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People v. S. Lake Tahoe, City of

Citation: 9 ELR 20548
No. No. S-78-435 PCW, 466 F. Supp. 527/(E.D. Cal., 12/22/1978)

In 1975, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), a bistate organization created pursuant to the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact, enacted a transportation plan calling for the construction of certain roadways and the widening and improvement of others in the City of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area. Plaintiff California Department of Transportation brought this action on behalf of the people of the State of California seeking an injunction against the project as well as a declaration that the TRPA is subject to the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and that the defendant city is subject to the approval provisions of the California Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (CTRPA) and the requirements of CEQA.

The court first rejects defendants' argument that plaintiff transportation agency is not authorized to bring this action on behalf of the people of the State of California. It is clear from §§ 12603 and 12607 of the California Public Resources Code that, while the Attorney General is authorized to bring suit to protect the environment, that authority is not exclusive and permits the plaintiff to bring such a suit pursuant to its authority under § 92 of the California Streets and Highways Code. The court has jurisdiction to hear the case under the federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because it turns on the interpretation of an interstate compact.

As to the merits of defendants' defense that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted, the court must first resolve whether (1) NEPA is applicable to TRPA: the court resolves this question in the negative on the grounds that TRPA is not an agency of the United States under § 102(2)(C) of the Act and that the interstate compact under which it operates is not a public law of the United States under § 102(1); (2) whether CEQA is applicable to the TRPA: the court resolves this question in the affirmative because the TRPA is a public agency within the intent of the Act, and the compact explicitly permits the state to impose strict environmental controls, such as those within CEQA, upon the actions of the TRPA; further, the TRPA is not exempt from CEQA either because its review processes are the functional equivalent of those required under CEQA or because the Act's requirements are inconsistent with the time limitations to which TRPA's actions are subject; (3) whether the CTRPA approval provisions apply to the transportation plan insofar as it affects California land: the court finds that these provisions are applicable because this was within the intent of the compact; and (4) whether CEQA applies to the city: the court finds that the city is a "public agency" and a "local agency" within the statutory definitions and is therefore subject to its mandates. Nevertheless, the court denies plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction against continuation of the road improvements because it has shown neither irreparable harm nor that the balance of hardships tips sharply in its favor.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (16 pp. $2.00, ELR Doc. No. C-1173).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Harry S. Fenton, Chief Counsel; Joseph C. Easley
George L. Cory
California Dep't of Transportation
1120 N St., Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-2201

Counsel for Defendant Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Gary A. Owen
Owen & Rollston
Elk Point Professional Bldg., 400 Dorla Ct., Round Hill, P.O. Box 1520, Zephyr Cove NV 89448
(702) 588-5487

Counsel for Defendant City of South Lake Tahoe
Roy C. Abrams, City Attorney
P.O. Box 1210, South Lake Tahoe CA 95705
(916) 541-2900

Peckham, J.

[OPINION OMITTED BY PUBLISHER IN ORIGINAL SOURCE]