TRPA governing board reflects agency’s mission
June 10, 2007
With a number of high-profile and important votes made recently by the governing board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), and votes on items such as shorezone and the regional plan update on the way, it’s important for the community to understand the makeup and voting procedures of the board. I often hear the misperception that our governing board members aren’t accountable to local residents. Considering that six of the 14 voting members on our board are locally elected officials, and that all but one are appointed by elected officials from each state, this is simply not true. While TRPA board seats don’t show up on any ballots, they do become election issues in county and city of South Lake Tahoe races. The structure of the agency’s board was designed to reflect TRPA’s mission to protect Lake Tahoe for everyone and to provide safeguards to the decision- making process.
The TRPA was created through a bi-state compact as a regional agency in order to solve deep problems in a watershed that crosses a number of state and local political boundaries. The compact, which was ratified by the U.S. Congress, created a 15-member governing board, with seven members from California, seven from Nevada and one non-voting appointee made by the president of the United States.
Representing the five counties and the city of South Lake Tahoe are six members who are locally elected officials. The local California delegation includes appointees from the board of supervisors of El Dorado and Placer Counties, currently held by Norma Santiago and Bruce Kranz respectively, and one from the South Lake Tahoe City Council, Mike Weber. The local contingent from Nevada includes representatives of the Douglas and Washoe County Commissions, currently Nancy McDermid and Jim Galloway, and one member appointed from the Carson City Board of Supervisors, Shelly Aldean.
Lake Tahoe’s breathtaking beauty means a lot to the people who live here, but the lake is also a national treasure and millions of annual visitors have a stake in protecting the lake as well. That is why the compact provides for a slim majority of the seats to be held by citizens from outside the Tahoe region who represent at-large voters from the two states. This ensures that the board reviews issues not only from a local perspective, but also from statewide and nationwide viewpoints. In the 1970s, local representatives held the majority of seats on the TRPA governing board and development continued to run amok until the compact was amended in 1980. The makeup of the board was a key change that has helped protect Lake Tahoe from runaway development.
The California at-large seats are currently held by Julie Motamedi and Steven Merrill, both appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Jerry Waldie is the California Senate Rules Committee Appointee and has served on the board for nearly 20 years. Mara Bresnick is the Speaker of the Assembly’s appointment.
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In Nevada, at-large appointments include the Secretary of State, Ross Miller, Director of the Nevada Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, Allen Biaggi, and Gov. Gibbon’s appointee, Chuck Ruthe. Those members plus the local government representatives from Nevada appoint the seventh seat from that state, which is currently filled by Coe Swobe. The presidential appointee is Stuart Yount.
Many governing board members own homes here at the lake and have ties to the community. Our current board chair, Julie Motamedi, grew up at Lake Tahoe and attended high school in Tahoe City. All 15 board members care deeply about this special place. The names and contact information of the governing board members are available on our website, http://www.trpa.org.
The governing board has a complicated voting structure for a good reason – we want to make sure that only those projects are approved that enhance the environment at Lake Tahoe. In order for the governing board to adopt or change any of our environmental thresholds, the regional plan, or the code of ordinances, there must be at least four approval votes from each state, for a total of eight. Some construction projects are also reviewed by the governing board. To approve a project, there must be at least five approval votes from the state in which the project is located and at least nine total votes. The five/nine vote is also required for the board to certify the adequacy of any environmental documents such as the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project. The board must certify these documents before the associated projects can be considered. For bi-state projects, like Heavenly’s recent master plan amendment, the required vote is five approvals from each state.
This may seem like tedious information, but it is knowledge that can raise civic engagement and decode what you read in the paper or hear from neighbors. The mixture of representation and voting procedures of the board also illustrates the fine balance that is achieved by board members every month. Striking a delicate balance between local and regional interests reflects TRPA’s goal to improve environmental, social and economic conditions at Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe communities are facing more opportunities for reinvestment than ever before and the governing board has a crucial role to play in making sure development and reinvestment only go forward in step with environmental improvements. We’re striving for a net gain that accelerates attainment of thresholds without leaving the social fabric of our communities behind.
We encourage everyone to be involved and to engage us on the issues that are important to you. Our governing board normally meets the fourth Wednesday of every month and the meetings alternate between the north and south shores. Visit the “Meetings and Notices” page of the TRPA Web site to view upcoming agendas and meeting locations. Another important place to get involved is through Pathway 2007, the interagency process to update our regional plan for the next 20 years. The process involves an unprecedented level of public input and is charting a course for Lake Tahoe’s future. Stay up-to-date and find out how to contact your citizen representatives on the Pathway Forum at http://www.pathway2007.org.
– John Singlaub is executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
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