California and Nevada ended a two-year standoff earlier this month with an agreement that renews the bi-state partnership to regulate Tahoe’s shoreline and promises to balance economic interests with environmental concerns.

Lake Tahoe is a national treasure with an artificial line drawn down the middle between two states that could not be more different in scope and philosophy. Like a child torn between two parents, many experts say the lake will never achieve optimal health until both caretakers can agree on how it ought to be managed.

This month’s compromise appears to be a significant step in that direction.


“This agreement renews our commitment to work together to do what’s best for the environment and economy of the Lake Tahoe region,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a joint statement.

The agreement would appear to signal an about-face for Nevada. Two years ago, amid complaints that the regulatory environment created by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) was overly onerous and made it difficult to impossible for shoreline residents and business owners to improve or remodel their properties, Nevada passed legislation calling for its withdrawal from the bi-state compact.

The decision appeared to mark the end of a marriage that had begun in the late 1960s, when the two states — struggling to cope with a century of environmental pressures on the ecology of the lake — reached an agreement that later gave birth to the regulatory agency. California reacted swiftly with contingency legislation that would have created its own, separate regional planning agency in January.

Not quite a divorce, it was more of a strategic split, said Steve Teshara, a principal in the Nevada-based Sustainable Community Advocates who tracks TRPA issues for his clients.

“The two states have very different philosophies on land use and regulatory issues, but thank goodness that they’re caring about Tahoe enough to trump this split,” he said.

Teshara said Nevada continued to be an active partner in developing the new TRPA regional plan, which was adopted at the end of last year. In many ways, with its concessions toward new development and an easing of standards on lakeside homeowners trying to remodel or plan a patio, the new regulatory plan represented a sea change of attitudes toward governing new and existing development around the lake.

Billed as a compromise, environmentalists nonetheless attacked the new plan as a sell-out to development and political interests. The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore have sued to overturn the new plan, a lynchpin for Nevada’s cooperation.

“The Plan Update revises and loosens the standards by which new projects are reviewed and approved, while increasing the potential for new development throughout the region,” the groups said in their lawsuit. “It allows local governments to establish environmental standards that do not meet minimum regional requirements, including standards that limit how much land can be paved, or ‘covered,’ to protect natural soil function and prevent runoff into the Lake.”

TRPA’s attorneys have filed a motion to have the case dismissed. A hearing date on the matter has not yet been set, according to a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

The bi-state compromise that led to this month’s gubernatorial announcements would make it much more difficult for litigants such as the Sierra Club to prevail in a lawsuit such as this one by shifting the “burden of proof” to the person or agency challenging TRPA’s planning initiatives.

Similar attempts to temper tort claims have been unsuccessful in California, and it remains to be seen whether this one will gain traction in the U.S. Congress, where this month’s bi-state agreement must ultimately be approved.

California Gov. Brown’s office referred questions to another department that could not be reached for comment, and Nevada Gov. Sandoval’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.


  • Jackie Ginley

    Jackie Ginley is a former journalist and Moonshine editor who shelved the pen in 2013 to pursue a career in real estate. With deep roots in Tahoe, she enjoys hiking, skiing, and après-everything with friends. Jackie lives in Truckee, and is currently building a home in Tahoe Donner.

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