TRPA air mitigation fees delay opening of businesses


By Kathryn Reed

Christian Strobel closed escrow on the former Block hotel near Stateline in May 2011. He paid $450,000 for the 51-room rundown lodging property.

In the past year he has spent about $1.5 million to turn it into a functioning facility, which included removing asbestos, replacing all the doors and windows, kicking out the gangs living there who were smoking various illegal drugs, putting in new furniture, adding green elements like recycled wood and low-flow toilets, all with the desire to market the hotel to an outdoor clientele.

On Tuesday, he found out he owes the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency $163,021.01. It’s called an air mitigation fee. It was the city of South Lake Tahoe that told him the news – not the TRPA. This fee is about one-third the price he paid for the structure.

The Block for years sat empty, boarded up and painted with graffiti. TRPA says it is working with the new owners to overcome the air mitigation fees. Photo/LTN file

“I fell off my chair. We have a loan that is secured by my house. If I have to pay the fee, I won’t go into business,” Strobel told Lake Tahoe News on Thursday. “If that happens, we go into bankruptcy and I lose my home.”

Before buying the hotel on Cedar Avenue he checked with the TRPA about the validity of the tourist accommodation units. Those were in check. So, TRPA knew his intent to reopen the facility as another hotel but never mentioned the air mitigation fee.

No one at anytime disclosed the air mitigation fee, Strobel said.

TRPA calculates the fee based on an international engineering survey that says a hotel of this type will generate 9.81vehicle trips per day, per room. For Lake Tahoe Basecamp Hotel that fee is $163,021.01.

The problem Strobel and even South Tahoe officials have is why people must pay the fee on a building – especially when the use hasn’t changed – when the previous owner already did so.

TRPA rules state that if a building is not used for two years, the air mitigation fee must be paid again.

When asked by Lake Tahoe News if this is actually a double fee, TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen said, “We’ve all been talking about that. The only information I have is it’s in our code.”

In the Regional Plan update, alternative 4 (not the preferred alternative) would increase the vacancy to five years.

Asked why TRPA doesn’t issue an air mitigation refund when a business stops existing – the premise being then it wouldn’t be having customers polluting the air with emissions – Cowen said the funds can’t be refunded because they have been spent.

That’s the point property owners and others are trying to make — the fees have been spent to mitigate air quality issues. Why pay for the same thing twice is what TRPA can’t answer.

Hilary Roverud, director of development services for South Lake Tahoe, said the city would not comment on whether this is a double fee.

“The fee applies to any change. The previous use is not recognized,” Roverud said of how TRPA looks at things.

Roverud and Cowen said they are trying to come up with a solution for Strobel so he can open as planned on June 20. But neither would say what the possibilities are to mitigate the mitigation fee.

“It’s a legal issue,” Cowen said.

Not an isolated case

Strobel is not the only business caught in this quagmire. Down the street from his property is the Cedar Lodge that has new owners.

Judy Finn, planner with the city, said the owners have received a permit to do interior changes and have been told about the TRPA’s air mitigation fee.

According to City Attorney Patrick Enright, the air mitigation fee at the Cedar Lodge will also be more than $100,000.

Part of the issue with the Garfinkle building – aka Miller’s Outpost-TJ Maxx — is the $35,000 air mitigation fee. A lease between the property owners and clothing store has not been signed.

“I can’t speculate on what people choose to do based on these fees. But it would be logical if someone is trying to do a project and they figure out the finances, this would be a factor,” Roverud said of the air mitigation fee. “It does seem to be more of an issues because we are in a period of a lot of vacant commercial property.”

The old Dixon’s restaurant on Emerald Bay Road has suitors. It, too, will face the air mitigation fee issue.

Why have a fee?

The fee is used to combat air pollution that presumably a business’ customers is creating.

But the TRPA also doesn’t provide incentives for businesses that might attract hybrids or electric vehicles or even more than two people per vehicle.

The business may pay the fee, which most do, or pay directly for bus shelters, bike trails or other projects that would be considered a use that ultimately decreases vehicle miles traveled.

The mitigation fee is then put in a pot for the jurisdiction where the business is located.

According to TRPA, the city has used $1.3 million in air mitigation funds in the last 10 years on bus shelters, street sweepers, transit buses and intersection improvements.

