Singlaub taking steps to improve TRPA
In September this newspaper did a series of stories profiling the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, its leaders and the struggles it has endured working in a climate where it is often unwelcome.
The agency’s biggest barrier has been its negative public image. It is viewed as bureaucratically slow, too powerful and anti-progress,- and for good reason: It has a history of being all three. But things are looking up if John Singlaub follows through with the mission he outlined last week.
Singlaub, during a TRPA-sponsored boat ride around the lake, said he plans to streamline some of the bureaucratic steps required to get project approvals at the agency. For homeowners who have been upset with the agency’s speed, or lack thereof, this is welcome news. Small projects, like adding a deck or a window to a house, have, in the past, been stuck behind more technical projects. This is an obvious change that needs to be made.
Singlaub is starting out with a realistic vision of what ails the TRPA: Customer service.
Too often, government agencies forget who they ultimately work for. With the number of people it has disenchanted over the years, the TRPA probably has even threatened its own existence. Singlaub understands the first step to repair public image is to fix the problems. Of a streamlined project approval system, Singlaub said, “All we have to worry about is compliance. I think everyone comes out ahead and we reduce the time and cost for project review.”
Fast-tracking the permit process, Singlaub says, can be accomplished by using effective technology, like permit-tracking software (to reduce paperwork), and segmenting compliance reviews so staff is not bogged down by larger projects. Singlaub wants to take the agency’s eight divisions and mold them into three: Development services, implementation and monitoring, and planning and evaluation. Less is more when it comes to efficiency, and it is good to see the TRPA viewing its own processes critically, the way private business must do in the competitive marketplace.
Also, Singlaub’s initial goals include a study of whether the agency changes its rules too often. This too is an issue of customer service.
When a homeowner or contractor is easily confused by the rules, it’s ultimately bad for Lake Tahoe. The flip side of the environmental coin is that updated buildings and homes are generally an improvement. In the past, with all the rules and rule changes by the TRPA, common sense development has been cost prohibitive. That’s the reality that Singlaub has inherited. One possible change on this front, he said, is to limit rule changes to a few times a year.
Hopefully too, Singlaub will look at the fines the TRPA imposes, and ask if the punishment fits the crime. When staff came back and proposed a doubling of the fines against Harveys and the South Tahoe Public Utility District last week (from $45,000 to $90,000 for removing trees and dirt at Harveys, and $10,000 to $20,000 for illegal excavation at STPUD), many people in this community were probably skeptical. As we know, costs to them are ultimately costs to us, even if their actions were “willful,” as staff said.
Overall, Singlaub has shown he is aware of many of the problems that face the TRPA, and he appears willing to work toward fixing them. Let’s hope his employees share his attitude so the agency can effectively, and unobtrusively, achieve its environmental goals.