TRPA certain to be sued |

TRPA certain to be sued

Andy Bourelle

KINGS BEACH – It may take some magical decision making in order for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to avoid another lawsuit from a Lake Tahoe property rights group.

Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council Attorney Larry Hoffman said in July that TRPA had 60 days to change its system of determining what private land can be built upon or a lawsuit would be inevitable.

Hearing Wednesday that efforts were being made but nothing definitive had happened, Hoffman said the preservation council will sue “certainly by year’s end, if not sooner.”

“I think it’s inevitable unless there’s some magic the board pulls out,” he said.

The preservation council, which already is locked in a 15-year-old lawsuit with the bistate regulatory board, has long urged TRPA to either scrap its Individual Parcel Evaluation System or find a way to have privately owned land rapidly bought by public agencies at market value.

TRPA has scored all vacant private land in the basin since 1987 using IPES. It’s a way for TRPA to limit the amount of development on vacant residential lots.

TRPA allows 300 residential building permits a year; the IPES line identifies which parcels are too sensitive to be built upon.

The way the line was created, if certain requirements were met, counties’ IPES lines could lower. That would allow building to happen on more sensitive parcels.

The primary way the lines could lower is having agencies – such as Nevada Division of State Lands, California Tahoe Conservancy or U.S. Forest Service – buy environmentally sensitive lots.

The IPES lines have lowered on the Nevada side of the basin; the lines have not budged in California.

Denying property owners the right to build on their land, Hoffman says, is an illegal “taking” of property. If the government takes property, under the Fifth Amendment, the property owners should be reimbursed.

Hoffman said there are at least 200 property owners interested in suing.

“I think litigation is inevitable,” he said. “We’re in the process of preparing it. There’s a large, growing-every-day number of people interested (in filing the lawsuit).”

The situation puts TRPA in a rather difficult spot, because if it were to change its system as the preservation council wants, it could be sued by other parties. Both the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the California Attorney General’s Office have in the past strongly urged TRPA to keep the system.

“If we do something they disagree with on a program so critical to them, I anticipate they would think very long and hard about suing us,” said John Marshall, TRPA’s legal counsel.

Marshall said timing was the primary problem. Changing the IPES system would take significant modifications to TRPA’s rules, a process which could take years. The agency needs to come up with more short-term solutions, such as finding funding that could be used to buy sensitive lots or creating a way for the vacant parcels to be worth more.

TRPA’s legal committee discussed the situation Wednesday, indicating support of finding a solution.

“I think it’s time we begin getting some closure on this, because we’ve got the threat of a lawsuit either way we go,” said Drake DeLanoy, the governor of California’s appointee to TRPA’s board.

Hoffman, who did not attend the committee meeting, said the board for years has been saying it is willing to find a solution but has not actually done so.

The lawsuit TRPA already is involved in with the preservation council is 15 years old and also revolves around a takings issue. The suit, with more than 400 plaintiffs, was filed after TRPA issued a series of moratoriums in the 1980s, stopping property owners from developing in certain environmentally sensitive areas.

After seesawing through the court system for years – including twice being rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court – it went to trial in December. The judge ruled partially in favor of both sides, and both are in the process of appealing the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento.

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