SVSH CEO Andy Wirth and VP Chevis Hosea address the crowd at Base Camp today.
The Placer County Board of Supervisors held an informational meeting regarding the Squaw Valley Village Specific Plan at the Base Camp marketing center today. There was a ton of information presented by both Placer County staff and Squaw Valley staff. None of it was really new information, and people seeking specifics may have left the meeting disappointed. There was a different sort of information available today. More on that later…
For now, we’ll stick to what we heard from the team of speakers. The chairperson of the Board was not in attendance today, so District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery welcomed the crowd, numbering around 100, and introduced the speakers for today.
Alex Fisch, Project Manager for Placer County
Fisch began the presentation by giving an overview of the progress made since Squaw Valley Ski Holdings first filed their plan in December 2011. Over the course of the last 32 months, the scale and scope of the project has been scaled back from 1275 units to 850 units, and a number of changes have been made to accommodate the wishes of the local population. Those changes include preserving some of Squaw’s historical locations, preserving some amount of day parking for day skiers, a reduction in the size of the Mountain Adventure Center, and the addition of an eastern parcel to accommodate employee housing.
Fisch attributed the reductions in the project to the efforts of Placer County staff and SVSH staff at getting public input on the project. Fisch also focused on the benefits that the project would bring to Olympic Valley, in the form of planned upgrades to parks, increased numbers of trails around the valley and the employment that would be potentially created by the project.
Fisch expects that the draft of the Environmental Impact Report will be available in December or January. Later, during the Q & A phase of the meeting, Fisch noted that large numbers of specific details about the Village plan would not be available until “Appendix B” of the Specific Plan is released much later in the process. This was a disappointment to people in the audience that had questions about specifics today.
Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings CEO
The crowd moved into the Base Camp map room for the rest of the presentations. Andy Wirth took the stage and continued to share the story of how much community input SVSH has received regarding the Village Specific Plan. Once again we were reminded that over 300 meetings have been held to seek input. Wirth suggested that the level of community input on the Village project “is an unprecedented amount of involvement.” He also let the crowd know that they are not done listening, and that they were still open to listening to new solutions.
Wirth then focused on the market segment that Tahoe is missing. Wirth, a member of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Board of Trustees, reported that incoming flights were down approximately 40% in recent years. There has been a corresponding drop in long term stays in the north Tahoe market. It’s these destination tourists that Wirth is hoping to attract with the Village redevelopment project. He suggested that these “4-5 night visitors” were the key to revitalizing all segments of the north Tahoe economy.
Wirth finished his commentary by reminding the audience that SVSH was not planning on tackling the entire Village project at once. There will be several phases to the project, with Wirth stating that those phases would extend about 18 years into the future. Fisch later stated that the entitlements granted for the project would not expire for 25 years, and could be extended if the market could not absorb all of the real estate units within that time.
Chevis Hosea, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, Vice President of Development
Hosea gave the most details today regarding the specifics of the Specific Plan. It wasn’t long before he had the laser pointer out and gave a quick overview of what would be happening in each area of the development. The new development focuses on three areas: the east end of the current Village, the west end of the valley near Shirley Canyon, and the east parcel near the fire station. Surprisingly, the map at Base Camp had not yet been updated to reflect the most recent plans. Briefly, the east village development will be typical ski village, with retail space on the first floor, and time share hotel and condo units on the upper floors. This will also be the location for the proposed Mountain Adventure Center. The west end development will focus more on single family homes for shared ownership. The east parcel will be a location for remote parking and employee housing. A 5,000 square foot market is also planned for that parcel, which may reduce some traffic into the valley and reduce the need for employees to own autos.
Hosea noted that each of the “hotel” units would be designed as a smaller boutique hotel. Besides offering a “smaller feel”, the smaller building would allow SVSH to not get too far ahead of the real-estate market with unsold units. He also noted that plans for the Adventure Center would remain somewhat of a mystery as they were not ready to announce specifics. In a nutshell, the goal seems two fold with the Center: provide a four season vacation experience, and providing a vacation experience where visitors never need to leave the valley.
Lastly, Hosea noted that the public had repeatedly asked to see 3D modeling of the proposed village. He stated that those models are in development and should be available for viewing in 60 to 75 days. Questions were raised during the Q & A about preservation of visual corridors within the village, and the 3D models are likely the best tool to see how things may look.
Mike Geary, General Manager, Squaw Valley Public Service District
Mike Geary explains the finer details of the Water Supply Assessment.
Geary was there to provide details on the recently released Water Supply Assessment. SVPSD was obligated to do the assessment due to the scope of the Village project. There’s been a lot of conjecture about why Olympic Valley suddenly seems to be swimming in water. Geary did a fine job of explaining how the study was completed, and how it has been independently reviewed. Geary stated that the completed Village project, and other possible projects within the District, will increase the need for water within the Valley by 28% by the year 2040.
