IPES lawsuit vs. TRPA could come
A property rights organization already locked in a 15-year-old lawsuit with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency may soon be – surprise – filing another suit against the bistate regulatory board.
The Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council has repeatedly urged TRPA to change the way it evaluates residential parcels for building permits, according to the organization’s attorney Larry Hoffman.
If TRPA doesn’t make a change soon, Hoffman said, a legal course of action “will be inevitable.”
“Our patience is about worn out,” he said.
TRPA has scored all vacant private land in the basin since 1987 using the Individual Parcel Evaluation System, commonly referred to as the IPES line. It is a way for TRPA to limit the amount of development on vacant residential lots. TRPA allows 300 residential building permits a year. The IPES line identifies which vacant residential parcels are too sensitive to be built upon.
The line was created to be flexible. If certain requirements were met, counties’ IPES lines were supposed to lower, which would allow for more sensitive parcels to be built upon. The IPES lines have lowered on the Nevada side of the basin; however, neither El Dorado nor Placer counties’ lines have moved.
Hoffman said the purpose of IPES was to create a temporary stop to development while agencies such as the California Tahoe Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service could buy sensitive parcels for preservation. While the purchases have been happening for years, the California-side lines have not lowered.
There are about 2,000 parcels in California that cannot be built upon because of the current rules.
“An integral part of the IPES, from day one, was that those parcels could (later) be built upon,” Hoffman said. “And here we still are, all these years later, asking the board to adjust the line.”
The preservation counsel wants TRPA to throw out the “pass-fail” line created by the IPES and allow 300 residential building permits a year, regardless of their environmental sensitivity.
Denying property owners the right to build on their land, the preservation council argues, constitutes an illegal “taking” of property.
If the government “takes” property, the Fifth Amendment requires it reimburse the owner, Hoffman says.
The issue of “taking” has been the focus of other litigation directed at TRPA. The agency last month agreed to spend $600,000 to settle the suit Bernadine Suitum vs. TRPA. That suit alleged: “The application of certain TRPA regulations to her Lake Tahoe property effected a regulatory taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
Hoffman – also the attorney in that suit – has said it marked the first time TRPA settled litigation by paying a property owner.
The preservation council, which is urging a change in the IPES, sued TRPA in 1984. The lawsuit, with more than 400 plaintiffs, was filed after TRPA issued a series of moratoriums in the 1980s, stopping property owners from developing in certain environmentally sensitive areas.
After seesawing through the court system for years – including twice being rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court – it went to trial in December in Reno’s U.S. District Court. The judge ruled partially in favor of both parties, and both are in the process of appealing it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento.
The Governing Board of TRPA this Wednesday plans to discuss IPES at its regular board meeting. The item will not be considered for action, but TRPA’s legal counsel John Marshall said the board may give the staff direction in terms of how to address the IPES issue.
However, in reviewing TRPA’s summary on what its staff would be recommending, Hoffman said: “To me, it’s frankly a bunch of gobbledygook.”
What: TRPA meeting
When: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.
Where: The Granlibakken Conference Center, 625 Granlibakken Road, Tahoe City
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