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California's Steinberg says Nevada taking Tahoe 'political hostage'

February 17, 2012 | 11:16 am

LakeTahoe

Don't mess with Lake Tahoe.

That's the message California state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) sent to Nevada this week after the Silver State threatened to pull out of the compact that has tightly regulated land use around the famous mountain lake for decades.

Some background: Last year, Nevada state Sen. John Lee sponsored a bill that would pave the way for development in the Tahoe basin. Specifically, the legislation calls for loosening the bi-state governing board's voting requirements, effectively making it easier to change environmental standards. Under the law, if the conditions aren't met by late 2015, Nevada will walk.

In a letter to Lee on Wednesday, Steinberg called the legislation "both unnecessarily inflammatory and deeply counter-productive."

"One can only imagine how leaders in Nevada would react if California were to take similar action," he wrote. "It is both surprising and disappointing to see a national treasure as important as Lake Tahoe become a political hostage to the agenda of special interest groups who have little interest in the many values the region provides."

The letter comes as the states argue over the density and scale of redevelopment. The bi-state compact was established by federal legislation in 1969 to protect the lake after years of loosely regulated development had paved over parts of the basin and clouded its stunningly clear waters

Nevada officials have said that communities on their side of the lake need to update their resorts to make them more attractive tourist destinations. Lee, a Clark County Democrat, told the Times last year that California's board members are in thrall to environmentalists.

"Every time we'd go before the [compact's governing board], the votes were always there to destroy what Nevada was doing," he said.

In his letter, Steinberg said he had appointed a delegation of lawmakers to work with Nevada on Tahoe issues. "I want to express my openness to new, thoughtful, and creative approaches to addressing the challenges relating to Lake Tahoe," he wrote, "provided they are consistent with the priorities" of the compact.

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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Stunning vistas dwarf the historic Cal Neva Resort on a Lake Tahoe peninsula. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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