Property owners sue TRPA |

Property owners sue TRPA

by Andy Bourelle

Two hundred fifty-two Lake Tahoe property owners filed a lawsuit Friday against the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, alleging that the bistate regulatory authority has unconstitutionally taken their property.

The suit has the potential for a multi-million dollar judgment.

The Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, of which all the plaintiffs are members, had been threatening to sue for months if TRPA didn’t change a land-use regulation called the “individual parcel evaluation system.”

“We think we’ve exhausted every possibility of getting them to change the system,” said Larry Hoffman, attorney for the Preservation Council. “According to my count, in the past 24 months, I went before TRPA eight times to ask them to get rid of this pass-fail system. There just aren’t the votes to do that.”

John Marshall, attorney for the agency, said TRPA officials were not surprised.

“Our response is disappointment. We think we are developing a very viable alternative for parcels below the IPES line,” Marshall said. “Rather than lobbing grenades, we had hoped TSPC and the land owners would work with us.”

The suit is a new offensive in a long-running war between the Preservation Council and the land agency. The council, set up represent the property rights of its 2,000 members, already is locked in a 15-year-old lawsuit with the agency on similar grounds.

Agency planners have scored all vacant private land in the Tahoe basin since 1987. It’s a way for the agency to limit the amount of development on vacant residential lots. Three hundred residential building permits are allowed a year; the system identifies which parcels are too sensitive to be built upon.

Two hundred forty-three of the plaintiffs, owning 169 pieces of land, are from California. Nine Nevada residents, owning seven lots still below the line, also are plaintiffs.

Land with a score of zero can never be built upon under agency rules, a regulation the Preservation Council also calls an illegal taking.

“Our view is this does not pass constitutional muster, nor is there anything showing that construction on these lots would have any effect on Lake Tahoe,” Hoffman said. “TRPA can’t make that claim. In fact, TRPA allows building in Nevada on lots with scores less than 725 and denies lots on the California side with the same score, showing it’s not an environmental distinction but a political distinction.”

The California Attorney General’s Office and League to Save Lake Tahoe, historically vocal opponents of scrapping the program, have been working with the agency to come up with a plan to improve the system.

However, Hoffman doesn’t think the group’s efforts will be good enough.

“The tentative proposal, as it is right now, keeps the pass-fail line in place,” he said. “Keeping that in place continues to deny people the right to use their property.”

Marshall said the newly filed lawsuit will make it more difficult for the agency to work with the property rights group.

“It takes away some of the flexibility of reaching a solution,” Marshall said. “Now we’re kind of playing by someone else’s rules. It makes people less open to finding creative solutions. It polarizes the issue rather than bringing people together.”

The suit doesn’t list a dollar amount; however, Hoffman estimated the property values involved total at least $9 million.

Because it involves two states, the lawsuit was filed Friday in both Sacramento and Reno.