TRPA abusing balance of power
America’s Founding Fathers were adamant that our governance includes the concept of “Balance of Powers.” In this way, no one function of the government could operate unchecked. The genius of this provision has withstood the test of time and is vital to keeping our nation strong and free.When we are faithful to this proviso, the government works pretty well. Decisions can be made within a framework of justice. Even the losers know they were given a fair opportunity to be heard. When we violate this tenet, however, we frequently find ourselves deeply divided and left with strong feelings of frustration and anger. It boils down to accountability and responsibility of government to the people versus the arbitrary abuse of power. When we ignore the establishment of checks and balances, arrogant and abusive government is sure to follow. Honest criticism is stifled because of the fear of retribution. It is the stuff that dictators are made of, and it fully violates our American system of government.The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is a prime example of this type of abusive government. TRPA is a bi-state agency with a massive blanket of unaccountable bureaucracy layered over the top of otherwise elected and accountable units of government, with the objective of “protecting” Lake Tahoe. It holds extensive powers over land-use decisions, private property rights, and legitimate governmental determinations. Its powers trump those of local governments. Even state and federal agencies must bow to its edicts. Decisions made by TRPA can require large expenditures of funds by private parties and governmental agencies without concern for the consequences. In fact, the costs of compliance seem never to be an issue, and staff determinations of “value” go unchallenged.One might wonder why there is not an avalanche of formal complaints coming before the TRPA Governing Board. The answer is simple – it is the fear of retribution. I have had numerous experiences of distraught citizens unwilling to express their issues publicly because, in the final analysis, they must still receive approval by TRPA. They remain silent no matter how unjust their treatment, how long the delay, how costly the requirements or in some cases how ridiculous the decisions may be. To go along with the fear of retribution, also add the near impossibility of making any changes in the structure of the agency. TRPA was created by a bi-state compact approved by Congress, and changes must follow the same path. Even those who were original signers of the compact, and who recognize how the agency has exceeded any notion of its original creation, are nearly helpless to make modifications. A recent example of this agency gone amiss is the placement of a guardrail on Highway 267 that leads into the Tahoe Basin. The California Department of Transportation installed a sturdy guardrail over this treacherous mountain pass to enhance public safety – the same type of guardrail put on highways throughout the nation. But TRPA was not satisfied. They felt this 400-foot protective barrier, made of galvanized steel for strength, must be subject to an acid bath so that it will rust and therefore look more natural in the environment. Caltrans (backed by the Nevada Department of Transportation) protested the lack of safety and higher maintenance costs and put up the standard barrier anyway. After all, road safety is their responsibility. TRPA threatened a lawsuit to force Caltrans into compliance. While strongly feeling that safety would be jeopardized, they eventually bowed to TRPA’s edict to avoid a costly court battle. The financially beleaguered department apparently determined it would be less costly to tear out the existing new barrier and replace it with a less-dependable and more costly barrier than face an expensive trial. As part of the so-called “compromise settlement,” Caltrans will now spend $750,000 on a study of colorized guardrails. The cost of the study is of no apparent concern to TRPA.When I contacted the director of TRPA to voice a concern regarding the cost of redoing this project, I was greeted with a sarcastic accusation that I apparently did not care about Lake Tahoe. I am happy to have anyone examine my record of concern regarding the importance of the lake. But the director was correct that I do feel replacing the guardrail is an abusive waste of taxpayers’ money. Apparently to raise a concern before the all-powerful agency is to become the recipient of a hostile personal attack. If that is what is in store for the state legislator who has represented the area for the past 14 years, imagine what happens to the unsuspecting citizen who would dare to disagree. The attitude of the agency in this “road barrier war” is well summed up by TRPA staffer Julie Regan, when she was quoted saying: “They did not follow it [our requirements], so we have to treat Caltrans and the Nevada Department of Transportation the same way we would any homeowner or applicant.” I am sure that Ms. Regan totally misses the point she makes. It is the treatment of the public, as well as elected public officials, that are at issue here. Many feel they are being served by arrogant, bureaucratic, unaccountable staff whose power has gone to their heads. In this case, beauty must be balanced by fiscal responsibility and public safety – something an unaccountable dictator is not required to consider. The complete text of this column can be obtained by contacting Tim.Leslie@asm.ca.gov Tim Leslie represents the 4th District in the California Assembly.