Saturday, June 30, 2007

Defensible Space Hurdles

For some of the people on the ground, a large part of the blame for the destruction of the Tahoe area lies with one of the public agencies responsible for helping protect the Tahoe area.

Tahoe agency is focus of fury
Residents say they weren't allowed to clear trees, brush.
By Mary Lynne Vellinga - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PDT Saturday, June 30, 2007

As Tahoe burned, John Singlaub felt the heat.

Since the catastrophic fire ignited Sunday, Singlaub has fielded angry questions and endured verbal abuse from Lake Tahoe residents furious with his employer, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The agency -- known as TRPA -- wields unusual power in the Tahoe basin. Created in 1969 to protect the Tahoe ecosystem, it has jurisdiction over the Nevada and California sides of the lake. It controls all planning decisions big and small -- from whether to allow a new high-rise resort in South Lake Tahoe to whether an individual homeowner can add a new deck or cut down a tree.

"TRPA is probably the most powerful government entity in America," declared former state Sen. Tim Leslie, a frequent critic. "TRPA trumps citizens, it trumps local government, and it even trumps the federal government. No one can move at Lake Tahoe without the approval of TRPA."

Judging from public outbursts, the agency is a source of simmering resentment for many whose homes and businesses fall within its purview.

Singlaub, TRPA's executive director, said he was taken aback by the open hostility. "I think emotions certainly are running high here, and that's not unusual, from what I'm being told by people who have dealt with other disasters. But I was surprised they (focused on) TRPA."

At a community meeting Monday at South Tahoe Middle School, the crowd of about 2,000 booed when TRPA was mentioned. One man shouted from the stands, "Get rid of TRPA!"

Another man asked why TRPA won't let homeowners clear flammable trees and brush from their land. Singlaub told the crowd: "We encourage the removal of trees for fire protection. There's been a lot of misinformation about this issue."

That was all he got out before being shouted down. Singlaub retreated to the sidelines, where three South Lake Tahoe police officers slipped in around him to provide protection. Shortly afterward, they escorted him out the back door.