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Builders’s angst toward allocations wanes

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily TribuneMatthew Graham, leader of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's erosion control team, speaks to a group of builders.
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Tim Washick and Mark Acri wore skeptical, slightly hostile looks as they sat down to listen to an explanation of rules that could affect their livelihoods — building homes in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

They attended a lunch meeting Thursday to discuss the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s new allocation system, which determines how many homes can be built at Lake Tahoe Basin.

Washick, Acri and others who attended the meeting organized by the El Dorado County Building Department said they believe the system holds them hostage by environmental work they cannot control.



But as members of the TRPA staff began to explain how the system evolved, hostility in the room mellowed.

“It dispelled a lot of misconceptions us contractors have about what’s happening with the (allocations) list,” said Washick, a builder at South Shore for nine years. “The TRPA put a lot of work into the allocation process. I came in skeptical and left pretty positive.”




Since El Dorado County contains the most land in the basin that can be built on, it is on track to receive 111 allocations of development, 19 more than it got last year. The years ahead, though, are not expected to be as fat.

If the county doesn’t continue to get good grades from the TRPA, which under the system are earned by devoting money and planning to environmental work, the number of allocations it gets in 2005 could drop to a low of 27.

Acri, a builder at South Shore for 12 years, said he began to understand the system once Paul Nielsen, a senior TRPA planner at the meeting, explained that the agency had been close to releasing no allocations in 2003.

Nielsen said the agency could have just cut the number of allocations in half to 150 instead of working to create the system that was adopted, which links the number of released allocations to the environment.

“I could be standing here talking about an injunction,” Nielsen said. “We’re not. We said, ‘Let’s work it out.'”

An injunction, which would have meant a ban on building, could have been a possibility if an environmental watchdog group such as the League to Save Lake Tahoe decided to sue the TRPA for not doing enough to protect the environment of the basin.

“In general, it’s better than no allocations,” Acri said. “I think they’ve done a fair job coming up with a compromise.”

Under the system, TRPA wants to see money and plans put in place so projects designed to protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe get off the ground. The agency also wants to see more work done to ensure needed erosion controls are installed on private land, and that improvements are made in public transit to get people out of their cars to improve air quality at the basin.

Builders at the meeting, though, said they believe there is a disconnect in the system because a builder has no way to influence how many resources his jurisdiction devotes to the environment.

“The things we don’t fund and are totally out of our hands determine how many allocation there are,” Acri said. “It’s yet to be seen how that will affect us.

“When you build a single-family home, it has all the TRPA requirements in it. I don’t believe new homes are adding to any environmental problems the lake has.”

John Adamski, another builder at the meeting, argued that the allocation list is being used unfairly by some of his colleagues. Adamski says the county code specifies that a builder can only receive one allocation per year, but several builders end up with as many as five a year.

The allocation list maintained by El Dorado County involves about a three-year wait. Adamski said a handful of builders take advantage of the list by putting an allocation in the name of a relative or friend, making it more difficult to ensure that people such as himself will be able to build one home a year and make a living.

“I’m fed up with it,” Adamski said. “Both the TRPA and county have been aware that it has been happening for years and chosen to do nothing about it.”

Nielsen said it is not the responsibility of the TRPA to monitor allocation lists. The agency releases a lump of allocations and it is up to the counties and the city at the basin to distribute them.

El Dorado County building official Bill Carey said he’s spoken to Adamski and at his request conducted an audit on allocations released in 2002.

“It certainly didn’t appear to us that an inordinate amount of allocations were going to any individual or group,” Carey said. “We’re open to changing this system but it seems to be working OK. If someone comes up with a better one, we’re open to looking at it.”

Adamski said he has suggested to building officials that the system could be rectified by controlling how many building permits someone is allowed each year. They shot that idea down, he said.

The building season starts May 1, when it becomes legal to move dirt again. If the TRPA Governing Board finalizes the number of allocations for 2003 when it meets at the end of February, allocations should be released in March.

The allocations are typically released in January, so the late start is expected to rush the planning and permitting phase of the building season this year.

“One of our concerns … is providing a reasonable application turnaround time,” said Larry Lohman, principal planner at the El Dorado County Building Department. “It looks like we’ll have a 20 to 25 percent increase in the number of allocations.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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