Tahoe agency held hostage?

A California Senate delegation has been named to negotiate with Nevadans about Tahoe issues, but the Golden State also provided an earful for Silver Staters.

The delegation of three California state senators and staffers was named in response to the enactment by Nevada of Senate Bill 271, which threatened withdrawal from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) unless Nevada gets its way on some policy issues involving development at Lake Tahoe.

The bi-state TRPA was created after negotiations between California Gov. Ronald Reagan and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt in response to degradation of the Lake Tahoe basin, but TRPA failed to solve the problem. In 1980, voting reforms made the agency more effective. Pro-development advocates have chafed under TRPA’s activities ever since.

All anti-TRPA bills failed until last year when S.B. 271 was approved mostly by Southern Nevada legislators at the behest of the casino lobby. In a letter to Sen. John Lee of Nevada’s Clark County, who sponsored 271, California Sen. Darrell Steinberg appointed Sens. Alan Lowenthal, Fran Pavley and Ted Gaines to negotiate with Nevada. Steinberg, president pro tem of the California Senate, then wrote:

“In addition to responding to your request [for designation of negotiators], I want to share with you and your colleagues the displeasure many in California … have with the recent unfortunate and rather provocative actions taken by the state of Nevada following decades of cooperation over matters relating to our mutual interests in the environmental and economic sell being of the Tahoe basin. [Nevada’s S.B. 271] is both unnecessarily inflammatory and deeply counterproductive to the collegial relationship our two states have had on these matters. One can only imagine how leaders in Nevada would react if California were to take similar action. It is both surprising and disappointing to see a national treasure as important as Lake Tahoe become a political hostage to the agenda of special interest groups who have little interest in the many values the region provides. Despite the verbiage in the Nevada legislation, dissolution of the Tahoe Compact would require an Act of Congress and would have deeply disruptive effects on Lake Tahoe’s economy and environment.”

One former TRPA member attributes the success of S.B. 271 to casino lobbyist William “Billy” Vassiliadis. A surprising number of Democrats cast what are considered anti-environment votes on the issue. Not one Republican in either house of the legislature opposed 271. But nine Democrats in the 42-member Assembly voted for the bill, giving it a majority. They were Elliot Anderson, Kelvin Atkinson, Irene Bustamante, Marcus Conklin, Marilyn Dondero Loop, Jason Frierson, William Horne, Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Harvey Munford, Dina Neal, and John Oceguera. All are from Southern Nevada and Oceguera is speaker of the Assembly.

In the 21-member Senate another nine Democrats joined with Republicans. They were Shirley Breeden, Allison Copening, Steven Horsford, Ruben Kihuen, John Lee, Mark Manendo, David Parks, Michael Schneider and Valerie Weiner. Again, all are from Southern Nevada. Democrat Lee was the bill’s sponsor. Horsford is the Democratic floor leader in the Senate. The only Senate Democrats to oppose the bill were Sheila Leslie and Mo Denis.