TRPA has faced controversy since the agency’s beginning | SierraSun.com

TRPA has faced controversy since the agency’s beginning

Adam Jensen and Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

At 39 years old, it’s safe to say that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency hasn’t outgrown the controversy that accompanied its inception. And judging by the stir caused by the agency’s long-term planning efforts ” not to mention the current spectre of wildfire ” controversy will follow the agency into the future.

“Agencies like this, that are this big, are all controversial,” said Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz, who sits on the TRPA’s 15-member governing board. “They just are.”

Long before President Richard Nixon approved the compact that created the TRPA on Dec. 18, 1969, protection of a lake spanning five counties and two states was a contentious issue.

Matters such as proposals to build a four-lane highway bridge across the mouth of Emerald Bay, an increase in the number of visitors to the Lake Tahoe Basin in the mid-1960s, and unchecked development and the environmental degradation it brought fueled discussion of an agency with the ability to regulate the lake’s various jurisdictions.

“The only way we can get the job done is through a bistate agency,” Coe Swobe told the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce in 1967. “Polluted water does not respect county or state boundaries.”

A TRPA Governing Board member since 2001, Swobe was Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt’s special assistant on the formation of a bistate agency at the time.

The agency faced budget challenges in its formative years, including a California withdrawal in 1978 and 1979 because of representatives’ view that Nevada members were too pro-development.

By 1980, California returned to the TRPA, and the agency set about adopting a 20-year regional plan.

Presented to the agency’s board in 1984, adoption of the plan took three years, in part because of a lawsuit brought by California Attorney General Jon Van de Kamp and the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

A building moratorium was put in place while modifications to the regional plan were made and the suit eventually was settled out of court.

Today, the agency still faces challenges and controversy, most notably in the pending regional plan update and shorezone ordinances.

A regional plan update, started in 2001, was scheduled for completion in 2007. An update to the plan now is expected for approval in 2009. The TRPA most recently delayed an update to the plan in order to develop a preferred alternative with “broad support,” according to TRPA spokesman Dennis Oliver.

“We think it prudent to spend time now talking to interested parties in the conservation community and others in the hope that a consensus plan alternative might be developed on the front end,” Oliver wrote in an e-mail.

A moratorium on pier construction also has been in place on two-thirds of the lake since 1987. Updated shorezone ordinances to regulate development in and near the lake are expected to come before the board this summer.

“The issues are controversial,” Kranz said. “And because the issues are controversial, the board is mixed too.”

Kranz noted that the TRPA’s 15-member board, many of whom are not elected officials, as well as complicated voted procedures make controversy something that hinders the TRPA’s progress.

“If you have those kinds of restrictions, it makes it very, very hard to get anything accomplished,” Kranz said.

California Senator Dave Cox said he felt the TRPA could better handle the controversy it faces if it were more balanced.

“It tells you that we, in fact, have a situation where we have commission members [who] do not recognize the importance of having balance in the plan,” Cox said. “They haven’t been able to put a plan together.”

While Kranz said he has been frustrated for years with the controversy that hinders the TRPA’s progress, he was “remarkably shocked” when the 15-member governing board approved the Community Enhancement Program at their February meeting with a unanimous vote. Kranz said he is more optimistic about the TRPA now than he ever has in the three-years he has sat on the board.

“If [the CEP] works, it may loosen up those other issues,” Kranz said. “If we can find that actually the board can work [together] at one time, maybe they can work together another time. And maybe I’m being too optimistic.”