89 improvement program (eliminating parking spots).

The good news is the bureaucrats backed down a bit and offered to keep open and plow the parking lot for DL Bliss state park this next winter. It has traditionally been closed from November to May.

According to Thomas Brannon, Deputy Director of CalTrans District 3,

I’m happy to say that at the location where most attention was focused, a pullout right of station 460 in our water quality improvement project, we made a plan change to pave a full 25 foot distance from the roadway (versus the 15 foot originally planned) in order to provide more parking opportunities to the public. My thanks go out to our project management, design, and construction staff for their fast assessment and on the fly engineering skills. I also want to thank Shannon at TRPA for very fast turnaround on review and approval of the proposal.

Obviously, parking at Tahoe is a bigger issue than this individual project can solve. Competing uses of limited space will continue to be debated in the future but I’m glad that we are able to provide a good compromise at this location.

TRPA’s Plan

By the numbers - access lost.

By the numbers – access lost.

Some parking spots became targets for elimination to reduce sediment running in to the lake. According to the TRPA, the California State Route 89 Water Quality Improvement Project, begun in 2009, called for “…paving turnouts along the highway but also reducing their size, eliminating former dirt parking areas to reduce soil erosion, protect vegetation, and improve water quality. Located on state and federal land, these areas were never intended for public parking.

The result was rocks and curbs that block cars in once common parking locations. As KH from the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance FB page noted, “I … was shocked by all of the rockwork that restricts much of the parking past Meeks Bay. It’s not just winter parking. Why are they decreasing areas even for summer tourists to pull over and breath some fresh air? ”

Bureaucratic Bias

What is telling is how CalTrans spokesman Steve Nelson phrased it,

From our standpoint no parking spots were affected because none of these spots were official parking spots.

On the contrary, the parking locations for Bliss Peak were recent paved additions that were clearly intended as official parking spots, but even these have been taken away.

Overcoming Parking Problems

It doesn't look like much, but those rocks form a barrier you can't drive over. Thanks to local complaints, the Jakes parking spot is now paved and officially permanent.

It doesn’t look like much, but those rocks form a barrier you can’t drive over. Thanks to local complaints, the Jakes parking spot is now paved and officially permanent.

Rob Rowen, president of Snowlands, and a member of the SnoPark citizen committee said, “This current issue is part of a larger trend…we had a “perfect storm” in the last ten years whereby backcountry winter alpine recreation is rapidly growing in popularity, and winter parking is becoming more limited due to sediment concerns, general congestion and greater intolerance (on the part of traffic and law enforcement officials) for cars parked in unofficial parking areas.”

This reveals such a consistent pattern it fails be defensible as accidental. Backcountry skiers just wanna have fun and the ‘crats continually exercise their power of control by eliminating parking and the fun it provides.

Speaking for Snowlands, Rowen said,

“…the solution is increased access through more paved and plowed winter parking areas.”

The problem is getting people to work towards these goals on a long term basis as volunteers. By comparison, the bureaucrats controlling access are paid, and prone to monetary influence.

As Mike Schwartz makes clear in his letter, “TRPA allows projects and activities to go forward on a daily basis that have some negative effect on the environment and Lake Clarity; jet Skiing, power boats, golf courses, and constant construction of properties that people don’t live in.”

Thus, when high rollers come in and want to build, accommodations are made but when individuals are involved, it seems exceptions, understanding, and mercy are lacking.

The paid status of TRPA members and others like them makes them quite powerful in the long run because they can outlast fly by night advocates who inevitably lose steam when progress is force to crawl through approval committees. Thus, while Tahoe skiers didn’t lose everything, we have certainly lost a lot and it is ground that will not be regained with an avalanche of phone calls over the period of one week.

I don’t know about you but I don’t just want the ten spots back they already took, or the crumbs they conceded in return; I’d like to see 20 or more trailheads, each with enough space for 20 cars each.

With more access to more slopes maybe Jakes wouldn’t be so crowded. If there’s one thing worse than an obnoxious motorhead it’s an arrogant backcountry skier who thinks he owns the slope we’re both skinning for. In the end its the bungling bureaucrats I’m most annoyed with but as this example suggests, under the heat of public scrutiny, even they can be human. Hats off to Mike Schwartz for crying “foul!” Now the trick is how to keep the pressure on. ;)

Pressure Points

Please contact the following people and share your concerns about backcountry skiing access in Tahoe.

  • State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow
  • State Senator Ted Gaines: senator.gaines@senate.ca.gov
  • Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
    Shannon Friedman – Senior Planner TRPA: sfriedman@trpa.org • 775-589-5205
    Joanne Marchetta – TRPA Executive Director: jmarchetta@trpa.org
  • El Dorado County
    Sue Novasel – County Supervisor: bosfive@edcgov.us • 800-491-6642
    Judi McCallum – Assistant to Supervisor: 530.621.6577
    Laurel Brent-Bumb – Chief Executive Officer: chamber@eldoradocounty.org
  • Placer County
    Jennifer Montgomery – Supervisor: JMontgomery@placer.ca.gov
  • Thomas L. Brannon – Caltrans District 3 Deputy District Director: tom.brannon@dot.ca.gov • 916.826.6052
  • Truckee North Tahoe Transportation Management Association (TNT/TMA)
    530-582-4964 • info@laketahoetransit.com
    Jaime Wright – Executive Director: 530-582-4931 • Jaime@laketahoetransit.com
    Julia Tohlen – Program Manager: 530-582-4964 • Julia@laketahoetransit.com
  • USFS Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
    Jeff Marsolais – Forest Supervisor for the LTBMU: jmarsolais@fs.fed.us

Related Posts:
Reno Gazette Journal

State of the Backcountry report

Tahoe Weekly: You Can’t Park Here (anymore).

Mike Schwartz’ Letter: The Spark that lit the fuse (Pg. 2)

© 2015