The agency charged with protecting Lake Tahoe's environment will not file a lawsuit against a massive development project planned just outside the Tahoe Basin, its new executive director decided.
John Singlaub, who assumed his post with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency last month, acknowledged the project in Martis Valley between the lake and Truckee could have significant impacts on Tahoe but defended his decision.
"It is a matter of picking our battles and the workload involved in the agency," Singlaub said. "I anticipate more development in the future with impacts in terms of traffic and air quality. But in terms of our role, I think we'll pick battles and try to focus inside the basin."
Last month, environmentalists sued to try to block construction of more than 6,000 homes in Martis Valley, one of the biggest proposed developments in the Sierra in decades.
The Sierra Club, Sierra Watch, League to Save Lake Tahoe and others said the project would destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and increase air and water pollution.
TRPA governing board member Tom Quinn, appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, questioned Singlaub's decision not to sue.
"I think there is a clear precedent in the basin of agencies taking action in other jurisdictions," Quinn said. "I think someone has to look at the long-range impact."
Quinn also questioned why the executive director came to the decision rather than the agency's board.
Singlaub said the 30-day window to file suit fell between the December board meeting, held earlier than usual, and the January meeting, held later than usual.
He said he would have preferred the governing board to reach the decision, but consulted with board Chairman Dave Solaro and the board legal committee before making it.
Coe Swobe, Nevada's at-large appointee to the board, supported Singlab's decision.
"I'm entirely opposed to the agency getting involved outside the basin," Swobe said. "We're barely ahead of what we're doing now. Staff doesn't have the time or resources to take it on."
The bistate agency oversees development at the lake straddling the California-Nevada line high in the Sierra.
The environmentalists' lawsuit against the Placer County Board of Supervisors accused the panel of ignoring potential effects on the area.
Along with the housing developments, the long-debated plan covering about 25,000 acres along California Highway 267 allows new golf courses, restaurants and 600,000 square feet of stores - some within five miles of Lake Tahoe.
League to Save Lake Tahoe officials say the proposed development is a tremendous threat to the 193-square-mile lake famed for its pure blue waters and scenic vistas.