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Phone: 202-296-6889
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CONTACT: Doug Kendall or Tim Dowling, 202-296-6889




Community Rights Counsel (CRC)
filed a brief this week in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to support efforts to protect Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountains and renowned for its exceptional clarity. Its purity is threatened, however, by nearby development, which causes increased algae growth and reduces the Lake's clarity by at least one foot per year. To protect the Lake, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has imposed reasonable curbs on development.

The Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency case illustrates the catch-22 faced by state, regional, and local governments. The local economy and property values in the Tahoe Basin are driven by the beauty of the Lake. Development restrictions are necessary to protect the Lake, economic opportunities, and property values. Yet developers and others sometimes respond to such reasonable protections by filing lawsuits. Here, approximately 450 property owners in the Basin have challenged protections for Lake Tahoe, including two temporary development bans designed to allow for adequate planning.

On January 15, 1999, a federal district court in Nevada ruled that the temporary planning moratoria, although reasonable in duration, "took" the plaintiffs' property in violation of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, which holds that a taking occurs where regulation deprives land of all economically viable use, regardless of the public interest served by the regulation. The district court ruled that the planning moratoria caused a taking under Lucas, and thus could not be justified by the compelling public interest in protecting Lake Tahoe. The ruling calls into question reasonable planning moratoria across the country.

CRC's brief, filed on behalf of the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), explains that land loses all economically viable use under Lucas only when the land is rendered valueless. It demonstrates that because the plaintiffs' land was not rendered valueless, Lucas does not apply and the claims should be rejected. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency requested IMLA to file the brief to provide a comprehensive analysis of the issue, which the district court described as the "key" to the case. The issue also is critical to the viability of sprawl controls, environmental safeguards, and other community protections implemented by municipalities throughout the United States. Copies of the brief are available from CRC.

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