Acronyms, Terms, & Concepts

There are many acronyms, terms, and concepts that are frequently discussed around the Basin, but not familiar to most people fortunate enough to avoid getting buried in the trenches of Tahoe planning. To help, FOWS has compiled a short list of acronyms and common terms used in West Shore circles. Explanations are from California guides, CEQA Definitions, and TRPA documents (including the Code of Ordinances), and good old-fashioned brainwork from FOWS representatives who spend far too much time in the trenches. We’ve tried to cover most terms you may hear bouncing around West Shore, but readers who are gluttons for punishment are encouraged to visit the linked documents for more information.


Acronyms (aka “Tahoe’s Alphabet Soup”)

208 Plan – Water Quality Management Plan for the Lake Tahoe Region
ADT –  Average daily traffic
APC –  Advisory Planning Commission
ARB (or CARB) –  California Air Resources Board
BMPs –  Best management practices
CEP –  Community Enhancement Program
CEQA –  California Environmental Quality Act
CFA –  Commercial floor area
Code –  TRPA Code of Ordinances
Compact (or Bi-State Compact) –  Tahoe Regional Planning Compact
CSP –  California State Parks
CTC –  California Tahoe Conservancy
CWA –  Clean Water Act
EA   Environmental assessment
EDC AQMD –  El Dorado County Air Quality Management District
EIP –  Environmental Improvement Program
EIR –  Environmental impact report (Placer County)
EIS –  Environmental impact statement  (TRPA)
ERU –  Existing Residential Unit (e.g. existing home; TRPA)
FEMA –  Federal Emergency Management Agency
GHG –  Greenhouse gas
HRA –  Hydrologically-related area
IEC –  Initial environmental checklist (TRPA requirement)
IPES –  Individual Parcel Evaluation System
LCD –  Land Capability District
LOS –  Level of service (aka extent of congestion at an intersection or on a roadway)
LRWQCB –  Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board
LTAB –  Lake Tahoe Air Basin
LTBMU –  Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
MOA –  Memorandum of Agreement
MOU –  Memorandum of Understanding
NEPA –  National Environmental Policy Act
NOP –  Notice of Preparation
ONRW –  Outstanding National Resource Water (Lake Tahoe is one of 3)
PAOT –  People at one time (aimed to create a capacity for recreation)
PAS –  Plan Area Statement (TRPA)
PC APCD –  Placer County Air Pollution Control District
PTOD –  Pedestrian‐ and transit‐oriented development
RBUs –  Residential bonus units
RCD –  Resource Conservation District
RTP –  Regional Transportation Plan
RWQCB –  Regional Water Quality Control Board
SCS –  Sustainable Communities Strategy
SEZ –  Stream Environment Zone
State Parks –  California Department of Parks and Recreation
TART –  Tahoe Area Regional Transit
TAU –  Tourist accommodation unit
Threshold standards –  Environmental threshold carrying capacities (TRPA)
TMDL –  Total Maximum Daily Load
TMPO –  Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization
TROA –  Truckee River Operating Agreement
TRPA –  Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
TTD –  Tahoe Transportation District
USACE –  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
USFS –  U.S. Forest Service
USFWS –  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USGS –  U.S. Geological Survey
VMT –  Vehicle miles traveled (TRPA)
VMT per capita –  Vehicle miles traveled “per person” (California)


Common Planning Terms & Concepts in Lake Tahoe


Advisory Planning Commission – TRPA

The 19-member Advisory Planning Commission (APC) assists the TRPA Governing Board with technical and scientific issues. The Commission is made up of local planners, general members of the community and other representatives who are experts in their fields.

Area Plans (El Dorado and Placer County)

Included in TRPA’s 2012 amendments to their Regional Plan were changes to Land Use terms (zoning) which created “Area Plans.” The Area Plans are intended to replace existing Community Plans and Plan Area Statements. Local governments that adopt Area Plans will be able to approve extensive amounts of development and take advantage of other ‘incentives’ from TRPA, including the ability to increase land coverage up to 100% in some areas. Placer County is developing one Area Plan for all portions of the County within the Basin, while El Dorado County is starting out with just one area (Meyers, CA).

Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Alternative structural and nonstructural practices proven effective in erosion control and management of surface runoff in Lake Tahoe Region (TRPA Code). BMPs are required for every developed parcel in the Lake Tahoe Basin in order to prevent erosion and runoff, which negatively impacts Lake Tahoe. This applies to all commercial and residential properties, and the purpose is based on preventing runoff from each property. However, runoff still happens – from our highways, our roads, our parking lots, properties without BMPs, and other human developments. The most effective way to treat stormwater runoff is by using nature’s system of wetlands, flood plains, etc., however this is inconvenient for those wishing to build on undeveloped land in the Basin.

Board of Supervisors

A county’s legislative body. Board members are elected by popular vote and are responsible for enacting ordinances, imposing taxes, making appropriations, and establishing county policy. The board adopts the general plan, zoning, and subdivision regulations.


