Conflicts of interest considered on TRPA board
September 27, 2005
The Sierra Club is hoping to hear today an opinion from the lead lawyer of Tahoe’s planning agency on whether four of its Governing Board members who own property on Tahoe’s lakeshore have a conflict of interest and should not participate in discussions or votes on regulations involving the shorezone.
Michael Donahoe, conservation co-chair of the Sierra Club’s regional chapter, asked for the opinion at last month’s meeting of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board.
TRPA lead lawyer Joanne Marchetta indicated Monday she had not prepared that opinion yet, but said, “There is no per se conflict of interest simply by virtue of owning shorezone property.”
All four Governing Board members Donahoe named have disclosures on file with TRPA of their financial interests in the area.
And all four board members own, or are associated with, property on Tahoe’s lakeshore. Rules for the lakeshore will soon come under debate by the Governing Board.
In the past, members have been allowed to decide for themselves whether they have a conflict, despite recommendations from TRPA legal staff.
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Presidential appointee Stuart Yount, who does not have a vote on the board, recused himself from shorezone discussion this summer, but said it’s not clear whether that was necessary.
Steven Merrill, an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a pier and said since he’s not eligible for another one – and none of the current proposals would make him eligible – he does not have a financial conflict of interest.
“We’ve already addressed the issue prior to the Sierra Club bringing it up,” Merrill said.
Board members Julie Motamedi and Shelly Aldean did not return repeated calls for comment Tuesday.
The nitty gritty
TRPA’s compact, Article III (a)(5), states: “No member or employee of the agency shall make or attempt to influence, an agency decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has an economic interest. Members and employees of the agency must disqualify themselves” if the decision will have an effect on their financial interest in the region.
Economic interest is defined in the compact as: a business worth more than $1,000, property worth more than $1,000, a source of income more than $250 in the last year, or a business in which the member holds a leadership role.
Merrill owns two boats slips and four lakefront lots totaling around six acres in Tahoe City, according to his disclosure and information from the Placer County assessor’s office.
Aldean and Merrill own adjacent lakefront properties in Tahoe City. Aldean’s property has a pier, according to the assessor’s office.
Motamedi’s family owns a pier next to the marina and a lakefront business.
Motamedi also has a condominium with the Rocky Ridge Property Owner’s Association in Tahoe City, which owns a .89-acre common area parcel abutting the lake, according to the Placer County assessor’s office. The office could not indicate whether that parcel had a pier, saying it was not public knowledge.
Yount did not take part in a public hearing in August on TRPA’s Alternative 6, a proposal on how to regulate Tahoe’s shorezone. He recused himself to take the most cautious and conservative stance, he said, but lawyers are still looking into whether that was necessary.
Yount has been refused a pier permit in the past. His lakeshore property is not currently eligible for a pier, he said, because it is in fish habitat.
“Anybody would like a pier if they could have one,” he said.
Motamedi, also a Schwarzenegger appointee, recused herself from a decision last year involving the Tahoe City Marina, citing conflict of interest.
Merrill did not recuse himself from the same issue last year, despite recommendation by John Marshall, who was then TRPA’s lead lawyer, to do so. He is a venture capitalist from San Francisco. His two slips at the marina are worth between $60,000 and $300,000 depending on size and location, according Debra Little-Prestella, office manager for the Tahoe City Marina.
Aldean, a Carson City supervisor, also owns property in Glenbrook. The Glenbrook Homeowners Association has had a long-running dispute with casino lobbyist Harvey Whittemore and Larry Ruvo, Nevada’s largest liquor wholesaler, over whether they can build a pier in Glenbrook Bay or if they must use the existing community pier in the otherwise pristine bay.
A proposal soon before the board would not allow anyone with legal access to a pier to be considered for their own pier. A judge most recently ruled Ruvo and Whittemore did not have legal access to the Glenbrook pier, making it a possibility to build their own.
Donahoe believes those with piers would want others not to have them.
“If you have a pier already, then your financial interest becomes so that others don’t have one, because your property value goes up,” Donahoe said.