TRPA’s Palma set to resign
February 26, 2003
Juan Palma, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, will step down from his post at this morning’s meeting.
His last day will be April 30, when he will begin a two-week vacation with his son, who has been living with his mother in Utah. Palma will then move to Utah to live with his family full time instead of commuting between there and Lake Tahoe.
Palma began his reign of the bistate agency on Oct. 10, 2000, with a salary of $110,000. There has been speculation for several months that he would step down from the post for family reasons.
“I had a sense he might be leaving for a time because his family had left the area,” said Kevin Cole, South Lake Tahoe’s representative to TRPA’s Advisory Planing Commission. “He said that the commute was not a problem. My sense was that sooner or later that would catch up with him.”
Last month the Governing Board tabled a proposed 5 percent raise for Palma. Palma said his salary did not factor into his decision to quit.
“Clearly this was my decision. In fact, I had tremendous support from the board,” Palma said.
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Governing Board member Jerome Waldie was told by Palma a couple days ago about his intentions to step down because of family obligations.
“I thought Juan was an excellent director,” Waldie said. “It was his gentleness and his ability to deal with disparate interests that came before the board.”
The next director will be the fourth Waldie has worked with in his 10 years on the Governing Board. He knows that the controversial nature of the job can take its toll on the leader of the agency.
Even though Palma agrees it is a difficult job, the unpopular position had nothing to do with his leaving.
“I knew exactly what I was getting into when I came to work at the TRPA,” Palma said. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with all of this information in my head.”
Nor does he know what he will be doing with his free time other than to spend it fishing and hunting.
At the time he was hired, Dave Solaro was a TRPA board member in charge of the search committee, who said, “I think all of the candidates bring a different set of expertise with them. Juan has the ability to bring the community, the TRPA staff and board together to accomplish the goals of the agency and he already has a good reputation in the community as a consensus builder.”
Palma had served as forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service in 1997-99.
Solaro, who is now chairman of the Governing Board, was unavailable for comment.
A committee will immediately begin looking for Palma’s replacement.
Many who work with Palma have only good things to say about him.
City Councilman John Upton was not surprised when he heard the news because he knew Palma’s family is living in another state. Upton has worked directly with Palma and has a good idea of what the job is like, having served as chairman of the Governing Board in 1995-96.
“He has done a good job,” Upton said. “He has been good with internal reorganizations that have moved the agency forward in a lot of areas. I am sorry to see him leave.”
“I thought he was very good for the TRPA,” said South Lake Tahoe Mayor Judy Brown. “He was very open to suggestions and changes as far as the city was concerned and I am sure we are going to miss him.”
Even though City Manager Dave Jinkens has only worked with Palma for six months, his sentiments are much the same.
“I feel like we are creating a good relationship between the agencies. I (will) miss his advice and his counsel,” Jinkens said.
Steve Chilton, TRPA environmental compliance division chief, was surprised when he got the news.
“I had no indication this was going to happen,” he said Tuesday night.
Chilton said it’s a difficult job that doesn’t “have a whole lot of positive feedback.”
The executive director for six years before Palma, Jim Baetge, agreed. He said times were tougher when TRPA was formed in 1969. Through the 1970s, the regulatory agency operated two boards for California and Nevada — CTRPA and NTRPA.
“They were building everywhere. If you knew the time, there was litigation in every direction,” said Baetge, who left for health reasons.
Some things never change.
“Everything you do as executive director is dealing with people who want something from you,” he said.