The TRPA’s December 2012 adopted new Land Use terms (zoning), which include “Town Centers,” “Regional Centers, ” and the High Density Tourist District (TRPA Code). These areas, which allow for significant increases in height, density (people per acre), and other increases not allowed by the previous TRPA plan, are often lumped together and referred to as ‘Centers’ in TRPA’s planning and media documents.


The California Environmental Quality Act (commencing with Public Resources Code Section 21000). In general, CEQA requires that all private and public projects be reviewed prior to approval for their potential adverse effects upon the environment.

Community Plan – California

A portion of the local general plan that focuses on a particular area or community within the city or county. Community plans supplement the policies of the general plan.

Community Plan – TRPA

An area-specific plan for the [Land Use] areas designated in the Goals and Policies as eligible for development and adoption of a community plan. An adopted community plan replaces any plan area statements contained within the same area but carry forward some of the provisions of the plan area statements. Among other things, community plans identify development themes for the area, define desired types and intensities of uses, and generally try to create a coherent vision for the community.

Compact – TRPA

The Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, as amended and set forth in California Government Code Section 66801, Nevada Revised Statutes Section 277.200, or Public Law 96-551,94 Stat. 3233, (December 19, 1980). TRPA’s Compact requires TRPA to adopt standards for environmental protection called Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacities (ETCCs). TRPA adopted standards to protect water quality/clarity, air quality, soils conservation (including the restoration and protection of wet areas called “Stream Environment Zones or SEZs,” noise quality, scenic quality, fish habitat, wildlife habitat, vegetation (including forest health and old growth protection).

Cumulative Impacts

“Cumulative impacts” refers to two or more individual effects which, when considered together, are considerable or which compound or increase other environmental impacts.

(a) The individual effects may be changes resulting from a single project or a number of separate projects.

(b) The cumulative impact from several projects is the change in the environment which results from the incremental impact of the project when added to other closely related past, present, and reasonably foreseeable probable future projects. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant projects taking place over a period of time.

Note: For example, a new store may result in 90 new ‘vehicle trips’ in a day, which TRPA views as less than significant. However, if ten projects along S.R. 89 each generated 90 new trips per day, that’s 900 more vehicle trips on S.R. 89 (a cumulatively considerable impact).

Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – California

A detailed statement prepared under CEQA describing and analyzing the significant environmental effects of a project and discussing ways to mitigate or avoid the effects. Note: the preparation of an EIR is an informative document only. It does not prevent a project from being approved; rather, it requires the potential impacts be analyzed, then first, avoided, second minimized if it can not be avoided, and third, mitigated where it can not be avoided and minimized.

Environmental Assessment (EA) – TRPA

An analysis used to determine whether a proposed project will have a significant effect on the environment and to determine whether a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be necessary to provide additional analysis. It includes, among other things, alternatives to the proposed project and discussion of environmental impacts of the project. An EA is required when TRPA determines that an Initial Environmental Checklist (IEC) does not provide sufficient information to fully access a project’s environmental effects.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) – TRPA

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared in order to analyze, among other things, whether a proposed project will have a significant effect on the environment, provide alternatives to the proposed project, recommend methods to mitigate significant effects, and identify significant adverse impacts that cannot be avoided. The Bi-State Compact for TRPA defines requirements for TRPA’s preparation of an EIS.

Environmental Improvement Program – TRPA

The Environmental Improvement Program (EIP) was highlighted during the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe.  EIP projects are designed to achieve and maintain environmental thresholds that protect Tahoe’s unique and valued resources.

Environmental Threshold Carrying Capacity – TRPA

“Environmental threshold carrying capacity” means an environmental standard necessary to maintain a significant scenic, recreational, educational, scientific or natural value of the region or to maintain public health and safety within the region. Such standards shall include but not be limited to standards for air quality, water quality, soil conservation, vegetation preservation and noise.

General Plan – California

A statement of policies, including text and diagrams setting forth objectives, principles, standards, and plan proposals, for the future physical development of the city or county. Although Placer County approved a General Plan for the West Shore in 1998, it was not adopted by TRPA.

Governing Board – TRPA

The TRPA Governing Board’s mandate is to set policy and to approve amendments to the Regional Plan. Because the Lake Tahoe watershed crosses two state and numerous local political boundaries, the TRPA Governing Board is comprised of 15-members—seven from California, seven from Nevada and one non-voting Presidential Appointee. Six members, who are locally elected officials or their designees, represent the units of local government. The Bi-State Compact provides for a majority of the seats to be held by citizens from outside the Tahoe Region who represent at-large voters from the two states. This structure was created in the 1980 Compact in an effort to ensure that the Board reviews issues not only from a local perspective, but also from statewide and nationwide viewpoints. Prior to 1980, the local governments made decisions based primarily on tax base, not environmental protection. This is why FOWS is extremely concerned with the 2012 Regional Plan placing more decision-making back on the local governments.

Initial Study – California

“Initial Study” means a preliminary analysis prepared by the Lead Agency to determine whether an EIR or a Negative Declaration must be prepared or to identify the significant environmental effects to be analyzed in an EIR.

