Planners cheer ruling on Tahoe shores

April 25, 2002 12:00 am

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Land-use planners and government agencies, accustomed to second guessing themselves when saying no to developers, are hailing a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling as a victory for sound planning in California.

The ruling, defending government rights to restrict development along the Lake Tahoe shoreline, is the ‘‘most significant case for government in 15 years,'' said Bill Higgins, senior staff attorney for the League of California Cities.

Higgins and others who regulate what can and can't be built in California said the ruling eases years of doubts about rights to temporarily ban development while studying its possible consequences.

Developers and land owners often argue that such delays amount to ‘‘taking'' their land and sue for financial compensation.

‘‘We refer to it as the ‘chilling effect,''' said Higgins. ‘‘Just the fact that the government prevailed on good planning principles strengthens the resolve of government to engage in these processes.''

Tuesday, the nation's highest court defended the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency halt during the 1980s of halting lakeshore development it believed was harming the lake. Hundreds of people who bought lakeshore lots expecting to build on them demanded money when the government stalled them. The court ruled that a development moratorium did not legally amount to ‘‘taking'' their property.

Though no current California land-use cases directly mirror the Tahoe situation, planners said the court's message signals a victory for them.

‘‘It's an affirmation of what we've been doing,'' said Ralph Faust, chief counsel of the California Coastal Commission.

‘‘We have situations where we look at development and approve development on part of the property and restrict it on other parts,'' Faust said. ‘‘We've always felt it was constitutional, but there's also been a lingering question. Certainly, we think it's a positive decision.''

Attorney General Bill Lockyer, in a statement, called the ruling a victory for ‘‘sound planning practices and for the future of police power measures necessary to protect public health and safety.''