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Take a broader view with TRPA

Jim Scripps

You have to feel bad for the TRPA.Wait! Don’t throw those tomatoes! I mean, they have about the toughest public relations job out there. Here is an outfit with a government-mandated mission to improve the environment, and every time they pursue a law aimed at improving the environment, they get, well, tomatoes thrown at them.

The PR nightmare is so extreme, their executive director sat before the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday, and sort of … testified. Reminds me of baseball slugger Mark McGwire getting grilled in the Senate during those unnecessary steroid hearings, “I plead the fifth,” he repeatedly repeated, veins bulging out of his giant neck. At least John Singlaub didn’t plead the fifth.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is temporarily stumbling in its effort to get back into the good graces of Lake Tahoe residents. I say temporarily because they have made a good-faith effort during the Singlaub years to be more communicative, and try to resolve the complaints plaguing them over the decades.

Of course, there are those who will never see the agency as a legitimate organization – the TRPA basically answers to no one, and is governed by appointees, some of whom come from outside the basin – but the agency deserves credit for at least caring about its image, and trying to shed the appearance of being a oligarchy, divining wisdom from scientific experiments and imposing it on the peasants (homeowners trying to install a new driveway).

But, to a degree, it may be a hopeless effort.

Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the TRPA, is a true believer and has helped improve the agency’s public image, but whenever she, or anybody else, tries to talk about the good the TRPA does, some people’s eyes glaze over. Longtime homeowners still have nightmares about trying to get permits to build decks. Or, worse yet, they have built decks illegally, at night, in total silence, afraid … afraid the squirrels might report them … and then they’ll have to pay a $10,000 fine.

That’s the type of thinking the TRPA is battling, whether it is accurate or not. And they have endeavored to improve the process, making it easier, as it should be, to build a deck for example.

Or those dreaded Better Management Practices. The TRPA says we have to put them in this year, even if our house is old. So homeowners don’t get grandfathered in, and to a lot of people that ain’t fair. What if we all had to do earthquake upgrades, or fireproof roofs, or EPA certified woodstoves, etc., etc. Those types of policies don’t make friends, but they are compatible with TRPA’s mission. If people didn’t want the TRPA, they should have called then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. If they don’t want it now, I’m sure California Assemblyman Tim Leslie is willing to listen. But don’t be mad at the leopard for having spots.

Let’s face it, if the TRPA does anything, it is going to piss people off. And that’s the conflict the agency will always have to deal with.

The new, sixth shorezone proposal being considered for adoption actually increases the number of piers and buoys, and ends the moratorium, but that’s not what people are talking about. They are talking about a proposal to ban motorized boats in Emerald Bay one day a week a couple months a year. It’s why Singlaub is getting the McGwire treatment.

People see the proposed ban as ridiculous, but then the TRPA doesn’t get credit for softening its hardline stance on piers and buoys. The TRPA may have shot itself in the foot, but they’re just trying to do their thing. If you took a public poll, most people would probably say we don’t need any more shorezone rules, but then what would TRPA do with all those employees and planners.

Out of fairness to the government agency people love to hate, I think residents should take a broader view. Without the TRPA there would be a freeway through South Tahoe, homes would dot every available inch of space, and the number of highrise hotel casinos at Stateline would have multiplied. The lake would be surrounded by marinas, buoys and piers, and you wouldn’t be able to see 5 feet deep.

Of course we could have done much of this without the TRPA, but then where would we throw the tomatoes?

– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be reached at jscripps@tahoedailytribune.com.


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