TRPA has survived many battles

In 1968, he cast one of two votes in the Nevada Senate against creation of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Former state Sen. Lawrence "Jake" Jacobsen, a Republican from Minden, says he voted that way because he doesn't like the concept of regional government.

"Homeowners (in Tahoe) don't like to be told what to do any more than we do," said Jacobsen, sitting on a concrete step in front of the house he's lived in for 50 years. "Nobody likes extra government."

But times changed and so did Jacobsen's views on the agency. He said if it weren't for the regional agency, the federal government would take over. That would likely be even tougher for residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin to accept.

If the bistate compact were dissolved, the job of regulating land use and building in the Lake Tahoe Basin would fall to the government of the five counties and one city in the basin. This is the scenario many advocates of the environment say failed to protect the basin during the building boom of the 1960s and led to the agency's formation.

Nevada legislators have introduced six bills, four at Jacobsen's behest, to withdraw from the compact since it was approved in 1969. The most recent was drafted last spring.

Either state can withdraw from the agreement that created the agency by passing legislation. Congressional approval in 1969 was a rubber stamp to ensure the legislation in each state mirrored the other, said Jim Baetge, former TRPA executive director.

California has never proposed legislation to withdraw from the agreement. The California Attorney General's Office instead has pressured the agency over the years to take a harder line when it comes to protecting the environment.

The bills in Nevada all fizzled. Two made it out of committee. Jacobsen said he sponsored the bills "mostly because I didn't want California telling us what to do." His last attempt occurred in 1987.

Today, at the age of 82, Jacobsen said he has come to realize a governing body is necessary at Lake Tahoe to balance the interests of California and Nevada.

"There's a need for dual supervision in both states," he said. "But having a federal agency on top of that is certainly different or worse than having a regional board."

Jacobsen has served as a member of the legislative committee formed in 1985 to keep an eye on the policies of the agency. The oversight committee meets every 1-1/2 years between the Legislature's biannual sessions. Jacobsen served as chairman of the committee for two years. He said he disagrees with people who think the agency is not accountable to the public.

"I've heard that comment -- that they are not elected so they don't have responsibility," Jacobsen said. "But we have an elected governor and people have the right to go and complain. Responsibility comes back to the individual and whether they have expressed their concerns. It's not a closed corporation by any means."

Residents have challenged the TRPA in court a number of times. Most of the time they lose. In April 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 that a building moratorium imposed by the agency in 1981 was constitutional.

The court's decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 1984 by the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council. The council, representing about 400 landowners, claimed the moratorium was unconstitutional because it amounted to a taking of property without compensation.

Agency attorneys argued that it halted building at Tahoe so planners wold have time to formulate a plan for the region. Many of the landowners affected by the moratorium ended up selling property below market price because their bank loans came due, or because their lot was assigned a score by the agency that deemed the property too environmentally sensitive to develop.

One the few landowners at the basin to have challenged an agency ruling and achieved a favorable outcome is a woman who spent $5,000 for 18,000 square feet of land near a stream at Incline Village in 1971. Attorneys for Bernadine Suitum argued to the Supreme Court that the agency had taken her property without compensating her for it.

The Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the case back to the lower court for trial. The agency settled the case for $600,000. What made Suitum's case different is that it involved land in a stream environment zone, a classification that warrants the highest protection from the agency.

Land near streams cannot be developed. They are deemed too sensitive because sediments and nutrients that feed algae in the lake are often deposited by streams.

"The TRPA has designated certain property as stream environment zones," said Larry Hoffman, the attorney who represented the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council in its lawsuit against the agency. "It's treated as a separate little class, which they 'fess up, right upfront, about. Once they've made that determination, if there are no other uses made of it, that's a taking."

Hoffman is involved in settlement negotiations for a case similar to Suitum's. The Bartlett Family Trust owns a half-acre of lakeshore property in South Lake Tahoe. The land is in an area classified as a "barrier beach," which is considered by the TRPA to be similar to a stream environment zone. Agency attorneys say they will settle the case for fair market value, $570,000.


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