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Placer supes remove Montgomery from Lake Tahoe board

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Four Placer County supervisors voted Tuesday to remove fellow supervisor Jennifer Montgomery from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board. But Montgomery – bolstered by a contingent of supporters who traveled to the Auburn meeting from Tahoe – didn’t go quietly. Montgomery has served as board appointee to the Tahoe planning panel since her election to the Board of Supervisors four years ago. A statement by the District 5 supervisor at December’s Tahoe planning board disagreeing with the county’s status quo stance on tourist-accommodation unit transfers for developers raised the hackles of fellow Placer board members. At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Kirk Uhler made the motion to replace Montgomery with her alternate on the board, Larry Sevison. Sevison has served 17 years on the Tahoe board during four stints – including the six months in 2007 after Montgomery’s predecessor Bruce Kranz was removed for voting against a board decision at the planning agency panel. Uhler said Montgomery had a chance at a Board of Supervisors meeting in October to clarify her concerns about tourist accommodation transfers during broader discussion of Tahoe planning issues. The transfers cover hotel, motel and vacation rental rooms that developers can purchase the rights to from existing projects within the Tahoe basin. Uhler said after the meeting that the transfers are seen by the Placer board as a means to encourage private investment to retire old accommodation units that have no erosion controls and are currently causing problems with lake clarity. “There are no erosion controls on any of these old projects,” Uhler said. Montgomery said that taking up the matter in October could have been a way to express her concerns and that she would consider “bifurcating “ or dividing a motion in the future to allow other issues to be packaged and approved separately. Montgomery said the Placer board has the authority to remove her but that she opposed it because she feels supervisors should have the ability to remain open to changing their opinion. She was the lone supervisor to oppose her ouster. “I stand on the principle that I represent the board but also my district's constituents,” Montgomery said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, I vote the county position but I’m not an automaton, I’m not a puppet. When my position diverges I have to vote my conscience.” Clarifying the county’s position on board appointments, County Counsel Anthony La Bouff told supervisors before the vote that he couldn’t disagree with the premise of allowing a county board appointee to vote “in a certain direction.” “But it does not follow that if you’re on a committee, you can’t be fired,” La Bouff said. Attorney Ron Grassi, a 40-year Tahoe resident, said after the meeting that the decision reflects a move by Placer County to hold onto the accommodation transfers to increase tax and fee revenues. “It’s one of the best gimmicks for developers,” Grassi said. Developers are allowed to buy up small hotels, usually in the South Shore area of Lake Tahoe, and “morph” what was a 700-square-foot unit into construction of new, 2,200-square-foot units, he said. “They’re pro-development and don’t care about the lake,” he said. “Jennifer sees we have wall-to-wall traffic in the summer and the lake clarity going down.” Uhler said the issue Tuesday had nothing to do with whether the board is pro-development or not. He added the board does care about the lake and the stance it takes on accommodation transfers reflects that. ”It’s about adhering to stated board policy,” he said. Sevison will assume his new duties Wednesday at the first Tahoe Regional Planning Agency meeting of the new year. *Edited to reflect reporter's error in earlier version on the number of Jennifer Montgomery's district. It is District 5. ----------------------------------------------------- Fast facts: What is the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency? - Approved by Congress in 1969 as a Nevada-California governing board for environmental and development issues at Lake Tahoe - The first bi-state regional environmental planning agency in the nation - The board is given the authority of developing environmental quality standards and enforcing ordinances to retain what are called “thresholds” to retain lake clarity and the area’s quality of life - The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is charged with protecting Lake Tahoe for the benefit of current and future generations - The county has one representative on a 15-member governing board - The board comprises seven California members, seven Nevada members and one presidential appointee