Judge dismisses most of scenic rules lawsuit

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a large part of a lawsuit that challenges the right of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to regulate the scenic impact of homes along the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Judge Edward C. Reed Jr., of U.S. District Court in Reno, said he will issue the rest of his decision, likely to delve into fire safety issues and the agency's authority and supporting evidence to regulate how homes appear from the lake, in writing as soon as possible.

The TRPA's scenic ordinances - building rules that call for use of dark colored paint, less window glass facing the lake, and landscaping to screen homes - were approved in November 2002 to restore a balance between the natural and man-made environment of the lakeshore.

The group that filed the lawsuit, the Incline Village-based Committee for the Reasonable Regulation of Lake Tahoe, has rejected the rules as unlawful and too complex. The committee has also disputed TRPA findings that report a large degree of scenic degradation along the shoreline.

The TRPA has argued that it is mandated by its bistate compact to protect the scenic quality in the Lake Tahoe Basin and that its ordinances are fair and flexible.

A group of TRPA staff members on Friday circled around a speaker phone at the agency's Stateline office to listen to the judge's ruling. Nods of approval, smiles and congratulations went around as Reed dismissed eight of the lawsuit's nine causes of action.

Almost all of the claims dismissed on Friday challenged findings in the agency's 2001 Threshold Evaluation, an environmental report card drafted for the basin every five years.

"That takes care of about 88 percent of the lawsuit," said John Marshall, TRPA attorney.

But the remaining claim in the lawsuit goes to the crux of the issue, said Ron Zumbrun, a land-use attorney from Sacramento who represents the Committee for Reasonable Regulation of Lake Tahoe.

"(Reed) has not up held up the ordinance and not gotten to the big issues," Zumbrun said. "Like fire safety ... and whether the whole scenic review system is going to be held as lawful. If the judge throws the ordinance out on any grounds we have raised it will give us a major victory."

The suit filed by Zumbrun also claimed the TRPA failed to provide an economic analysis before it adopted the ordinances, which, according to the suit, will mean property value losses of $100 million in Incline Village.

Reed dismissed the claim by pointing out that economic analysis is not required under TRPA bylaws.

Zumbrun said the issue could resurface in the judge's written decision.

Gregory Crofton can be reached by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com or at (530) 542-8045.

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