Attitude at TRPA is troubling
June 30, 2007
I have followed in recent days, and read with great interest, your Friday article on the TRPA’s responses to criticism and the growing storm. It seems to me that several points go unnoticed.
First, defensible space was only one major factor in this fire. While that is important, the rapid spread of the fire is a greater issue. I am told, and it makes sense to me, that the fire spread so quickly because of the stock pile of fuel made up of the accumulated dead trees and bushes. In other words, the old, dead growth that we have been prevented from removing through the actions of various well known groups.
Secondly, the TRPA fails, in my view, to recognize the difference between their stubborn sense of reality and the public perception of the agency. There are many factors that influence our perceptions, some are very subtle, and not at all obvious. The tone of one’s voice or the body language that can change the meaning of a spoken phrase is an example, or the added comment as one walks away, best illustrated in your Friday article when you quote John Singlaub as saying, “If they think they want to sue us, I guess they will.” What that says to many people is, “Go ahead and sue us – we are the TRPA.”
A person who truly wants to resolve conflict does not inflame it, and would say something like, “I don’t think legal action is the best course, and I invite all to sit down with me and talk; together we can resolve this.” His response reminds me a lot of the old Lily Tomlin routines on the phone company, before deregulation: “We are the phone company (or the TRPA) and you are not.”
As another example, a week ago John came forward with what seems to be a generous offer, the waiver of fees for reconstruction. But he could not leave it at that, he had to add, “If any one tries to add anything new or change their size, then all deals are off.” This is perceived as a statement of retaining authority or saying, “Yes, I will help you, but don’t forget who is in charge here.”
I could go on, but my point is that the the TRPA is a federal agency and far removed from the local voter. Its governing board includes members from out of the area and not subject to local, day-to-day influence. It depends on its funding from Washington, and it knows well the impact of some well-organized and well-financed local groups that have important friends in Washington.
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I am not opposed to the TRPA; we need the regional view, but that view must include the needs and interests of all the region, not merely a select few. In my view, the TRPA needs to take a serious step back and allow some of its critics to really show them how they come across to the public and not be too quick to write them off. I suspect that the TRPA may be well-intended, but as someone once said, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
– Ted Long is a member of the South Lake Tahoe City Council.
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