TRPA staff and board discuss ways to refine Regional Plan Update process
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Adaptive management – which means constantly adapting a management style to a constantly changing environment – is a popular buzzword at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Usually, it refers to how the agency must adjust its policies as scientists provide new data from the field.
However, TRPA staff and governing board members put adaptive management on display in the board room Wednesday, as members voiced various suggestions on how to refine the Regional Plan Update process after completing the policy direction portion.
While board members rolled out some sharp critiques of the process, all prefaced their pointed barbs with recognition of the diligence Director of the Regional Plan Update Harmon Zuckerman, Executive Director Joanne Marchetta and the rest of TRPA staff exhibited throughout the process.
“Don’t take these criticisms personally or as an assertion of failure,” said Chairman Allen Biaggi. “We appreciate all the hard work that went into the process.”
However, some board members were critical of staff performing too much work behind the scenes.
In her overview of the Regional Plan Update, Marchetta told the board they were asked to provide policy direction only on items of contention that emerged during the stakeholder meetings, which preceded the board’s involvement.
“When staff was involved in stakeholder meetings and an intractable dispute emerged between stakeholders, staff brought the issue before the board to help tip the issue one way or the other,” Marchetta said.
Governing board member and Washoe County Commissioner John Breternitz said the board should have had input on which issues deserved board attention.
“How did staff identify which issues were controversial?” he asked. “What parameters were used? Some of the issues staff considered milk toast, may have been controversial to the board. I am concerned that there is no structured way for the board to determine which items are controversial.”
Carson City Supervisor and Governing Board Member Shelly Aldean agreed with Breternitz.
“I think the board feels left out to a certain extent,” Aldean said. “Stakeholders know more about implementation measures than the board does. I would consider it a dereliction of duty if I wasn’t thoroughly versed in all the implications of the Regional Plan Update.”
Breternitz also brought up the issue of context. He felt staff asked the board to analyze specific items without understanding the implications on the overall plan.
“Over the course of this process we dealt with 20 or 30 specific items,” he said. “In my mind, I want the overall goals and policies included to provide context.”
Marchetta said staff would to supply the board with a narrative and technical document designed to highlight controversial as well as non-controversial items while providing an overarching context.
California Assembly Speaker’s Appointee to the Governing Board Mara Bresnick, expressed confusion regarding the difference between policy direction and implementation direction.
“It sometimes was difficult to discuss policy without also discussing implementation,” she said.
She further expressed concern that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement will come prior to implementation discussion.
TRPA Counsel Nicole Rinke agreed that once the DEIS is finalized, undertaking major revisions would mean a large discrepancy between the DEIS and Regional Plan.
Marchetta said the timing was constructed that way so that board members could have all the available details regarding the separate alternatives before making implementation decisions.
El Dorado County Supervisor and Governing Board member Norma Santiago said she and her fellow board members would like an opportunity to review the implementation policies prior to DEIS.
However, California Governor’s Appointee to the Governing Board Casey Beyer cautioned that such a move would cause further delay in the process.
“We have a responsibility to the people we represent to get this done in as timely a matter as possible,” he said.
Ultimately, implementation policies will be included in the capstone document, provided to board members for review while the DEIS is being created.
In past meetings, the conservation community, including the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Sierra Club, asked the staff to work on another alternative that focuses on promoting strict environmentally friendly policies.
While staff expressed a belief that Alternative Four was crafted with input from the conservation community, board members urged staff to include the conservation community’s fifth alternative in the DEIS.
“Staff developed Alternative Four in good faith with the conservation community,” Marchetta said. “I’m here with an open mind, but we developed Alternative Four with a specific set of advocacy interests in mind.”
Zuckerman additionally pointed out that if the conservation community was allowed the opportunity to craft their own alternative, the business community may want a proportionate opportunity.
Some board members disagreed.
“The conservation community and members of the public have expressed the desire from an early stage of this process to frame their own alternative,” said California Senate Rules Committee Appointee Byron Sher. “Alternative Four presents the most stringent regulations for environmental gains, but the conservation community think Alternative Four is inadequate.”
Bresnick agreed with Sher.
“If the conservation community is willing to invest time and energy into coming up with an alternative, staff should be willing to include it in the DEIS,” she said.
Zuckerman and Marchetta expressed a willingness to consider such an option, but cautioned inclusion of a fifth alternative would put additional burdens on staff and prolong the overall process.
At this time, staff is not working on another alternative like the one proposed by the conservation groups, Zuckerman said.
“The board never directed us to do that,” Zuckerman said.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe hopes the possibility of another alternative could come up in the future, said Amanda Royal, spokeswoman for the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
“It’s very encouraging that the board was talking about this, but disappointing that it went no further than a discussion, given that we’ve made countless requests for a conservation alternative,” Royal said. “We still hold out hope that it will come up again and be approved.”
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