President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are coming to Lake Tahoe in late July for a summit on the lake's environment and development. It will be the first time that a president has ever visited the area for policy or pleasure while in office.

The summit is the result of relentless advocacy by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has been urging the president to convene a federal conference to focus national attention on Lake Tahoe. Reid described the lake as "a national treasure in trouble." But the administration's interest in coming to Lake Tahoe is not to get tied up in the basin's knotty problems so much as to bathe in the reflected glow of "a place where the environment is the heart of a healthy economy," as one White House official put it when Clinton agreed to the summit.

"What the people in the Tahoe basin have done is very much in line with many of the underlying principles of this administration," said Tom Tuchmann, an Agriculture Department official who is coordinating the summit. "People with different perspectives on natural resources are sitting around a table to work through their differences."

The summit, tentatively scheduled for July 26-27, will include some combination of tours, workshops and meetings. "We're working with the folks on the ground to figure out how to best use the president's and vice president's time," Tuchmann said. "The process is going to be bottoms up." The western director for the office of the secretary of Agriculture, Tuchmann organized the Clinton administration's forest summit in Portland, Ore.

This summit will be very different: "The forest conference was organized to resolve an issue that was in crisis mode," Tuchmann said. "There was no agreement on either side. It was being resolved in the courts. What's different with Tahoe is that the people of the region have had their ups and downs, but they have worked through a common vision with themselves in a partnership and are now seeking assistance to help them complete their vision."

Tuchmann said the summit agenda will likely include water quality, transportation, forest health, air quality and redevelopment, as well as the Washoe Indian tribe's rights around the lake. The lake is at the center of the tribe's traditional territory and they call it the source of their spiritual identity, but they have no land at the lake.

For the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, money is at the top of the agenda. The TRPA has a $730 million laundry list of projects to stem the decline of Lake Tahoe. When the TRPA capital financing committee met in March to discuss the summit, board chairman Drake Delanoy joked that perhaps the TRPA should turn the highway into Tahoe into a "toll road for the president."

For information contact the coordinating office of the Lake Tahoe presidential event at 888-823-4925.

* J.C.