Property group calls land standard unfair
The formula to adjust the standard by which Tahoe Basin land is declared too sensitive for development is inherently unfair to California property owners, the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council announced Wednesday.
At a meeting of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board, attorney Lawrence Hoffman accused the bistate agency of adopting an unrealistic policy for adjusting its Individual Parcel Evaluation System, or IPES.
“We’re at the end of tolerating this. You’ve told 2,000 people who own lots that you cannot use your land,” Hoffman said. “You’ve chiseled the line into stone on the California side, but that line has been coming down in Nevada.”
Each year, the agency’s board adjusts the IPES score that qualifies properties for development, based on five findings that require each basin jurisdiction to invest in environmental projects and buying sensitive land to prevent development.
When the TRPA devised the system in 1986, it created a different standard for retiring sensitive property in California and Nevada. The net effect was to allow Washoe and Douglas counties in Nevada to meet the target, and to make it virtually impossible for Placer and El Dorado counties to qualify for a lower standard.
Because of the differing standard, the IPES score needed to qualify a property has been lowered in the Nevada counties each year for the past five or six years, but the qualifying score has never been lowered on the California side of the basin.
Last year, for instance, the TRPA board lowered the eligible IPES scores in Washoe County to 539 and in Douglas County to 646, while the qualifying score in the California counties remained at 725.
El Dorado Supervisor John Upton, who represents the county on the agency board, also criticized rules for lowering the IPES line.
“We’ve created an equation that can never be met,” Upton said.
Hoffman said the problem stemmed from the TRPA’s use of a different land evaluation system, called the Bailey land capability measure, in its early years before switching to the IPES standard.
“The problem is we have a very mechanical formula, and we need to step back and ask why there are these trip wires,” he said, referring to the vacant-lot standard.
Hoffman added that the disparity between the states is not justified by any lack of progress in California, but by the rule that requires 80 percent of California lots to be retired before a change in the IPES standard, while Nevada counties only need to retire two-thirds of the sensitive properties.
Mary Gilanfarr, the preservation council’s executive director, said Nevada property owners have an unfair advantage over their California counterparts.
“At least half of the 2,000 lots in Nevada have scores that are buildable,” Gilanfarr said. “What is sensitive about land in California that is not sensitive in Nevada?”
The group’s complaints were received sympathetically by the board and agency’s staff, who agreed to take a closer look at the land capability policy in March.
The board agreed not to change the IPES standards before then. On Wednesday, the agency’s staff recommended not to lower scores in Nevada this year, because the counties have not invested enough money in environmental improvements.
Jim Baetge, the TRPA’s executive director, agreed that the IPES system needs to be tested for fairness.
“I tend to agree there’s a problem,” Baetge said.
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