Timing of TRPA appointment questioned
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – California Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointment of environmental lawyer E. Clement “Clem” Shute Jr. to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board has raised at least one set of eyebrows among his fellow board members.
Brown announced the appointment of Shute to the 15-member Governing Board Tuesday. The board is in charge of setting policy for the TRPA.
Governing board member and South Lake Tahoe City Councilwoman Claire Fortier said the appointment seemed like a “chess move” by the governor’s office to influence the board’s make-up at a critical time in the TRPA’s history.
Fortier said she was surprised Brown would appoint someone who has represented the League to Save Lake Tahoe, an agency Fortier has criticized as obstructionist.
Shute represented the League during a legal challenge to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s 1984 regional plan.
He also represented the TRPA before the United States Supreme Court in the subsequent Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency case, which affirmed the agency’s right to enforce a moratorium on development while preparing a comprehensive regional plan to protect Lake Tahoe, according to a statement from Public Good PR, a public relations firm representing Shute’s law firm. The groundbreaking land use case was resolved in 2002.
In addition to a death in the family of TRPA Governing Board Chair Norma Santiago and a winter storm, Brown’s removal of Ron Slaven, the previous California governor appointee to the governing board, delayed the board’s March meeting. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Slaven to the board at the end of 2010, shortly before he left office.
The controversial and potentially precedent setting Boulder Bay project at Lake Tahoe’s North Shore was up for approval at the meeting.
Fortier emphasized she doesn’t know Shute and said he is respected in “many, many circles” at the lake. Still, she said the timing of the appointment is “very odd,” especially with the Boulder Bay decision looming.
“My first reaction was this seems a little strange,” Fortier said.
Shute could not be reached for comment Friday, but Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Brown’s office, said Brown looks for “experienced, capable and strong” leaders when making appointments.
“The depth and breadth of Shute’s experience made him uniquely qualified to serve the state and the Tahoe region,” Westrup said.
Shute’s appointment comes at a time when the relationship between the two states that share responsibility for Lake Tahoe has been publicly debated.
During a Nevada legislative hearing April 1, Sen. John Lee , D-Las Vegas, and Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, complained that California members of the TRPA governing board have ritually blocked every proposal they can in the basin. The senators have introduced a bill that would withdraw Nevada from the planning agency.
Settelmeyer said Friday he feared Shute’s previous work at the League could bias his decision-making and make it more likely for California to influence decisions on the Nevada side of the lake.
TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta welcomed Shute to the Governing Board this week.
“We welcome Mr. Shute to the Governing Board,” Marchetta said.