Lawsuit speeds up scenic dialogue
Good faith negotiations have turned sour and environmental officials now want a Lake Tahoe scenic review system to be heard next month — not in January.
Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller, chairman of the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said he agrees with Executive Director Juan Palma and will ask the board at its next meeting to reconsider its decision to delay the matter until January.
Palma said two things derailed negotiation: A lawsuit filed by a group that opposes the system, and the fact that there are dozens of issues still unresolved.
“I am extremely concerned now that I have read the litigation from the Incline Village folks,” Palma said. “I go to those meetings and every word I say I mean in good faith. They’ve taken those words and twisted them around to strangle me. I’m sincere in resolving this, I’m not sure they are.”
At a meeting Tuesday, Palma said he discovered 71 issues related to the scenic system still need to be resolved.
“That’s going to take us months and month to resolve,” Palma said. “I assumed there were just a handful. I’m never going to resolve this.”
The group that filed the litigation, the Committee for the Reasonable Regulation of Lake Tahoe, says it is still acting in good faith.
The lawsuit was filed so the committee would still have the legal right to challenge the agency’s 2001 Threshold Evaluation report. The report says building along the shore of the lake is degrading scenic quality at the basin.
John Marshall, TRPA lead counsel, says the committee’s right to challenge the Threshold Evaluation could have been extended with an agreement and not required a lawsuit.
Bob Wheeler, president of the committee, declined to explain why it never asked Marshall for an extension. Ron Zumbrun, who filed the lawsuit for the committee, described the suit as a “protective” act.
The lawsuit sent a different message to Heller.
Heller said he missed the meeting last week because he thought no action would be taken on the scenic issue. But the board did take action, pushing the item back to January with a directive that it be reviewed again by agency’s Advisory Planning Commission, which voted to accept the scenic system in August.
“I don’t believe that does the Advisory Planning Commission justice, sending them a watered down version of what they’ve already voted on and, in my opinion, voted correctly on,” Heller said.
The committee’s intention with the lawsuit, Heller said, was to buy leverage on the issue.
“They made a mistake. I consider it a threat,” Heller said. “In the long run it will end up in court anyway. We need to take some action and let the chips fall where they may, and frankly they’ll probably fall in court. We need to take a defensible position and move forward.”
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said she agrees the scenic issue needs to go back to the Governing Board in November.
“The committee did not tell the agency or other parties they had already had filed suit, so the board was lacking essential information when it voted to set the January date,” Nason said. “We all thought everyone was negotiating in good faith when in fact litigation had already been filed.”
Zumbrun filed the suit in federal court at Reno Oct. 22, a day before the Governing Board meeting.
“It was an error of communication on my part with our attorney,” Wheeler said. “We intended it to be filed after the meeting.”
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