The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency prevailed in another case in court the other day, and while the decision was made on a technicality, it goes as another mark in the win column for strict regulation at Lake Tahoe.
The lawsuit, upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, had challenged the grading system which determines if land around the lake may be developed.
Environmental experts assess a property, give it a score based on the TRPA's system, and if the score is too low the property can't be developed.
The grading system has been in use since 1987. A group called the Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council challenged it as a form of "taking" private property by denying the owner's ability to develop it.
We're generally on the landowners' side in these disputes, because we agree with the logic. If it's a good idea for government to restrict private property development for the sake of the environment -- that is, for the sake of the general good of all of us -- then the government ought to reimburse the property owner.
We do favor environmental protections at Lake Tahoe. We do want to see strict but reasonable regulation of construction along its fragile shores and surrounding watershed. But we don't believe the private property owner should bear the burden of protecting the lake for our benefit.
If the TRPA can figure out a complex algorithm for scoring the environmental sensitivity of a piece of property, it can figure out a way of assigning a monetary value to its protection. Taxpayers can then be asked if it's worth $1 million, say, to tell the property owner he may never develop the property.
What we think, however, doesn't count for much. Since last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the 1981-84 moratorium at Lake Tahoe, we doubt if we're going to see a decision soon in which private property rights prevail over a planning agency's ability to set restrictions.
At this point, property owners who disagree with Lake Tahoe development regulations would seem to have a better chance of persuading TRPA officials to change their policies than taking their arguments to court.
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