Federal Court Upholds TRPA Regional Plan

Overview: In a long awaited decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this month unanimously upheld the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s 2012 Regional Plan Update, a planning document culminating 10 years of public hearings and processing, including NEPA compliance.  The new Regional Plan had been challenged in federal court by the Sierra Club and a group calling themselves Friends of West Shore. Those Plaintiffs lost, leaving in place the well thought out creative Plan that will guide development in the Tahoe Basin for years to come.

After ten years of planning and public hearings, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board approved its Regional Plan Update in December 2012. Time for the champagne.

Not so fast. The Plan was promptly hit with a federal lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore.  District Judge John Mendez upheld the Plan, and the Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals issued its decision earlier this month.

Sierra Club’s Claims

The Sierra Club and Friends argued that TRPA’s Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate, that the localized effects of runoff created by the amount of development permitted under the Plan was not properly addressed and improperly assumed that best management practices would be utilized to achieve planning goals.  There were dozens of legal claims around those main arguments, which the Court of Appeals analyzed point by point.

Support by California and Nevada

During the Regional Plan Update, the States of California and Nevada submitted comments criticizing select portions of the first draft Plan.  TRPA responded with changes, adding measures to protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

Consequently, California and Nevada supported the Regional Plan Update as did all Counties in the Tahoe Basin, many writing amicus briefs in the lawsuit.  The case was argued on behalf of TRPA by esteemed environmental lawyer Whit Manley out of Sacramento.

Plan Highlights

The Regional Plan maintains caps on development capacity in the Tahoe Basin and strengthens environment protections, and offers redevelopment incentives for new projects that upgrade 1970s projects that were environmentally damaging.  Under the Plain, stream zones and marshes are protected and town centers are incentivized to create more walkable, bike‑able and sustainable mixed‑use communities.

Porter’s Two Cents

This Ninth Circuit decision upholds years of forward‑thinking, dual‑state planning for the Tahoe Basin.  TRPA executive director Joanne Marchetta got it right:  “The plan is based on sound science, planning, and analysis and represents the best path forward for TRPA and its many partners to restore Lake Tahoe’s treasured environment and revitalize our communities.”

Be Thankful

Let’s remember to appreciate everything we have. We are blessed to be able to enjoy the beautiful Sierra. Be thankful as you celebrate this Thanksgiving.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada.  Jim’s practice areas include:  real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters.  He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or www.portersimon.com.  

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The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters.