GUEST COLUMN: Response to ‘don’t disrupt the process’ editorial
July 27, 2010
I would like to respond to the July 16, 2010, editorial: “Don’t disrupt the process.” I offer these comments solely on behalf of the Tahoe Sierra Club. It is my hope that by addressing some of the points raised in that article, it may allow for a more beneficial dialogue concerning what I hope is our joint goal of preserving the lake.
Your editorial describes environmentalists’ objections to TRPA’s transect zoning as “far-fetched, amateur-and ill-informed.” Actually, we spend a great deal of time, in fact often months, studying each TRPA proposal to see if each proposal will benefit the lake. We then speak out at public meetings and occasionally write a letter to the newspaper.
Your editorial claims: “It doesn’t matter what a map says – no matter if a building or complex is one or four stories high, the communities will be the judge.” It doesn’t always work this way.
First, the developer, trying to achieve the highest height, the largest footprint, etc. to maximize profits, will be well-represented at each hearing, along with their consultants and attorney and as many of their friends and employees as possible to show “community support” for the project. Not always so of the residents, where two-thirds are second homeowners who find it difficult to get up to speed on the many complex issues involved in each project. It’s therefore the environmental groups that often step in to study and inform the public.
Second, once a proposed ordinance becomes law, and if it provides, for example, that a certain parcel can contain up to say 12 units, the developer and his land-use planner, and sometimes his attorney, then strive for the maximum build-out allowed – the 12 units even though possibly TRPA staff had in mind “up to” 12 units, or alternatively the developer may threaten that if he is proposing eight units but encounters opposition, he may apply for a permit to put in the 12 units legally allowed for that parcel. In other words, the planning agency, possibly unintentionally, gives an additional tool to the developer with which to achieve his goal, but not necessarily the goal of the agency or the community.
Your editorial also requests that we “…participate in the process instead of obstructing it.” If asking questions and if objecting to what we honestly see as flaws in a project is obstruction, then so be it, and be advised we intend to continue to ask questions, seek proof of what’s being promised by a developer and when necessary we will continue to speak out. It is the American way and we have a right to protect the lake.
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Finally, when I attended the community meeting at the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza office on July 20, and someone asked if I were getting paid to come and speak, I explained that I was an unpaid volunteer, and all Sierra Club members, except one science officer at Lake Tahoe, are unpaid and unreimbursed for any expenses; when someone complained that we were litigation-prone, I explained that with the TRPA there is no appellate level to seek a re-hearing (unlike the IRS, the DMV, and most other agencies). When someone mentioned we should just accept a TRPA decision as final, I pointed out that we sometimes disagree with TRPA final decisions and view them as flawed; for example, the recent Sandy Beach project where we felt, correctly, that the TRPA staff failed to correctly calculate the coverage represented by the developer. If TRPA would agree to creating an appellate level composed of a neutral board, we would not have to resort to litigation in most instances.
The Sierra Club plays a vital role in protecting the lake and assuring that the intent of the bistate compact is met. That’s our job, and we do it without pay. The benefit to all of us is a cleaner Lake, a healthier ecosystem, and the end result of the two is a healthier economy.
Ron Grassi is Co-Conservation Chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club.