A federal judge in Sacramento on Monday ruled in favor of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and its regional plan update for the Lake Tahoe Basin.
U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez’s decision upholds the plan and dismisses a lawsuit filed against it by Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore.
The groups filed their lawsuit after the bistate TRPA adopted the plan in December 2012. The lawsuit alleged that the plan fails to protect Lake Tahoe’s sensitive environment and allows too much development in the basin.
None of the arguments swayed Mendez to overturn the plan, which was years in the making and updates a 1987 regional plan.
“This encouraging decision could not have come at a more critical time for Lake Tahoe,” Joanne Marchetta, executive director of TRPA, said in a formal statement after the court ruling. “The pace of environmental restoration will accelerate under the new plan with more opportunities for healthy, sustainable communities.”
While TRPA cheered the court’s decision, the two environmental groups repeated their arguments, calling it a “death blow” to Lake Tahoe that discards long-standing protections.
“The new TRPA plan assures us that we are going to be overpopulated with thousands of new condos, traffic jams awaiting promised transit systems, new roads, more cars, plummeting summer clarity and the end of Tahoe as we have known it,” said Laurel Ames, of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club.
Jennifer Quashnick, a consultant for Friends of the West Shore, said the court decision “removes the environment as the regulator of development at Tahoe and establishes that TRPA’s economic standards are the new rule for construction in the lake basin.”
TRPA has argued that its regional plan update will spark the environmentally-beneficial redevelopment of older, nonconforming urban areas that were developed before strict building standards took effect with the 1987 plan, adding that those areas are responsible for much of the storm water and fine sediment that reaches the lake and clouds its famously clear water.
The plan offers an array of incentives to encourage that redevelopment and the relocation of development from outlying and environmentally sensitive areas into designated town center boundaries.
Many groups supported the regional plan update as a tool needed to improve the basin’s environment, economies and communities. Nancy McDermid, a Douglas County commissioner and member of the TRPA Governing Board, said the court decision “vindicates everything that was done to bring the regional plan update to its passage.”
“So many people from both states and all perspectives worked diligently to bring together a plan that is workable for the 21st century,” McDermid said. “It is a very good improvement over the previous regional plan. It allows TRPA to be the planning agency and oversee things and gives us an opportunity to redevelop — with a little “r” and in a positive way — what’s been there for decades and needs to go away.”
Wendy Park, an attorney for Earthjustice who argued the lawsuit for Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, called Mendez’s decision a bad one for Lake Tahoe and said the groups are reviewing their options.
“Lake Tahoe is still recovering from too much urbanization and runoff pollution and its blue waters deserve the strongest of protections to ensure a full recovery. Unfortunately, the court decision allows more urbanization, the very cause of the lake’s decline, without ensuring effective runoff controls are in place first,” Park said.
Darcie Goodman Collins, director of League to Save Lake Tahoe, in a formal statement said the group is glad the lawsuit has concluded. The environmental group supported the regional plan update.
“This means Tahoe’s communities can move forward with certainty about their regulatory environment over the coming decades. We respect the concerns of our colleagues at the Sierra Club, Friends of the West Shore and Earthjustice about the new regional plan. It is not a perfect plan, but the League to Save Lake Tahoe also recognizes that it has the potential to help Tahoe’s environment through multiple safeguards that require restoration and environmental improvements with any new development or redevelopment.”