A federal judge in Sacramento heard arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s new regional plan on grounds it would weaken environmental controls at mile-high Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra on the Nevada-California border.
U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez took the arguments from lawyers for the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore and from TRPA attorneys under submission and will issue a decision at a later, unspecified date.
Attorneys Wendy Park and Trent Orr, representing the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore, maintained that the new regional plan, adopted by the bistate TRPA in December 2012, fails to adequately protect Lake Tahoe’s sensitive environment.
The two attorneys argued the plan fails to meet agreed-upon standards by allowing too much new development, doubling building height limits and failing to track runoff into the lake.
TRPA counsel John Marshall contended the claims by the two groups amounted to mischaracterizations or disagreements over a handful of policies that will actually protect and improve the lake’s environment. The TRPA said the plan, years in the making, has broad support in the Tahoe community and will encourage “environmentally beneficial” redevelopment.
After the more than hour-long hearing, Park said the proceeding went well, with the judge asking “a lot of good questions. We felt it was a fair hearing.” She declined to speculate on how Mendez would eventually rule in the case.
TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta issued a statement saying that the goal is to ensure Tahoe remains “one of the most protected watersheds in the nation, and there is little doubt our plan will do that.”
“This litigation boils down to how we balance strong environmental procedures with the need to upgrade existing development that is impacting the lake,” she said.
The court last summer issued a partial decision that the regional plan update didn’t violate California law by allowing local jurisdictions to have more authority. That part of the plan had been criticized by Orr who said it was unlikely that cash-strapped local governments would adopt adequate environmental protection measures that might hinder lucrative development proposals.
Supporters of the new plan said the TRPA’s approach and its incentives are needed for the environmental redevelopment of older, nonconforming developments built around the lake before strict standards were put in place in the mid-1980s.
Opponents argue the plan aims to solve problems caused by over-urbanization with more urbanization, said Jennifer Quashnick, a spokeswoman for Friends of the West Shore and Tahoe Area Sierra Club.