A federal magistrate recommended Thursday that casino lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, liquor merchant Larry Ruvo and Edward Fein be blocked from building a pier in front of their lakefront properties on Tahoe's upscale Glenbrook Bay.
U.S. Magistrate Robert McQuaid, in a 29-page report, said the California-Nevada Tahoe Regional Planning Agency had conditioned its earlier approval of the pier on a court finding that Fein lacks legal access to the existing community pier in the bay.
McQuaid didn't make that finding. Instead, he said the claim by the pier proponents that Fein lacked a reserved right to the community pier "is completely at odds" with language in a deed that assures that right.
To accept the pier advocates' interpretation "would indeed be rewriting the unambiguous terms of the agreement and would be at odds with the intent of the parties," McQuaid added. "This, the court will not do."
McQuaid's report and recommendation now goes to U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Las Vegas, who will make a final decision in the long-standing dispute that has divided residents of Glenbrook, on Tahoe's east shore, for several years.
"We're very pleased with Judge McQuaid's ruling, and we're very hopeful that it will be sustained by Judge Hunt," said Doug Jones, head of the Glenbrook Homeowners Association which opposed the pier project.
"We have a community pier and everyone has access to it. That's what it's there for," Jones said of the only structure that now traverses one of Tahoe's most pristine beaches.
Leif Reid, attorney for Whittemore, Ruvo and Fein, said he's optimistic because McQuaid ruled against the pier foes on other key issues in the case.
"The report drastically limits the easement rights claimed by the homeowners' association, and we believe that when the federal district court reviews this he will rule wholly in our favor and we will prevail," Reid added.
Claims rejected by McQuaid included one by the homeowners association that the TRPA broke the law in approving an abruptly revised pier application. Also, the Glenbrook Preservation Association challenged the legality and constitutionality of the TRPA's actions, and said the panel gives preferential treatment to "powerful and influential applicants."
John Marshall, general counsel for the California-Nevada TRPA, said he was happy to see McQuaid reject those claims.
"All along, opponents of the pier have alleged bias or something fishy in the process," Marshall said. "The court's decision rejects all that and affirms that the TRPA acted in an unbiased and professional manner."
Ron Zumbrun, representing the Glenbrook Preservation Association, said he was "disappointed that the TRPA wasn't called to task."
But, Zumbrun added, "the objective of stopping the pier has been fully accomplished."