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Lawmakers plan oversight of TRPA

Amanda Fehd

Legislators representing the Lake Tahoe Basin from California and Nevada have agreed to meet on a regular basis to provide oversight of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a step senators from the two states on Friday called historic.

The Nevada legislative oversight committee of the TRPA will meet for the first time across state lines in Sacramento in May.

Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, and Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, are now “ex-officio” members of the committee, which means they cannot vote, but will have equal say in discussion.

Nevada State Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, and Cox said said it’s a historic step for lawmakers on either side of the state line to come together for the Tahoe region.

It’s a step toward a more objective, consistent, transparent and accountable TRPA, Cox said.

“There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind now that the Nevada and California legislative members that represent the basin are listening with the same ear,” Amodei told the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Friday.

The two senators met with TRPA officials Friday for a briefing on Pathway 2007, which will likely determine the fate of the region – it’s environment, economy and community – for the next 20 years.

Many believe Tahoe is the most regulated place in the country. Aside from county, state and city laws, property owners and businesses must abide by development rules of the TRPA or face strict penalties starting at $5,000 per infraction.

When Congress ratified an agreement in 1969 between California and Nevada to create a bi-state body to govern development at Tahoe, “oversight of the agency does not appear to have been thought about,” Amodei said. He has been member of the Nevada oversight committee for eight years.

Two-thirds of state funding for TRPA comes from California, while a third comes from Nevada. California does not have an oversight committee. When asked if it were possible to start one, Leslie said the residents of Tahoe do not need more people who are not elected running their lives.

The senators hope the move will help eliminate miscommunication between the states on Tahoe issues. And while they were short on specific goals for how to improve the agency’s procedures or Tahoe’s future, they said this was just the beginning to a long process of improving oversight.

“We don’t need to change the compact to have progress,” Amodei said.

Most would agree changing the compact is a monumental task, requiring passage in both legislatures in both states, approval by Congress, and the president’s signature.

However, the compact was amended once, in 1980, to change the Governing Board’s structure for more representative from outside the region. Whereas board members once came almost solely from Tahoe, now most do not live here.

Leslie apparently took the lead on this new step. His office contacted Amodei last fall to suggest they work more closely together.

The California assemblyman was a vocal critic of the TRPA this summer over it’s proposal to restrict motorboats in Emerald Bay. He has also supported or authored several measures to protect Lake Tahoe, including the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Lake Tahoe license plate.

TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan said the agency welcomes the legislators’ feedback.

“We are not interested in hiding,” Regan said. “We are interested in being open and transparent. We want to serve the community and the lake together. The compact is clear on our mission of maintaining the equilibrium between natural landscape and man-made environment. It is very challenging, because you do have differing opinions about Lake Tahoe and how it should be managed.”

While accountability is a common criticism from the Republican camp, conservation groups have a much different gripe: that the TRPA does not focus enough on the original mandate of the compact, which outlined nine environmental standards, including water and air quality, scenic resources, fish and wildlife habitat, noise, vegetation and recreation.

League to Save Lake Tahoe executive director Rochelle Nason believes there is not an accountability problem, pointing out members are either elected or are appointed by an elected official.

Still, the more legislative involvement the better, she said.

“The Governing Board has been entrusted by the states with the protection and restoration of Lake Tahoe,” Nason said. “The states should continue to help further that goal.”

The League issues the ubiquitous “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers.

Coe Swobe, TRPA board member and former Nevada senator who authored the state’s legislation in 1968 to create the agency, said he “never anticipated not having oversight.”

Swobe believes the board could be more accountable to legislators and welcomed their additional interest.

“The more the members of government understand the workings of the TRPA, the better off we are and the more support we’ll get,” Swobe said.


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