TRPA’s regional plan update back in federal court
May 12, 2014
Environmental groups are appealing a federal judge's decision to uphold a plan the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency adopted to guide future development in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Earthjustice filed a notice of appeal Wednesday with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The firm is representing the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, groups that challenged the regional plan update in court after TRPA adopted it in December 2012.
The appeal will continue to argue the plan fails to properly analyze impacts it will have on soil, water and air quality and fails to adequately protect the fragile environment of the large mountain lake on the California-Nevada border.
"The (regional plan update) is adding more development to the lake. Development is what caused the problem in the first place and we think that adding more will make it worse," said Jennifer Quashnick, an environmental consultant with Friends of the West Shore.
U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez upheld TRPA's regional plan update in April, dismissing the lawsuit Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore filed. The two groups argue Mendez made the wrong decision for Lake Tahoe's protection.
"The (TRPA's) strange strategy to protect Lake Tahoe and its surrounding landscape from the damage caused by excessive urbanization over past decades is to promote even more development," Earthjustice attorney Wendy Park said. "We will continue our fight to protect the lake from the misguided actions of the agency charged with protecting and restoring its environment."
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Facing the appeal, the bistate TRPA said it will continue to implement a scientifically sound plan that took almost a decade to complete and included input from more than 5,000 citizens. The regional plan update is an overhaul of the agency's 1987 plan.
The update includes a slew of new incentives to encourage "environmental redevelopment" of areas built before many regulations took effect with the 1987 plan, as well as the relocation of development from outlying and environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands, marshes and stream zones into designated urban centers.
TRPA argues the redevelopment will benefit Lake Tahoe by bringing non-conforming properties up to standard and reducing the amount of pollutant-laden stormwater that washes into the lake and clouds its famously clear waters.
According to TRPA, the regional plan update authorizes less than half as much new development as the 1987 plan; maintains growth caps and urban boundary limits and authorizes no new hotel units; maintains some of the strongest scenic protections in the nation and assures no new high-rises can be built; supports greenhouse gas reductions and smart growth; and proposes only modest infill redevelopment in a handful of existing town centers.
"TRPA is confident the regional plan will accelerate Lake Tahoe's restoration and support sustainable communities. While the appeal makes its way through the legal process, we will continue to put the substantial environmental benefits of the plan into place," Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said in a statement Wednesday.
Many local governments and groups in the Lake Tahoe Basin have strongly supported the regional plan update. They see it as a needed mechanism to improve Lake Tahoe's environment while also breathing life into its struggling local economies.
The environmental groups argue the incentives, which include "bonus units" for certain capped development rights, will allow more development than will ever be removed, increasing the amount of pavement around the lake and sending more polluted runoff into its waters.
TRPA abandoned its core mission to restore and protect Lake Tahoe's environment with the regional plan update, said Laurel Ames, of the Sierra Club.
"It's a fallacy that the environmental damage caused to Lake Tahoe by the over-urbanization approved by TRPA can be solved by further intensifying urbanization, and this demonstrates just how far the agency has strayed," Ames said.