TRPA will be sued, Lawyer vows |

TRPA will be sued, Lawyer vows

Property rights Attorney Larry Hoffman said in September that the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council would sue Lake Tahoe’s bistate authority over its so-called IPES program by the end of the year.

If the Preservation Council misses that deadline, Hoffman said Monday, it will only be by a week or so.

“We’re working on (the lawsuit) as we speak,” he said. “We’re looking at year’s end or the first week of January.”

The Preservation Council, which already is locked in a 15-year-old lawsuit with the bistate regulatory board, has long urged the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to either scrap its Individual Parcel Evaluation System – referred to as IPES – or find a way to have privately owned land rapidly bought by public agencies at market value. Hoffman, on behalf of the Preservation Council, stepped up efforts this past year to urge the board to do that. Nothing has happened thus far to satisfy the property rights group, and Hoffman says litigation, with more than 100 plaintiffs, is likely inevitable.

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; in California they have not budged.

At TRPA’s meeting Wednesday, the agency’s staff will be recommending to lower Douglas County’s line but no others. Washoe County’s is already as low as it can go, allowing building on all its vacant residential lots except those considered to be in stream zones, which have an IPES score of zero.

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

“Even though it may provide a little relief for Douglas County, it continues to keep in place what I call an unconscionable disparity between California and Nevada properties,” Hoffman said.

John Marshall, TRPA legal counsel, said the agency continues to try to address the problem.

“We’ve been working on potential solutions. Whether they actually satisfy TSPC, I don’t know,” Marshall said.

Other property rights suits TRPA has been involved in:

Case: Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council vs. TRPA

Filed: 1984

Resolution: Pending

Background: This 15-year-old 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. The plaintiffs claim this is an illegal taking of property, and they should be reimbursed. After seesawing through the court system for years – including twice being rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court – it went to trial in December 1998. 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 San Francisco.

Case: TRPA vs. Barbieri

Filed: 1995

Resolution: Pending

Background: TRPA filed this suit in 1995 when a Santa Rosa, Calif., family allegedly built on a stream zone property on West Shore where building is prohibited. The Barbieris filed a counter-claim alleging that the restrictions represented an illegal taking. A trial may happen in 2001. TRPA legal counsel Wednesday plans to ask the governing board for permission to settle it by paying up to $250,000. TRPA doesn’t anticipate the Barbieris will accept the offer; the action is more of a procedural device that would keep the Barbieris from recovering attorneys’ costs from the date the offer was refused.

Case: Bernadine Suitum vs. TRPA

Filed: 1991

Resolution: TRPA this year paid $600,000 to settle suit

Background: Suitum filed this in 1991 after TRPA wouldn’t allow her to build on her stream zone property. Suitum claimed she should be reimbursed for the “taking.” U.S. District Court Judge Edward Reed in 1994 agreed to dismiss the case. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 1996. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 reversed it. A trial was scheduled for April 1999, but TRPA’s governing board agreed to spend $600,000 to settle it. Suitum’s attorney, Larry Hoffman, described it as a “substantial victory,” because it was the first time TRPA paid to settle a takings lawsuit.


What: TRPA meeting

When: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. (3 p.m. for IPES)

Where: Horizon Casino Resort, U.S. Highway 50, Stateline

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