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Signs indicate compromise

Jenifer Ragland

Indications are that the two agencies governing signs in the Lake Tahoe Basin may be able to strike a deal.

Officials from the city and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency met last week to start figuring out what can be done to reach both short- and long-term agreements regarding the conflict, said Teri Jamin, planning director.

Jamin said the meeting was positive, and that she believes TRPA officials are willing to work with the city to find a solution.

“We started brainstorming some ideas, so they definitely are willing to work with us,” she said. “We’re trying to decide what’s the best way to utilize the resources we have, perhaps entering into some joint agreements.”

Andrew Strain, TRPA senior planner, said he also feels some flexibility can be found in the TRPA’s code to improve the city’s ordinance. However, he said any modifications will have to be carefully orchestrated so that environmental standards are not compromised.

“There has to be a balance,” he said. “Right now we are trying to understand each other’s processes and learn and look to see if we can help resolve this together.”

The group expects to form a recommendation in time for a public sign ordinance workshop set for March 11, which will allow members of the public to add input before a proposal goes before the City Council, Jamin said.

A budget-reduction committee recommended last month that the city repeal its ordinance, which would turn responsibility for regulating and enforcing sign violations over to the TRPA.

But because many local business owners have said they would rather see the city’s ordinance modified than have to abide by TRPA’s law, City Council members last week voted to attempt a compromise with the environmental agency.

Jamin said the two organizations are discussing possibilities of sharing signage responsibilities. For example, the city planning department could continue issuing sign permits and the TRPA could be in charge of enforcing violations.

A similar idea that came out of the meeting suggests one agency be in charge of dealing with permanent signs while the other focuses attention on temporary signs.

Jamin said these are short-term situations that may help mitigate current and future staffing shortages in both the city and TRPA.

For the long term, she said the city may look at changing its ordinance so that it is not as strict as the current ordinance, but still meets the TRPA’s threshold for scenic quality.

“The ‘equal to or superior’ standard is there, but it’s a matter of how it’s interpreted,” Jamin said. “Maybe there’s some other ways to meet the scenic threshold, and we’re looking into what flexibility there might be.”

Regardless of what happens, Jamin said any decision made now does not mean the ideas in the city’s law have to be scrapped.

“If the city ordinance is repealed or suspended, it doesn’t mean it has to go away forever,” she said. “It just means we’re not in the position to implement or enforce it now.”


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