Public experiences difficulty in understanding local agency’s bureaucratic language |

Public experiences difficulty in understanding local agency’s bureaucratic language

Matthew Renda
Annie Flanzraich / Tribune Photo Illustration

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A basin resident urged government officials to employ the communication golden rule.

“Talk and listen to us as we would talk and listen to you,” said Steven Lapkin, an Incline Village resident.

Tahoe Regional Planning Agency officials recognize a disconnect between the agency’s policies and the public reception of such policies and are taking steps to rectify the problem.

The disconnect is in large part due to the esoteric language the agency employs in describing its statutes and code.

To attend a TRPA meeting requires a crash course in the many acronyms and nomenclature the agency uses to describe its building code, recreational and development policies, and environmental programs.

Hal Cole, TRPA governing board member, said the TRPA code manual “is thicker than a Los Angeles phonebook.”

Chairman of the TRPA governing board Allen Biaggi said from an operational standpoint, it is important to provide basin residents with a code they can all grasp.

“How can we ask people to comply with something they don’t fully understand?” Biaggi asked, rhetorically.

For this reason, TRPA Deputy Director Jerry Wells said the organization has undertaken a program aimed at eliminating inaccuracies in the code while making documents more concise, clear and understandable to the lay reader.

“We plan on using more diagrams, tables and charts to help readers further interpret what’s being said,” Wells said.

Wells further said that as the TRPA continues to update its Regional Plan, it has employed consulting firms to help make that plan more comprehensible to the average resident.

“The board will have input on adopting the final code, so they will be involved in crafting the language of the Regional Plan,” said Wells.

TRPA Governing Board Member Jennifer Montgomery said she would be in favor of simplifying TRPA language.

“(The agency) uses a lot of bureaucratese-speak like SEZ and TMDL,” she said. “During meetings, I try not to use that jargon because it is off-putting to people.”

However, Montgomery, Biaggi and Cole all emphasized the problem is not unique to the TRPA, but besets all government agencies.

“It’s the nature of government business,” said Biaggi. “Governments need good solid legal language they can enforce, but sometimes this creates unclarity for the lay reader.”

Montgomery said the TRPA and government in general needs to be more accessible to the public it is designated to serve, but onus cannot rest entirely on the government and its officials.

“No matter which government entity you are talking about, whether it be the federal government or the TRPA, people owe it to themselves to become informed citizens capable of making informed decisions,” she said.ꆱ

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