TRPA makes settlement offer in Suitum lawsuit |

TRPA makes settlement offer in Suitum lawsuit

Andy Bourelle

After the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spent almost six hours Wednesday discussing ways to dismiss the watercraft lawsuit it currently faces, the board also took action to try to settle another case.

Regarding the lawsuit of Suitum vs. TRPA, the governing board authorized counsel to make an offer to the plaintiff of $305,000 to try to settle litigation.

“This amount exceeds the maximum likely award of damages at trial. However, when coupled with the costs that TRPA might incur if it continues to litigate the case, the amount is justifiable,” John Marshall, TRPA legal counsel, stated in the board’s staff summary.

Filed in 1991, the suit states that Bernadine Suitum “claims that the application of certain TRPA regulations to her Lake Tahoe property effected a regulatory taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 ruled that the Suitum case was ready to be tried, and a ruling in December 1998 denied TRPA’s request for summary judgment, meaning the judge rejected TRPA’s bid to avoid trial.

Reed recently ruled in another case – The Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council vs. TRPA – which centered around similar issues, the alleged “taking” of property. In his ruling, the judge partially sided with TSPC.

If TRPA makes the deal with Suitum, the agency will have to be willing to have judgment entered against it, meaning it would have to admit liability for taking Suitum’s property.

“While this concession would mark the first time TRPA would have been found to have ‘taken’ property in violation of the Fifth Amendment, it is militated by the fact that Judge Reed’s decisions in the summary judgment motion in this case and his recent decision in the TSPC case raises serious concerns that he may rule for Mrs. Suitum,” according to the summary.

Also at the Wednesday board meeting:

n The governing board agreed to establish itself as the board of the Tahoe Metropolitan Planning Organization, with the addition of one member of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Lake Tahoe’s ability to form an MPO comes as a result of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century signed into law by President Clinton in June 1998.

In addition to other benefits, the TMPO should be able to bring, at a minimum, $150,000 in planning funds and $300,000 in project-implementation funds each year. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service would be eligible for at least $200,000 in public land highway funds.

A Tahoe Transportation Commission also will be formed, made of six local government members of the Tahoe Transportation District, one member of the Truckee/North Tahoe Transportation Management Association, one member of the South Shore Transportation Management Association, one at-large TTD member, one representative from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, one representative of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California and one at-large citizen. Also, one member each from the Nevada and California departments of transportation will be non-voting members of the TTC.

The commission is expected to be a management team for developing programs and projects and providing direction for their implementation.

The commission is not intended to be an implementation body but to coordinate with NDOT, Caltrans, TTD, USFS, the counties and other jurisdictions for the implementation.

n A proposed Marina Master Plan was presented to the board for the Tahoe Keys Marina.

It was an informational hearing only.

“We didn’t really expect the board to make a lot of comments on the master plan at the meeting,” said Pam Drum, TRPA public affairs coordinator. “But we do expect them to look at the document and make some comments later.”

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