Is the TRPA engaging in legal blackmail?
Some developers call it legal blackmail when they are required to provide a ontribution to a future road project, fire station or park, in order to receive a permit to build their subdivision.
Nevertheless, these assessments have become an accepted way to provide for the impacts of the new development they will create. It is not blackmail because the rules are spelled out in black and white, in advance. Everyone knows what is required going in and there is a formal method of appeal.
The final word comes from the directly elected city council or board of supervisors. This is where the balance between appropriate regulation and the cost of doing business is resolved. If the elected board is unable to find this proper balance, an ultimate resolution may be found at the ballot box.
This form of representative government is simply the American way. It is our recognition that government obtains its power from the people it serves. We don’t work for the government, the government works for us.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is far removed from these concepts of democratic government. If someone feels they have been “blackmailed,” it is because it appears very likely that is exactly what has happened.
Take, for example, the lakefront homeowner who applied to TRPA to build a pier on his property. The regulatory check-off list was fully met and the final TRPA permit was at hand ” but wait, just one more requirement.
The property owner was told by the “color police” he must paint his neighbor’s house, one of six options given him by TRPA staff. When the paint was dry the pier construction could begin. This seems to be a clear case of “legal blackmail” ” an unrelated action required to receive an earned right.
This type of activity isn’t just reserved for private citizens. Our elected governments are likewise subject to this treatment. The South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD) is a case in point. They were literally at the last day to receive a permit from TRPA to finish a required piece of pipeline over Luther Pass.
The night before the final hearing they received a call from TRPA staff saying that even though they had met all TRPA approvals, the League to Save Lake Tahoe wanted $1 million for a project of their choosing or they would oppose and kill the project. TRPA said it was serving as a facilitator/mediator for the League and STPUD.
When STPUD conceded to a $250,000 payment, just one hour before the TRPA decision, the League gave its approval to the swing vote on the TRPA board, and the project was approved.
TRPA’s role was despicable. For TRPA staff to participate in a scheme tantamount to extortion to obtain public funds for a private non-profit organization (no matter how worthy their cause might be), is clearly beyond their charter of authority. Furthermore, it is much more than just disappointing that a member of the TRPA board would participate in this corruption.
A member of the STPUD board put it this way: “We fought them angrily and hard. We had $250,000 set aside that we had prepared to use for such predictable last minute hold-ups. [After we agreed to $250,000] the League gave the OK to the crucial California appointee vote (Mr. Quinn) and we got it approved. Sound like facilitated highway robbery to you?”
So what is the difference between these activities by TRPA and what local governments do to their development community? Well, there are several. First of all TRPA lacks any sense of accountability. Even if you say that the TRPA board is where accountability is found, this simply can not be the case when the majority of board members must live outside of the area they control.
All city council members and county supervisors must live inside the area they represent. They do have accountability. Furthermore, local government officials don’t make-it-up as they go along. Their rules are there for all to see.
I am sure TRPA would claim the same, but I doubt that there is anything in their rule book that says you have to paint your neighbor’s house.
The time has come to ask the Congress to take another look at what they have created. The lake is worthy of protection. We need to determine if it can be done within the framework of democratic government.
This is a second in a series of articles on TRPA by Assemblyman Tim Leslie, 4th District, California. You can contact him at Tim.Leslie@asm.ca.gov.