South Lake Tahoe residents attempt to revive Measure T
December 29, 2017
Almost a year after a judge ruled against a measure restricting the city of South Lake Tahoe's decision making on the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, two residents took the next step in the appeal process.
On Dec. 22, Bruce Grego and Laurel Ames filed their opening arguments in the appeal of an earlier ruling on Measure T, which passed in November 2016 after a petition put the initiative on the ballot. The measure prohibited the city from taking any action that "approves or supports" the project, commonly referred to as the Loop Road Project, "unless a specific proposal for realignment is first approved by voters."
Spearheaded by the Tahoe Transportation District (TTD), the project seeks to realign U.S. 50 around the casino corridor to enhance traffic flow and create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown area. Five alternatives have been studied in the environmental document, including a no-build option, but the final alternative has not yet been selected.
The legal battle over Measure T dates back to July 2016 when now-councilmember Jason Collin filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the decision to put the measure on the ballot, claiming it was "flawed" and an unlawful interference of the city of South Lake Tahoe's authority. Collin said the measure was misleading because the project is a bi-state federal project, which the city does not have the authority to prevent or authorize. (Abandonment of rights of ways or eminent domain, if required in the project, would necessitate council approval.)
A month later, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Robert Wagoner upheld the city's decision to keep the measure on the ballot.
"As to the request by the city to define what the ballot measure means if it passes, let the vote play out. I feel confident that there will be another lawsuit. It would be more appropriate to discuss this if and when it passes," stated Wagoner.
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After Measure T's passage in November 2016, Collin filed another suit, but removed the "real parties in interest" — including Grego and Ames — who were named in the initial suit for their role in getting Measure T on the ballot.
Wagoner ruled again last January and ultimately deemed the measure "unconstitutional" and "unenforceable."
Grego and Ames filed a notice of appeal of that decision in March.
In the opening brief filed this December, Grego argues that Measure T was a permissible use of the initiative powers reserved by the people.
"…the judgment below adversely affects the previous franchise powers of an unknown number of unnamed South Lake Tahoe citizens, each of whom possess (and certainly deserves) a continuing say in the validity of their votes. Utterly ignoring the people, the judgment below tramples their constitutional powers," reads the court document.
Grego and Ames claim "tacit collusion" between the city and Collin in the suit, stating that although the city was the opposition in Collin's suit, the city agreed with Collin's position on the measure. Citing case law, the appellants say there needs to be "actual controversy" for the court to issue declaratory relief.
Further, they argue that the court's decision to issue a permanent injunction when Collin had requested a preliminary injunction "offends any and all notions of notice and due process."
Grego and Ames also assert that Collin failed to present any substantial and credible information on the actual Loop Road Project, and that Measure T stands "because all evidence points to vagueness in the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, not Measure T's effort to specify one of its five proposals."
In addition to the appeal, Grego also filed a complaint through the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against Collin. FPPC regulates and enforces campaign finance reporting, lobbying activity and conflicts of interest for public officials.
In the sworn complaint form received by the FPPC in May, Grego alleges that Collin used the lawsuits as "part of his election strategy" and therefore should have disclosed who funded them. There is currently an investigation underway to determine the validity of these allegations, according to the FPPC.
"I think [the Loop Road Project] is a bad proposal," Grego later told the Tribune. "I think we've seen too many redevelopment projects fail to accomplish what they seek to do."
Grego noted that appeals are lengthy processes, and the court could take a year to decide.
"Will the Loop Road get funding if this is in appeal and up in the air?"
Neither the city nor Collin responded to multiple inquiries from the Tribune on the appeal. Collin will have 60 days — with the potential for extensions — to respond to the appellant's arguments.
TTD is in the process of responding to public comments on the Loop Road Project's draft environmental document released last April. The final environmental document is expected out in the spring, kicking off the process of getting certification from Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act and selecting a project alternative.
"Funding will be started more aggressively after the approval of the final environmental document," said Carl Hasty, TTD district manager.
As for concerns over the Measure T appeal: "I never did understand the measure, and it needs to follow its own course. It remains to be seen how it will affect the project, but I really don't see that it will."