Commission splits on TRPA planner proposal
Putting a Douglas County planner in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is akin to “joining the Iraqi Army,” says Douglas County Commissioner Bernie Curtis.
Not so, claims Commissioner Don Miner. “It takes time and dedication to work through the system,” Miner said, adding he has been on the TRPA board for four years and seen a marked improvement.
That was the gist of a 30-minute debate Thursday on whether to approve a two-week trial to place a county employee in the back-logged TRPA office to help expedite projects for Douglas County, which Miner estimated totaled $60 million.
Commissioners voted 2-2 to approve the plan. Steve Weissinger, out of town Thursday, will break the tie at next week’s meeting at Stateline.
Commissioner Kelly Kite, who voted with Curtis against the proposal, said there were too many unknowns in the proposal. He cited concerns over the ethics of having private businesses helping to fund the position and who would supervise the Douglas County planner.
“I don’t like it any better than I did the last time,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything from the TRPA about being more efficient. Just providing them with a staff member is going the other way.”
“There are always unknowns,” Curtis said. “My objections are deeper-seated. It goes back to a lack of efficiency and the level of obstructionism at the TRPA.”
In arguing for the proposal, Miner said a seasoned Douglas County planner would add stability to the bi-state regulatory agency.
“The TRPA turns over 60 percent of its planners each year,” Miner said. “Some $60 million is scheduled at Lake Tahoe. If they get dragged out for another building season, I am afraid we’re going to have people decide to take their capital to Fresno.”
County Manager Dan Holler and Community Development Director Bob Nunes met with TRPA officials earlier and proposed placing a Douglas County planner with the agency for two weeks to see how the plan worked.
n How can we tell? “Unless we put a person in there, we can’t tell if it’s a good idea, a marginal idea or a bad idea,” Holler said.
The trial period was to begin Monday, but was delayed until after next Thursday’s meeting.
Douglas County would provide the staffer and TRPA the facilities. The proposal is viewed by its supporters as a big step in streamlining the basin’s permit process. One planner will handle all of the permits for TRPA and the Douglas County portion of Lake Tahoe.
The county is evaluating whether to ask private businesses to help pay for the public employee. That issue raised the question of ethics and whether a conflict of interest would exist because presumably many of the contributing agencies would submit proposals for the planner to consider.
“Let’s say you’ve got Harveys (hotel-casino) putting money in to fund the planner, then they submit a project. The new planner can’t work on the project,” Kite said.
District Attorney Scott Doyle has asked the state Ethics Commission for an opinion. Doyle also raised the question at Thursday’s county commission of the impact of Gov. Kenny Guinn’s new ethics code.
“What is unknown is the change between the governor’s revision of the ethics law and what’s on the books today,” Doyle said. “I can’t tell where it stands. It’s a big question mark.”
Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who voted with Miner to support the two-week trial, said the “big stick” approach with the TRPA had failed for nearly three decades.
“We can test the water without getting all wet,” Etchegoyhen said. “We can see what happens, then decide whether to go forward.”