TRPA asked to scrap IPES program
The same day the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency settled a lawsuit with one of Larry Hoffman’s clients, the Lake Tahoe attorney – on behalf of another group of clients – urged the board to alter its rules for allowing building on residential lots in the basin.
The clients – the members of the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council – already are locked in a 15-year-old lawsuit with TRPA. That suit, the recently settled Suitum vs. TRPA and the issue discussed this week deal with the alleged “taking” of property by TRPA.
“As long as this system stays in place, in our view, that’s an unconstitutional taking,” Hoffman told the governing board of TRPA Wednesday.
The board took no action this week but promised to address the issue again in May.
What happens if TRPA doesn’t take the action the property rights advocates want? Another lawsuit possibly?
“If (a change is) not going to really happen, we’ll have to play our other hands,” Hoffman said.
TRPA has scored all private land in the basin since 1987 using the Individual Parcel Evaluation System, commonly referred to as the IPES line. It is a way for TRPA to limit the amount of development on vacant residential lots in the Tahoe Basin. TRPA allows 300 residential building permits a year. The IPES line identifies which parcels are too sensitive to be built upon.
Each vacant residential parcel in the basin has an IPES score ranging from 0 to 1,140, and the original “line” was set at 725. Residential parcels with a score of 725 or above could be built upon; those with scores below were considered too sensitive.
The line, however, was created to be flexible.
As sensitive parcels were purchased by state agencies for preservation and less-sensitive parcels were the first to be built upon, the IPES line was supposed to lower, providing more property owners with the opportunity to build.
The line has lowered, too – on the Nevada side of the basin. On the California side the IPES line has remained at 725.
The preservation council for years has urged the board to make a change in the system. Even though TRPA is trying to find ways to lower the line in California, Hoffman said the organizations’ “patience has run out.”
“We have a disparate system in the basin,” he said. “We have people who aren’t being treated fairly.”
Changes to TRPA’s ordinances likely could take years to implement.
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said, if the right actions are taken, the IPES line could be moved in California before an amendment to TRPA’s rules could be made.
Increased buying of sensitive parcels by such agencies as the California Tahoe Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service would be needed. The League is working on a land trust program, which would help facilitate those purchases.
“If the effort is made, (the problem) can be solved,” she said.
She urged the board not to scrap the plan.
“Every time you build a house in the Lake Tahoe Basin, you’re doing damage … The reason for this system is to protect the water quality,” she said.
Terry Giles, the governor of California appointee to TRPA’s board, said he wanted the issue addressed soon.
“I don’t blame them for getting upset, and I wouldn’t blame them for pursuing this in court, because it doesn’t look like it’s going to be solved any time soon,” Giles said.
“Seems to me, this is one of the most important issues out there, and I think we need to handle it sooner rather than later,” he added.
TRPA agreed Wednesday to pay $600,000 to Sacramento resident Bernadine Suitum to settle an 8-year-old lawsuit surrounding allegations of taking property. In that case, however, Suitum’s lot was in a stream environment zone. It had a score of zero on the IPES system and could never be built upon.
The preservation council sued TRPA in 1984, alleging that a series of moratoriums in the early 1980s, stopping all residential development at the time, constituted an illegal taking. After seesawing through the court system for years, it went to trial in December. The judge ruled partially in favor of both parties, and both are in the process of appealing.
In a letter presented to TRPA Wednesday, Hoffman stated: “I (am) urging you to take the bull by the horns and recognize that this issue is equally as volatile as the major takings cases that your board has recently been confronted with.”
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