Judge upholds Tahoe regional plan
April 7, 2014
A lawsuit challenging a Lake Tahoe regulatory agency's regional plan was rejected in federal court on Monday.
U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez's 20-page decision upholds the plan and dismisses a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore. Mendez heard oral arguments on the case during an hour-long hearing March 26. The lawsuit was filed in February 2013 after the agency approved the update to the 25-year old plan in December 2012.
As part of the plan, local governments around Lake Tahoe were allowed to develop their own community plans. Douglas County's plan for the Stateline casino corridor was the first local plan approved by the agency.
Work on the regional plan was one of the demands made by the Nevada Legislature, which passed a bill to pull out of the TRPA in the 2011 session. That law was rescinded in 2013, after the plan was adopted.
"This encouraging decision could not have come at a more critical time for Lake Tahoe," TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said. "The pace of environmental restoration will accelerate under the new plan with more opportunities for healthy, sustainable communities."
The decision was based on the record used in the agency's governing board plan approval. The court upheld the agency's discretion to make policy decisions based on sound science and a complete record.
The plan won three separate awards for environmental innovation from professional planning and architecture organizations in 2013.
"We're glad the case has concluded," said League to Save Lake Tahoe Executive Director Darcie Goodman Collins regarding Monday's decision. "This means Tahoe's communities can move forward with certainty about their regulatory environment over the coming decades. We respect the concerns of our colleagues at the Sierra Club, Friends of West Shore and Earthjustice about the new regional plan. It is not a perfect plan, but the League to Save Lake Tahoe also recognizes that it has the potential to help Tahoe's environment through multiple safeguards that require restoration and environmental improvements with any new development or redevelopment.
"Since its passage, the League has continued to aggressively watchdog the implementation of the regional plan, ensuring that specific ordinances are enacted to protect Tahoe's environment and restore Tahoe's clarity, and ensuring that each jurisdiction creates responsible area plans with adequate environmental policies."
Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore were not immediately available for comment. Earthjustice, which argued the lawsuit on their behalf, called the ruling a bad decision for Lake Tahoe.
"Lake Tahoe is still recovering from too much urbanization and runoff pollution and its blue waters deserve the strongest of protections to ensure a full recovery," said attorney Wendy Park, of Earthjustice. "Unfortunately, the court decision allows more urbanization, the very cause of the lake's decline, without ensuring effective runoff controls are in place first."
The decision may still be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.