“The south Y intersection pedestrian and level-of-service improvement project cost $2.5 million in 2007, $500,000 came from air mitigation fees collected in the city,” Cowen said.

As of April, the city had $180,000 in its air mitigation account at TRPA.





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Comments (25)
  1. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Makes you wonder what the TRPA’s real motives are. Is it really to help the Tahoe basin/Lake Tahoe or is it to eliminate the majority of those pesky humans, with the exception of those hardcore, environmental elitists who act like they’re the only ones good enough for Tahoe?

  2. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    If the TRPA staff is lacking the authority, the TRPA Board of Directors should waive these fees. This town needs operating businesses that will generate revenues to the City to help pay for environmental issues such as Lahontan’s unfunded but mandated TMDLs which will be enormously costly. If the TRPA really wants to help protect/improve the environment they should waive these fees.

  3. Frank says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    TRPA is unreasonable when it comes to anything to do with business. Don’t bother calling their office, “it’s in the code.” They all have jobs and could care less if they run businesses out of town, that’s been their MO for years, but they keep their jobs with no accountability to the public. The board could not only waive the fee, but they can change their code. It shouldn’t matter if a building has been closed for two years and that triggers repaying the fee – it’s illogical. In other words, if the business would have stayed open, and the cars and people were there “polluting” that would have been better than the time its sat empty? Yeah, that’s the logic of TRPA. The TRPA should apply some common sense to their code, remove the 2 year rule (without having to go through a 5 year process to do so) and bring the fee down to something that makes sense. Hey TRPA there are no more cars coming to town, have you noticed? Shouldn’t TRPA be refunding the money everyone has paid for these ridiculous fees since we have so many less people living, working and visiting here? Where’s the refund?

    The TRPA hasn’t changed its colors or its stripes and will be the roadblock to our community’s recovery especially with “it’s in the code” attitudes, there’s “Nothing we can do,” when we all know THEY write the code!

    Maybe all the local jurisdictions should charge the TRPA for preventing new jobs and allowing run down buildings to damage the environment because they are setting astronomical fees that prevent the rebuilding they claim they want to encourage.

  4. PubWorksTV says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Sad times in America as the government and it’s agencies get richer and the citizens get wiped out…

  5. Not Born on the Bayou says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    At the very least suspend this payment for the short term and turn it into a long term repayment under very generous terms, supported by a small fee on those who stay there.

    Better yet, adapt to the conditions of the times, and modify the code’s two year rule with an exception for this owner who wasn’t notified of the obligation. Make any negotiated payment contingent on a reasonably high success of the business and ability to repay in this case.

    Small businesses, particularly ones like this that fit in smoothly with SLT’s vision for its future, should be enthusiastically supported, and yes, treated differently than large chain entities if necessary – let’s look at the end goal, not a rigid application of “fairness” or adherence to a bureaucratic rule.

    ESPECIALLY since it seems he wasn’t informed of this. I would be incredibly steamed about this too.

  6. Not Born on the Bayou says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    On second thought, I think TRPA should pay him the $163k fee for taking the risk to clean up this existing mess and drastically improve the ambient environment at this location. Good on you Mr. Strobel – thanks for you effort and risk taking, and I’m going to start mentioning your place to friends in the Bay Area when it opens for business.

  7. TahoeKaren says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    This is nothing more than legal extortion.

  8. Bob says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    I’m sure miss TRPA will be adding her comments soon to clarify why the TRPA must extort money out of someone trying to make our economy better in the basin.

  9. John says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    The code of ordinances was developed to slow and or stop development in Tahoe. The code is just performing exactly as planned and designed.

  10. earl zitts says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    TRPAZI at it again with SLT complicity.
    Kinder and gentler so they tell us. I’ll
    believe it when I see it.

  11. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Base Camp Tahoe (the old Block)is creating new jobs for South Tahoe. The TRPA is driving business owners out of town. This fee is ridiculous in the first place. Then they want to charge it again because a business has been vacant for more than 2 years. Even a small child can understand this is stupid.

  12. Full Time says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    TRPA take a look at the old Millers Outpost building, the gangs are taging it because there is no tenant in it, thanks to your fees. The owner of the building did a great job making it look good just like Strobel did with that old hotel. So seems to me you are helping the gangs out more than business owners, were are the air fees for all the spray paint they use to tag everything.

