Bay Area man ‘pops his cork’ over basin rules |

Bay Area man ‘pops his cork’ over basin rules

Gregory Crofton
Naomi Brookner / Special to the Tribune / Stuart McDonald stands outside a friend's house in Mountain View where he has stayed since he left South Shore at the end of August. Environmental regulation of his property drove him away.

Stuart McDonald felt so much anger and frustration over environmental regulation of his Tahoe property and public harassment that parts of his body went numb.

“It popped my cork. I just boiled over,” said McDonald, 56, who has lived with a friend in Mountain View since he left Tahoe. He said he doesn’t want to be alone if he suffers another blackout.

Neither his real estate agent, nor a local engineer he hired, told McDonald that the house he bought in El Dorado County about 3 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe’s “Y” was smack in the middle of a stream zone, an area that warrants the highest environmental protection in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

McDonald decided in April to sell his home in Cupertino and buy a home at 1489 North Upper Truckee Road so he could live a semi-retired lifestyle. He was eager to clean up his yard and improve it with landscaping but the work never got done.

Things went downhill fast. In July, McDonald hired a small backhoe operator to scrape up a mixture of soil, meadow grasses and chunks of discarded concrete, asphalt and glass from a 3,000-square-foot area of his property.

The area, hidden by snow when he bought the land, is a few yards from the shoulder of North Upper Truckee Road. When he was done with the cleanup, McDonald said he had filled a large trailer with chunks of asphalt and garbage.

“I believe this is my land and I have the right to clean it up,” said McDonald, a telecommunications contractor. “I also believe when I bought the land it had garbage on it, concrete on it and tarps on it.”

A neighbor contacted the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency about McDonald’s work. The bistate agency is charged with protecting Lake Tahoe and its environment.

“The Stream Environment Zone had been ‘scraped’ (graded) and, consequently had native vegetation removed,” according to a TRPA report. “The dimensions of this disturbed area are approximately 50 feet by 60 feet and 1 inch to 8 inches in depth due to a slope on the property. The excavated earthen material was subsequently dumped on another part of the property and possibly another parcel adjacent to the property, causing damage to trees on the property in the process.”

After months of negotiating with the TRPA, McDonald said he has reluctantly agreed to pay a $9,000 fine and restore the land. He’s already paid nearly that much in legal fees.

“He is clearly an innocent participant in this very unfortunate situation,” said Joe Laub, an attorney representing McDonald.

On Wednesday at Stateline, the TRPA Governing Board is expected to decide on whether to approve the fine and an agreement that would settle the violation.

“Our rules are very clear. This is not a new rule,” said Julie Regan, TRPA communications director. “Bottom line is that you cannot excavate 3,000 square feet in a meadow. Lake Tahoe is too fragile for that kind of activity.

“We’re trying to be very accommodating to work out the situation with Mr. McDonald. We don’t want to cause any undue stress, but this is a really serious situation.”

McDonald is a different man today. He no longer wants to live at Tahoe after wrangling with the TRPA and enduring a mysterious onslaught of paint balls, a broken mirror on his truck and flattened tires on his wood chipper.

“He was a visitor to our community and for this to result in his moving off the hill is a really sad conclusion to a very bad chapter for Lake Tahoe,” said Laub, who added that lawsuits would likely arise against parties unrelated to the TRPA.

McDonald said he believes the blackout he suffered at the end of August was a stroke because it limited movement on the left side of his body and caused it to go numb. His left leg is still numb. McDonald said he sought medical attention at a Palo Alto hospital, but his self-diagnosis was not confirmed by a doctor.

Financially speaking things aren’t too good either. All of McDonald’s savings are tied up in his Tahoe home, which he can’t sell until he settles with the TRPA. So his plan is to forgo retirement and work full-time in the Bay Area. Right now he’s sleeping on a friend’s couch in Mountain View.

“Tahoe is not a friendly, nice place. It seems controlled by environmentalists, ” McDonald said. “I was in perfectly good health until I got up there. They just came after me.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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