TRPA Scores Critical Victory in Opening Round of Regional Plan Litigation

Media Release–Regional Plan Litigation Order 6-17-2013

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV –A federal judge today dismissed a number of claims made by plaintiffs Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore challenging the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan Update recently approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and ordered the them to pay upfront TRPA’s costs associated with assembling the administrative record for the pending litigation. In his order, Judge John A. Mendez upheld TRPA’s rules requiring plaintiffs, not taxpayers, to fund the litigation preparation cost of collecting years of documentation of the Regional Plan Update. Judge Mendez also dismissed their claims that the Regional Plan Update violated California state law and authorized an improper delegation of permitting to local jurisdictions.

“Although Plaintiffs have shown that they have an interest in the area, it is unclear how TRPA’s delegation of project review will impair their interest or even increase the risk of harm,” Mendez stated. “The delegation itself does not increase development in the area or authorize more projects.”

“The judge’s order today is a positive step in getting Lake Tahoe’s environment, communities and economy back on track,” TRPA Executive Director Joanne S. Marchetta said. “We know that Area Plans can integrate local environmental protections with the high standards of the Regional Plan. A complex permit process can create barriers to environmentally-beneficial projects and Area Plans have many safeguards built in.”

The 2012 Regional Plan encourages a more concentrated land use pattern that is projected to eliminate 10,000 vehicle miles traveled annually and to protect or restore an additional 1,200 parcels. The plan makes incentives for environmental improvements available to approximately 27,000 parcel owners while at the same time cutting the rate of residential growth allocations in half.

Following its adoption in December 2012, the plan was hailed by state and local leaders as the next environmental leap forward for Tahoe. The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore filed a suit to stop the plan in February. The updated Regional Plan is in effect and TRPA is working rapidly with local governments and partner agencies to implement the positive changes to the regulatory framework including creation of local Area Plans to streamline permit processes and encourage environmental redevelopment.

The order today also rejects efforts by the plaintiffs to collect attorneys’ fees under California law and to avoid paying the cost to TRPA of preparing the administrative record to defend its plan. The small, bi-state agency began an unprecedented public input process to update the Lake Tahoe Regional Plan more than a decade ago, which included the input of more than 5,000 participants. TRPA and many public agencies have rules requiring reimbursement from litigants for assembling an administrative record—rules the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore had challenged as legally invalid. Judge Mendez ordered the plaintiffs to pay TRPA’s fee within 15 days or the remainder of the case will be dismissed.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency cooperatively leads the effort to preserve, restore, and enhance the unique natural and human environment of the Lake Tahoe Region now and in the future. For additional information, call Jeff Cowen at (775) 589-5278 or email him at  jcowen@trpa.org.

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