PLF clients win in settlement with Tahoe agency

April 28, 2016 | By CHRIS KIESER

PLF clients Ray Burns and Teresa Avila-Burns just wanted to build a small house on their vacant lot in South Lake Tahoe so that their elderly mothers could enjoy the high quality of life in the Lake Tahoe area. But the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) said the parcel the Burns had purchased was entirely inside a Stream Environment Zone, preventing El Dorado County from issuing a building permit. The Burns were unable to build even though their parcel had a home on it for three decades before it was destroyed in the Angora fire in 2007.

After having little success negotiating with TRPA for permission to build their new home, Ray and Teresa contacted PLF. We sued TRPA in federal court on their behalf, arguing that the agency cannot take away all use of property without paying the owners just compensation. As we said in our complaint, governments can set aside private property as open space, but the Fifth Amendment requires that they compensate the owners. This important principle ensures that property owners do not pay disproportionately for public benefits.

TRPA started to backtrack soon after we filed our lawsuit. Because of the strength of our takings claim, the agency offered Ray and Teresa a settlement that made about 3,100 square feet of their parcel eligible for development and allowed them to build on 2,435 square feet of land within the buildable area. The Burns gladly accepted the offer, which gives them enough room to build a house near the same place on the property that the previous home had stood. After almost five years of wrangling, they can finally move ahead with their plans to build their Lake Tahoe home.

Before PLF got involved in the case, the Burns seemingly had little chance to convince TRPA to change its mind. But TRPA has aggressively pursued its anti-development agenda for decades. Ray and Teresa are not the only property owners in the Lake Tahoe area that have had to face the prospect of giving up their constitutional rights. That’s why PLF is determined to bring another case against TRPA and get a federal court to rule that the agency must compensate property owners when it declares their property open space. For now, we are thrilled to announce this settlement for our clients!

View PLF’s press release here.