Mandatory Findings of Significance – California

(a) A lead agency shall find that a project may have a significant effect on the environment and thereby require an EIR to be prepared for the project where there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record, that any of the following conditions may occur:

(1) The project has the potential to: substantially degrade the quality of the environment; substantially reduce the habitat of a fish or wildlife species; cause a fish or wildlife population to drop below self-sustaining levels,; threaten to eliminate a plant or animal community; substantially reduce the number or restrict the range of an endangered, rare or threatened species; or eliminate important examples of the major periods of California history or prehistory.
(2) The project has the potential to achieve short-term environmental goals to the disadvantage of long-term environmental goals.
(3) The project has possible environmental effects that are individually limited but cumulatively considerable. “Cumulatively considerable” means that the incremental effects of an individual project are significant when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects.
(4) The environmental effects of a project will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, either directly or indirectly.

Mitigation Measure

The California Environmental Quality Act requires that when an adverse environmental impact, or potential impact is identified, measures must be proposed that will eliminate, avoid, rectify, compensate for or reduce those environmental effects. The TRPA Compact also requires mitigation for similar circumstances.

“Mitigation” includes:
(a) Avoiding the impact altogether by not taking a certain action or parts of an action.
(b) Minimizing impacts by limiting the degree or magnitude of the action and its implementation.

Mitigated Negative Declaration

(See Negative Declaration below).
“Mitigated negative declaration” means a negative declaration prepared for a project when the initial study has identified potentially significant effects on the environment, but (1) revisions in the project plans or proposals made by, or agreed to by, the applicant before the proposed negative declaration and initial study are released for public review would avoid the effects or mitigate the effects to a point where clearly no significant effect on the environment would occur, and (2) there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record before the public agency that the project, as revised, may have a significant effect on the environment.

Negative Declaration – California

“Negative Declaration” means a written statement by the Lead Agency briefly describing the reasons that a proposed project, not exempt from CEQA, will not have a significant effect on the environment and therefore does not require the preparation of an EIR.

Planning Commission – California

A group of residents appointed by the city council or board of supervisors to consider land use planning matters. The commission’s duties and powers are established by the local legislative body and might include hearing proposals to amend the general plan or rezone land, initiating planning studies (road alignments, identification of seismic hazards, etc.), and taking action on proposed subdivisions.

Urbanized Area – California

“Urbanized area” means a central city or a group of contiguous cities with a population of 50,000 or more, together with adjacent densely populated areas having a population density of at least 1,000 persons per square mile. A Lead Agency shall determine whether a particular area meets the criteria in this section either by examining the area or by referring to a map prepared by the U.S. Bureau of the Census which designates the area as urbanized…Use of the term “urbanized area” in Section 15182 is limited to areas mapped and designated as urbanized by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Note: California does not define any part of the Lake Tahoe Basin as an “urbanized area.”

Urban Areas – TRPA

TRPA’s Code defines urban areas as: “Those areas designated as residential, tourist, or commercial/public service, or mixed-use by the plan area statements.” The Code Chapter 11.6.2.A.7 also states that all mixed-use areas are urban: “Mixed-use areas are urban areas that have been designated to provide a mix of commercial, public services, light industrial, office, and residential uses to the region or have the potential to provide future commercial, public services, light industrial, office, and residential uses…” In other words, TRPA’s definition appears to suggest any area in the Basin that is not forest (including undeveloped recreation, conservation areas, etc.) is ‘urban,’ contrary to California law. Note: TRPA’s RPU defines areas of Sunnyside, Homewood, and Tahoma as Mixed-Use (aka ‘urban areas’).

VMT – TRPA            

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a TRPA threshold standard that is based on the estimated summertime VMT driven Basin-wide. This standard was originally adopted by TRPA based on the recognition that for every mile driven by a vehicle in the Basin, there is some contribution of water, air, noise, and other pollution. The Tahoe Basin is also identified as one watershed (everything flows to Lake Tahoe) and one air basin (emissions generated locally affect us locally). Thus, as the total Basinwide impacts of vehicles affect the environment of Lake Tahoe, TRPA’s threshold standard is based on the total Basin-wide VMT.

VMT per capita – California           

VMT “per person” is a different measurement unit for VMT that is based on California regulations to reduce per capita driving to reduce future Greenhouse Gas emissions. This unit of measurement is more applicable where extensive growth is anticipated as it reflects a better land use approach than urban sprawl. For example, where areas expect increased populations such as 20,000, 50,000, or even 100,000 more people over some future time period (often 20 to 50 years), it is better to create a land use plan where each person drives a bit less, although the overall GHG emissions may still increase simply due to more population.


Local codes regulating the use and development of property. The zoning ordinance divides the city or county into land use districts or “zones”, represented on zoning maps, and specifies the allowable uses within each of those zones. It establishes development standards for each zone, such as minimum lot size, maximum height of structures, building setbacks, and yard size.