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Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization funds in question

Michael Schneider

A gateway to federal dollars or just another acronym?

That will be the question facing the Douglas County Commission when members decide if the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization is worthy of continued county support.

The TMPO would free up federal dollars for road and air quality projects, according to TRPA representatives.

The commission will drag TRPA planners into a third meeting this year to recommend a revision of TMPO structure that county officials think would cut out some governmental layers.

Last winter, Richard Wiggins, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency senior planner, appeared before the commission, telling commissioners the creation of the TMPO would allow the Tahoe Basin access to federal grants reserved for cities of 50,000 or greater.

The commission, all of whose members readily admitted they don’t trust the TRPA, wanted guarantees support of the new funding mechanism wouldn’t lock them into providing county funds for federal grant matches.

When Wiggins was unable to assure commissioners of this, Vice Chair Don Miner withdrew his motion to support the TMPO and Wiggins was asked to work with District Attorney Scott Doyle to figure out the answer.

Doyle said discussions since the first meeting have tried to decide if the creation of the TMPO improves the planning process in the basin. At a second meeting April 16, the commission approved support of the TMPO in a split vote.

The TMPO designation would give the basin access to more federal money, according to a California Department of Transportation estimate.

Currently, the TRPA has an estimated $1,136,000 available to it. TRPA as an MPO would have an estimated $1,379,000 available.

Despite the modest federal awards, when the county engineering staff began to work with the TRPA in formulating the TMPO, staff reportedly saw red flags and alerted the commission it might want to take another look at the process.

In a Sept. 4 memorandum to the commissioners, Eric Teitelman, county engineer, said the county staff did not support the planning organization because it would create additional layers of complexity in the process.

“I don’t think it will,” Wiggins said Tuesday. He said new commissions will be created, but they will work in ways similar to county and city boards.

In Thursday’s Douglas Commission meeting, the commission will meet in three different incarnations – the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, the Liquor Board and the East Fork Fire and Paramedic District Commission.

At Tuesday’s South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting, council members wore several different hats. In addition to sitting on the council, members also presided over meetings of the South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency, the South Tahoe Joint Powers Financing Authority and the South Tahoe Housing Authority.

Wiggins said the TMPO, and the other entities that would be created out the new designation, would act in a similar fashion.

Commissioner Steve Weissinger, who works at the state line Raley’s and sits on the Tahoe Transportation District Board, said he’d love to see the basin transportation projects get more money, but, so far, hasn’t seen it in the TMPO.

“My feeling is the Presidential Summit was over a year ago and, if this is the process we’ve got to go through to get federal money, so be it – but it’s a convoluted process,” Weissinger said.

He said the Tahoe Basin would be better served with less government, rather than more layers of bureaucracy.

“It flows smoother,” Weissinger said.

The South Lake Tahoe City Council heard a presentation on the MPO Tuesday and didn’t share Douglas concerns.

Council members, however, didn’t like a mention from the TRPA staff that parts of the North Shore could be included in the MPO years down the line. Council member Kevin Cole said the MPO should be confined to the Tahoe Watershed, as is the TRPA’s authority.

Council member Margo Osti suggested it would be fine if the North Shore wanted in on the MPO, as long as they adhere to TRPA guidelines.

Should the TRPA be unwilling to budge on the structure of the TMPO, causing Douglas to relinquish its support, the decision would not likely effect the TMPO.

Only 75 percent of the participating governments need to support the designation. With the numerous federal, state, county, city, and town and district governments in the basin, Douglas would have to convince more entities its commission is right.

Who: Douglas County Board of Commissioners

Where: Lake Administration Building, 175 U.S. Highway 50

When: Thursday, 1:30 p.m.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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