TRPA’s building rules must change, or else E
KINGS BEACH – A Lake Tahoe property rights organization is giving the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency about 60 days to change its system of determining what private land can be built upon or a lawsuit will be inevitable, attorney Larry Hoffman said Wednesday.
The Tahoe Sierra 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. Agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy buy land, but not at a fast enough rate for the council and not necessarily at market value.
TRPA has been working with the council. But time is running out, Hoffman said.
“There’s clearly a strong interest in pursuing litigation,” Hoffman said. “I don’t see a strong fix on the part of TRPA.”
There are more than 100 members of the preservation council interested in filing suit, Hoffman said, and a letter has been sent out to the basin’s 2,000 other property owners who can’t build on their property because of the IPES line, asking if they are interested in suing.
“There’s been an overwhelming response,” Hoffman said. “It’s just pouring in.”
TRPA has scored all vacant private land in the basin since 1987 using the Individual Parcel Evaluation System, referred to as IPES, as 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 were supposed to lower, which would allow for more sensitive parcels to be built upon. The IPES lines have lowered on the Nevada side of the basin; however, neither El Dorado nor Placer counties’ have moved.
Denying property owners the right to build on their land, the preservation counsel argues, is an illegal “taking” of property.
If the government “takes” property, the Fifth Amendment requires it reimburse the owner, Hoffman says.
TRPA’s governing board discussed the possibility of litigation Wednesday at its July meeting. Board members expressed concern that, while the council was moving forward with initiating litigation, the agency itself was not yet making defensive maneuvers.
TRPA board member Terry Giles said he wanted the regulatory agency to take a more proactive approach now rather than wait until a suit is filed. One problem is that the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the California Attorney General’s Office, both of which have filed suits against TRPA in the past, are strongly against the idea of throwing out the IPES system.
Action either way could result in a suit, and Giles said, before litigation is filed, TRPA could take that issue before a judge for direction.
However, he said he still hoped a resolution to the process could be reached before litigation was necessary.
“I’m still in favor of trying to work this out the best we can,” Giles said.
The issue of “taking” has been the focus of other litigation directed at TRPA.
The preservation council sued TRPA in 1984. The lawsuit, 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 it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento.
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