Closing of TRPA budget postponed

With members split over how much to put into the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and unclear exactly what the impact would be, legislative leaders postponed closing the bi-state agency's budget.

Adding to the confusion is Senate Bill 271 by Sen. John Lee which would pull Nevada out of TRPA.

The options on the table are to cut Nevada's share of TRPA funding below the traditional one-third to 24 percent of the total with California paying the rest. Under that scenario, Nevada would pay $2.6 million and California $8.2 million.

To get to a full one-third of the total TRPA budget would require an additional $1.55 million. If that is done, TRPA officials say they could do badly needed environmental projects and other work including the master plan update.

The third option would land in between at the 30 percent Nevada funded in the current biennium. That would require adding $963,120 to the two year budget.

Assemblymen Pat Hickey and Ben Kieckhefer, both R-Reno, said they would support the governor's recommended 24 percent funding level. Kieckhefer said he doesn't support the bill to pull Nevada out of the bi-state compact but is concerned about the TRPA's influence on Nevada land use decisions.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said she can't support that option or full restoration of traditional funding levels.

"Option three is our stewardship option," she said. "It would still allow all the work that needs to be done up there. We cannot go backward."

Senate Majority Leader and Finance Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the lack of agreement on how to handle the budget was a concern to him.

"I'm not comfortable supporting these options at this point," he said. "If there's not consensus today, we can reschedule this item."

Lee introduced the bill saying the agency has gone beyond what it was supposed to do, interfering with and blocking even small changes by a home or business owner. He was backed by a series of witnesses who presented lawmakers with horror stories.

"You rake up the (pine) needles around your house for fire protection and you're told you have to put them back," said David Fabrizio of South Lake Tahoe. "You've got trees that are dead in your yard and you're told you can't cut them down."

As a result, he said his house was one of those burned in the Angora fire.

But environmental groups, who have sued the agency numerous times over its decisions, say without a bi-state organization to control development, the lake would rapidly deteriorate.

And a number of spokesmen say Lee's bill would end up costing the state money because, in that case, the hefty costs of continuous litigation would fall on Nevada alone instead of being paid by the combined funding from Nevada and California.

TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta told the government Affairs Committee during the hearing on Lee's bill they have made significant process in fixing many of the complaints raised by property owners. In fact, TRPA last week approved a major project that will completely transform the old Tahoe Biltmore into what developers describe as "an environmentally sustainable, economically viable community oriented center that will revitalize Crystal Bay."

TRPA approved the project with just two California members opposed. Those who voted for it, including Nevada member Steve Robinson, say developers created a first class project. TRPA officials say the changes they made to the project added some $20 million to its costs but made it into a model for future projects in the basin.

The agency was created by California, Nevada and the U.S. Congress some 40 years ago to protect Tahoe as a national treasure, originally designed as a regional planning agency. But Lee and Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said it has gotten so polarized that California members have blocked nearly every project.

No date was given for rehearing and closing the TRPA budgets.


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