Why was the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency created? How many times has the state of Nevada or the state of California entertained withdrawal from the bi-state Compact? A Conversation with Jeff Cowen, Community Liaison of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency answers some of these questions.
August 20, 2011
by Michelle Sweeney and Jeff Cowen
How long has the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) existed?
Cowen: The Agency was created in 1969 and adopted its first Regional Plan in 1972. The bi-state Compact was amended in 1980, mostly around the adoption of Environmental Threshold goals. That was a significant change and sent TRPA on the path we have today to restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity.
What brought the TRPA into existence?
Cowen: In the late 1950s and early 60s, many people became alarmed by what was happening to Lake Tahoe’s environment. Growth was out of control and a city the size of San Francisco was planned around the shores of Lake Tahoe, complete with high rises and freeways. We were just beginning to notice the impacts to water quality and the wider ecosystem from poorly planned development, especially in wetlands. At the same time, environmental consciousness was coming alive in the U.S. and milestone legislation such as the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were coming online.
Since its creation, how many times has Nevada and/or California attempted to withdraw from the bi-state Compact?
Cowen: The state of California established its own California-side agency in the 1970s because it felt the original Compact did not sufficiently protect the lake. The Nevada Legislature has considered seven different bills since the 1970s to remove Nevada from the bi-state agreement but none were successful until SB 271 passed in June 2011. However, this new state law does not immediately withdraw Nevada from the Compact—there are trigger dates years into the future to revisit Tahoe issues.
What, more specifically, is Nevada's history of issues with the Compact? How many times has Nevada formally enquired about withdrawal, in what years, and what was the central issue in each case?
Cowen: Here is what was shared with TRPA by staff of the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau on the history of withdrawal proposals:
1975 Assembly Bill 781—sponsored by Assemblyman Lawrence E. Jacobsen; not voted out of initial committee.
1977 Assembly Bill 740—sponsored by Assemblyman Jacobsen; not voted out of initial committee.
1979 Senate Bill 482—sponsored by Senator Jacobsen; no hearing held.
1985 Assembly Bill 59—sponsored by Assemblyman Louis W. Bergevin; passed Assembly but no hearing held in Senate committee.
1987 Senate Bill 301—sponsored by Senate Committee on Natural Resources at request of Senator Jacobsen; passed Senate but not voted out of Assembly committee.
2003 Assembly Bill 305—sponsored by Assemblywoman Sharron E. Angle; no hearing held.
2011 S.B. 271—sponsored by Senator John Lee and passed with amendments. Signed into law by Gov. Sandoval in June 2011.
What is the central issue in SB 271?
Cowen: The legislators who sponsored the bill have said they felt there was an undue amount of pressure from California representatives on the TRPA Board being brought to bear on Nevada projects and property owners. On top of that, TRPA’s Regional Plan Update has languished and is needed to help restoration and revitalization efforts keep moving forward and to provide the public with a more reliable, predictable permit process. There is also a litigious atmosphere at Lake Tahoe. All of this together has caused frustration year after year and the Legislature felt compelled to act.
What opportunity is there for resolution of these issues?
Cowen: The opportunities exist because we are in the final stages of drafting a Regional Plan Update that can restore Lake Tahoe while creating sustainable communities. The update has something in it for everyone. Whether your focus is on water quality, safer communities, a stronger economy or a more predictable permit process, the Update is proposing tremendous improvements. The Regional Plan Update will need broad support and now there are many more eyes on Tahoe issues, so we hope that the conversations being opened by this bill about Lake Tahoe’s future will help build that support so the Update can be complete by the end of 2012. Other opportunities for the two states’ leaders to begin talking about issues in the Compact are prevalent and this year’s annual Lake Tahoe Summit provided a venue for talks.
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SB 271 Nevada Legislature
Brown: "Sharp differences" exist regarding SB 271