The source for water in Olympic Valley is a relatively small aquifer under the valley and a number of horizontal wells drilled into the surrounding mountains. The aquifer does supply the bulk of the water. The aquifer is refilled primarily by runoff from rain and melting snow. The valley receives an average of 47″ of precipitable water per year, and that is more than enough to refill the aquifer each year, as a very large area drains into a relatively small area. Geary stated that there has not yet been a year when the aquifer did not totally refill. Numerical models run by the consulting firm showed that the aquifer has been able to recover even during extended drought periods. Geary stated that the aquifer should never be drawn down to less that 65% saturation to maintain a healthy system. The numerical models showed the aquifer never dropped below 70% saturation, even during the modeling of extended drought periods.
During the Q & A, several points were clarified by Geary. Previously, people were under the impression that there was only enough water to serve 100 more homes in the Valley. The WSA now states that there is plenty of water for 1250 more units. Yes, we were confused too. Geary explained the situation. The Cushing family was never willing to work with the District to allow wells to be drilled on Squaw Valley property, where most of the water is available. SVSH has been working with the District to put wells where they need to be, regardless of ownership of the property. This means that the District has much more access to the aquifer than ever, and SVSH has a vested interest in making that happen.
There’s also been a lot of questions about the proposed “8 mile pipe” to bring water from the Martis Valley to Olympic Valley. Geary stated unequivocally that the “8 mile pipe” had nothing to do with the Village Specific Plan. The proposal to bring Martis Valley water into the Valley is solely to provide a backup source for water in the event that the aquifer was contaminated. SVPSD has been pursuing options for a backup source of water for more than 20 years, long before the Village redevelopment project was proposed.
Reading Between The Lines
The reality is that no new information was presented today. Although I took a lot of notes today, I spent a lot of time watching people and reading between the lines. Here’s some candid observations:
• There’s a reason that SVSH is so afraid of the incorporation of Olympic Valley. It was very clear today that SVSH enjoys a very cozy relationship with Placer County. There were times today that I would have sworn that Alex Fisch was an employee of Squaw Valley, and not Placer County. The same could be said for Supervisor Montgomery. The point of holding this meeting seemed to be to show how well Placer County and SVSH have worked together to involve the public, and how that has resulted in a plan that everyone supports, at least in the minds of SVSH and Placer County representatives.
• The rest of the Placer County supervisors seemed disinterested at best. The chair of the Board was not even present today, and none of the other Board members asked any questions today.
• Andy Wirth is really worried that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings might be tarnishing the image of KSL Capital. He spent quite a bit of time convincing today’s audience that KSL Capital is not in charge of the project, that Squaw Valley Ski Holdings was responsible. The fact still remains that a large number of investors have put a lot of money into KSL Capital, and that money was used to set up to create Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. Andy must be getting pressure from somewhere to say these things.
• There is no doubt that SVSH has made an effort to seek public input. The first plan was a slap in the face to Squaw Valley locals and lovers alike. Although the plan has been significantly reduced, it’s still far more than what is needed. Nearly all of us agree that some continued development is needed, but the scale of development needed to match KSL investor expectations does not match the scale that is needed for Squaw Valley.
• There’s still a lot of problems. The proposed building heights, up to 108 feet, will dwarf the current village, which tops out at 60 feet, and will surely change the face of Olympic Valley forever. The need for a Mountain Adventure Center is dubious, especially when Lake Tahoe and the surrounding basin offer all of the recreation we need.
• The plan will ensure that Valley residents will endure more than 25 years of continuous major construction projects.
• Although Wirth was able to draw a neat line connecting a drop in airport traffic to a drop in skier visits, we’re sure the industry as a whole is much more complex. The are many factors that affect the arrival of skiers and riders on our mountains. The cost of the sport has risen dramatically, not just in Tahoe, but all over the US. Simply building a larger Village will not correct that problem. The snowsports industry as a whole needs to look at the growing need for a strategy to keep families engaged in the sport. The problem is that KSL is in the real estate business, not the snowsports business.
• The plan will have serious impacts on the ability of smaller local businesses to compete. Although Placer County will be studying economic impacts, Fisch offered no guarantees of what the economic study will actually achieve, other than showing that Squaw Valley and Northstar will be competing for the same customers. Although SVSH has encouraged several businesses within Olympic Valley to support the plan, there’s a lot of concern from businesses outside of the Valley.
In summary, the current plan is certainly better than the first proposal. It’s still far from the right plan. Hopefully, Andy Wirth is serious about continuing to listen. As always, we’re happy for you to share your thoughts too.
Added later in the afternoon: Here’s the press release from Sierra Watch with their statement on yesterday’s presentation. SierraWatchStatement