  13. Dee says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Way to go, TRPA. And Tahoe wonders where their tourists are? Why would they want to visit a rundown part of town like Stateline? You want the town to be beautiful AND green? Get some businesses in there that are willing to do that. And good grief – 9.8 vehicle trips per DAY per UNIT? Give me a break. Time to get rid of TRPA (go Nevada! Get out NOW) and get your economy back on track!

  14. trpa_liaison says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Some clarification might help the discussion. We do know why the expiration of mitigation fees is in the code, but that doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be changed and that the Agency has been working up solutions in a couple of ways.

    When businesses or hotels close for an extended period of time, the baseline of traffic in an area resets. People’s expectations of traffic congestion and the level of service of a roadway becomes what is there now. This is a common method of traffic analysis and many jurisdictions consider trips to expire if they aren’t used for a long period.

    The mitigation fees are passed through to the local jurisdiction to pay for traffic mitigation and air quality projects. The City has used their mitigation funds to pay for the new bus shelters, to purchase buses and to use as matching funds for grants and projects like the South Y pedestrian and traffic enhancement project. The funds can also be used for bike trails, sidewalks etc.

    The amount of long term vacancies in the Region today is changing the way TRPA implements this rule. The draft Regional Plan Update out for public comment right now through June 28 includes a proposal to change the expiration period from 2 to 5 years.

    In the mean time, to help the businesses mentioned in this story and more around the region, TRPA is looking at what options there are that can be legally and how we can work with the local jurisdictions to ensure that traffic and air quality impacts from our developed areas continue to be mitigated.

    This information was provided to Lake Tahoe News before the story was published.

  15. Full Time says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    In the mean time, we do not have time to help them out, they need to open now!!!!!!!!! Stop the we are trying to help talk please I’m not buying it.

  16. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    trpa_liaison….. Sounds like bureaucratic gobblygook meant to tax the public to keep goverment jobs

  17. Todd says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    TRPA dude, tell us something isn’t in the story. You act like you just told us something that isn’t there. How can you even defend this extortion?

  18. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: May 4, 2012


    Thank you for providing some clarification on this matter. I appreciate that the Agency recognizes the need to make changes in the Code but those likely won’t be implemented until the adoption of the new RPU hopefully in December 2012. I believe that these mitigation fees need to be waived now to help businesses that are/want to open in South Lake Tahoe prior to that adoption. The current Code and this additional fee is an obstacle that de-incentivizes new businesses from opening in the numerous, long-vacant storefronts in town and that induces locals such as myself to travel many more vehicle miles to Carson City to purchase merchandise not available in South Lake Tahoe.

  19. West Shore Local says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    How about treat the air mitigation fee as the “TOT” tax. It would be an annual fee instead of this lump sum fee, which probably doesn’t accurately reflect the life-span of the tourist accommodations and their associated vehicle air quality impacts in that life span.

    In addition, things like sidewalks, bus-stop structures, e-vehicle charging stations, bike rentals, and incentives to encourage guest carpooling should be considered part of the air mitigation fee.

    We need to develop more creative ways to mitigate air quality impacts produced by tourists.

  20. Sunriser2 says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Now we know where some of the money comes from to run empty busses up and down hwy fifty all day.

  21. SpinCycle says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Does this mitigation fee exist anywhere else in the country or are we just lucky?

  22. Parker says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Bureaucratic extortion justified by bureaucratic babble! Since the City gets the money, it doesn’t complain. But the City will be without much of a tax base if it doesn’t take on the TRPA about this!

  23. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    I’m surprised a mitigation fee hasn’t been imposed on all roads leading into Lake Tahoe. Whoops! Better not post this one or the TRPA will set up toll booths for cars on the roads coming to the Lake.

  24. John says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    The Lake Tahoe Basin is in an “attainment” airshed under the California Air Resources Board rules anyway. This is just another tax used to increase costs and thereby decrease development. It is no more complex than that.

  25. Tahoan says - Posted: May 4, 2012

    Time to follow through with what Nevada started last year and have everyone contact our representatives in both states to disband this agency. Enough controls in place to protect the environment without them.