Political Environment

Conflicts Regarding Jurisdictional Power and Authority Dimensions

 

While few people grasp it, the influence of local government, cities and counties, impacts people’s lives on a day to day basis more than state and national governmental agencies.  And, since media outlets tend to be national more than local, national news is followed more by the public than local.  In many ways, this allows local governments to operate often in very bold fashions because they are under less public scrutiny.  This enhances the power of local government and can contribute to an arrogance of power also.  Moreover, the power is real and it is generally legal. 

 

Counties trump cities in authority legally but the opposite can be also the case in terms of actual power.  A large and otherwise poor county which has a very wealthy city located in its boundaries, for example, may very well subordinate itself to the wishes of the city in order to obtain operational tax revenue.  Or, there could be a special interest group in a county, such as factory that is a major employer, that can exercise great influence over governmental decisions due to is wealth, economic importance, and therefore power. The same can be said for a federal agency like TRPA in terms of the powerful counties that border on the lake and the wealthy special interests that occupy the Basin. Political power and legal authority are not the same things.

 

Counties that border the lake, such as Placer and Washoe, for example, are each very wealthy with revenues that greatly dwarf TRPA.  Either county can arbitrarily help or hurt any interest within its boundaries if it so chooses.  This means that it can obtain support from local groups for its projects with the understanding that supporters will benefit regarding their projects in return, both private and public.  And, it can mean the reverse; a county can withhold support whether the group in question is a merchant’s organization or TRPA.  Placer County has an operational budget just under $800 million; TRPA’s is less than $13 million, half of it dependent upon fees:   permit fees, mitigation fees, development fees, and so on.   In the minds of many, since it is dependent upon development fees it makes it difficult for TRPA to control growth in such a fashion so as to protect the Basin.  Essentially, in the interest of revenue it may support projects that violate common sense, regardless of whether sponsored by a private entity, such as a developer, or a government agency, such as Placer County and its biomass project proposed for the Basin. 

 

It is because of this problem of funding that TRPA can find itself supporting a project that actually degrades the environment as pointed out in the Judge Karlton Shorezone Decision, discussed elsewhere in this website. 

 

Consequently, while Friends of Lake Tahoe views TRPA’s support of the biomass project sorrowful and misguided, it also supports additional government funding for the agency in order to free it from special interest control by both private special interests and governmental special interests.