New Tahoe Regional Planning Agency chief takes reigns of Lake |

New Tahoe Regional Planning Agency chief takes reigns of Lake

His desk is free from floating papers. The book shelves are bare and family photos don’t yet adorn the office walls.

But, in his first week as chief of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Juan Palma’s appointment book is busy with meetings.

“One of the first things I’m going to do is gather information by meeting with employees and with the public,” he said. “On Monday, I have a meeting with four former TRPA directors – they have a lot of wisdom and I want to tap into that wisdom.”

Palma, a former Lake Tahoe Basin forest supervisor, was selected among 65 applicants who applied for TRPA’s top post. He replaces Jim Baetge, who resigned for health reasons in January after five years as executive director.

Palma, 45, beat out TRPA’s legal counsel and acting executive director John Marshall; John Singlaub, Carson district manager for the Bureau of Land Management and Virginia resident Peter Coppelman, a principal deputy assistant attorney general.

Palma’s job started Tuesday.

Sitting behind his bare desk, Palma said a few issues are already screaming for his attention.

Finding a deputy director, a position that became vacant shortly after Baetge left, is at the top of his list. After hiring an assistant, he hopes to rearrange the managerial rankings to make the agency run more efficiently. He wants to increase staff levels to be able to meet public demand in the building permit process.

“These are the preliminary things that I’m seeing that I need to work on,” he said. “I also want to focus on making a clear package out of the Environmental Improvement Program so we can describe the EIP, the funding that is needed, the entities involved and how much work has been done.”

Being leader is not a new experience for Palma, who has made a career of managing government agencies.

His resume touts a list of top management posts such as deputy forest supervisor for the Six Rivers National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest supervisor and district manager for five million acres of Bureau of Land Management property in eastern Oregon. He also holds a business degree from the University of Oregon and a masters degree in natural resource management from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Ed Gee, deputy forest supervisor of the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe unit, described Palma as an effective leader. They worked together when Palma was forest supervisor from 1997 to 1999.

“Juan is a people’s person – he listens well and understands people’s needs and he’ll try to meet those needs,” Gee said. “The TRPA needed a collaborative individual with a vision of where Tahoe would be going and an understanding of how things work internally and externally in the basin. I think he has an understanding of that.”

But to Palma, working for TRPA is incongruous to his other jobs in natural resource management.

“What’s different is that, at the Forest Service and the BLM, decision making at the local level is limited,” Palma said. “Each has their levels that you have to say ‘mother may I’ to.”

At the TRPA, Palma’s decision making won’t leave the basin. He’ll answer to the appointed 14-member governing board.

“I don’t have a regional office or a Washington office – it’s just the governing board and the staff working together,” he added. “Solutions are formed at the local level.”

Having the power to solve problems locally doesn’t mean the job, which pays $110,000 a year, will be an easy detail. Palma knows tough items are in the works.

Affordable housing is one of those.

“We need to define what role will TRPA play in affordable housing,” he said. “When do we step in and when do we leave things alone.”

Outside of the TRPA offices in Zephyr Cove, Palma is a father of three boys – one goes to college in Utah and the other two will be attending South Tahoe High School. He said his wife Susan, of 21 years, is happy to return to Lake Tahoe.

“My boys already have passes to Heavenly,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to doing some snowboarding too.”

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