Councilman attacks TRPA at Nevada legislature
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Bruce Grego took advantage of a recent change in city practices to lambaste the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency this week.
In the letter to Nevada’s Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Subcommittee, written on city letterhead, Grego said TRPA regulations are “excessive and duplicated,” based on “opinion and philosophy” and “have left my city with the designs of the late 1960s.”
He also says TRPA has “occupied” the basin for 42 years and said its regulations were the “primary cause of why the Angora fire was able to spread so rapidly throughout our community.”
Grego then requested the subcommittee withhold funding from the planning agency until the TRPA’s governing board is exclusively composed of locally elected members.
“The majority of the board is not accountable to anyone,” Grego said. “They are philosophers that rule over us with little regard to the socio-economic impacts they cause upon our community.”
TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen defended the planning agency in a Thursday e-mail.
“The 15-member TRPA Governing Board is purposefully made up of a mix of locally-elected officials, appointees from the highest elected offices of each state, an at large member, and a non-voting member appointed by the President of the United States,” Cowen said. “The Board’s makeup was shifted to its current balance by the people’s legislatures, not by TRPA. Most people are unaware that up to 1980, the TRPA board structure had a majority of in-Basin representatives who made unfortunate decisions in an effort to grow too big too fast. In essence, this type of board structure didn’t produce the best result for the community or the lake.”
During a follow up interview, Cowen said he did not address the 2007 Angora fire in the e-mail because the agency has repeatedly responded to criticism that it’s policies on vegetation clearing contributed to the fire.
“The bi-state fire commission and the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) reports clearly show that once the fire entered the neighborhood it spread from house to house and vegetation was not what caused the fire to spread,” Cowen said.
He pointed to the resource specialists who come from around the world to “learn about TRPA’s innovative science-based programs and policies,” as well as the agency’s partnerships with area research institutions as evidence the agency’s regulations are science-based. The agency also believes a strong economy is needed to protect the lake, Cowen said.
“TRPA firmly believes that we need a healthy local economy in order to foster the kind of stewardship required to restore this fragile ecosystem,” Cowen said. “Working in partnership with the City of South Lake Tahoe, we have seen environmental redevelopment projects come forward and will continue to work together to encourage much-needed revitalization of our communities.”
Grego said he used city letterhead for the criticism of the TRPA to show the subcommittee he is an elected official and to lend extra weight to his comments.
Each of three council members interviewed Thursday – Tom Davis, Angela Swanson and Hal Cole – said they did not entirely agree with Grego’s letter, but said he was within the guidelines recently approved by the City Council.
During their Feb. 8 meeting, the council voted to allow individual members to use city letterhead as long as it is used within the course of city business, not used in fundraising efforts or for “overwhelming political advocacy.”
The letterhead was previously reserved for use “by staff for the Mayor’s signature, or on occasion for signature of all five Council members at the direction of the entire Council, to communicate the Council’s position on certain matters/issues,” according to a memo from City Clerk Susan Alessi.
The council members interviewed Thursday said they’re likely to further clarify how council members can use city letterhead at a future meeting. Cole and Davis said a disclaimer explicitly stating opinions written by individual council members on city letterhead are not necessarily representative of the council as a whole may be appropriate.
Although Grego said he supported such a disclaimer at the Feb. 8 meeting, he said he did not include the disclaimer in this week’s letter to the subcommittee because the document gave no indication he represented anyone but himself.
But there is some indication Grego’s comments were perceived as representative of the city. The Nevada Electronic Legislative Information lists Grego’s letter under “City of South Lake Tahoe Comments.”
Grego said he signed into Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting as a representative of himself, told the subcommittee he was representing himself and had senators ask him afterwards how other council members felt.
Davis said he did not consider the letter a “big deal.”
Whether it appeared Grego was speaking on behalf of the council is a “judgment call,” Davis said.
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