Judge issues ruling in regional plan lawsuit
June 19, 2013
A federal court judge has issued the first of likely many rulings regarding environmental groups' challenge to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan Update.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge John Mendez dismissed one of five causes of action in a February suit filed by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore. The suit challenges the TRPA's update to its long-term land use plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin, which the agency's Governing Board approved in December.
Mendez found it is premature for the environmental groups to argue that delegation of some TRPA authority to local jurisdictions under the RPU violates the TRPA Compact.
"Although Plaintiffs have shown that they have an interest in the area, it is unclear how TRPA's delegation of project review ill impair their interest or even increase the risk of harm," Mendez wrote in the decision. "The delegation itself does not increase development in the area or authorize more projects. Plaintiff's mention an increase in development in the region will increase population and traffic, but those harms are a result of the RPU itself, not the TRPA's delegation power.
"Even if there is a harm to their interest, Plaintiffs have failed to allege a causal connection between the harm to their interest and the TRPA's delegation power."
Where local jurisdictions would see increased control under the RPU is through the Area Plan process. The process allows local jurisdictions develop their own land use plans and submit them to TRPA, which would then determine whether they conform with the new regional plan.
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The TRPA has billed Area Plans as a way to give more control to local jurisdictions and streamline permitting processes. Environmental groups have expressed concerns that Area Plans will decrease protection of the lake.
In Monday's decision, Mendez allows the environmental groups to bring back the argument regarding local delegation at a later date.
The first Area Plan is up for approval this week, when Douglas County will consider approving its Area Plan during a Thursday meeting in Stateline. If the Douglas County Board of Commissioners passes the plan, it is scheduled to be before the TRPA's Governing Board July 24.
Also in Monday's decision, Mendez required the environmental groups to pay for the cost of preparing the record in the case, which is expected to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.