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Andy Wertheim: Hiking The Judah Loop

Hello Friends,

The Mt. Judah Loop is about a 4.5 mile loop with a good elevation gain of over 1000 feet.  This loop offers exposed switchbacks up a granite slopes, shaded sections of trail through forested areas that include a few Hemlock Trees, windswept open slopes along the ridge top, expansive views of Donner Lake toward Mt. Rose, Sugar Bowl, Castle Peak, Summit Valley, Coldstream Canyon (Mt. Andersen and Tinker’s Knob in the distance), and yesterday a peak of the Sierra Buttes.  The views from the ridge top offer 360 degree pictures of our Sierra Mountains.

The wildflowers along this hike are beyond comprehension at this point in the summer.  There are fields and fields of flowers of infinite varieties.  Rivers of pink and yellow painted the mountainsides.  It was just stunning throughout the entire loop.  If you have the time, go for this walk and soak up the colors and views.  I cannot remember seeing this many brightly colored flowers all showing off at the same time.

To get there, drive to Donner Summit up old Hwy. 40.  Turn left just over the summit and drive through the dirt parking lot to a paved road.  Just down the road is the Pacific Trailhead and the beginning of the hike along with a small parking area.  About half the hike is along a portion of the PCT.  If you make the effort to hike this loop, be sure to take a short (100 yards) detour along the PCT beyond the intersection of the PCT and the Judah Loop Trail.  The Judah Loop Trail turns to the left where if leaves the PCT as you are walking south.  Walk the 100 yards to Roller Pass where you will see a couple of signed giving the history of this spot where emigrants hauled their wagons up a steep cliff before heading west toward the Sacramento Valley.  The Donner Summit Historical Society has placed a very nice informative sign at this location.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

Andy Wertheim: Best Wild Flower Hike Of The Year

Hello Friends,

This afternoon we headed to Blackwood Canyon along the westshore of Lake Tahoe to see if there were any wildflowers along a short and relatively easy hike into a box canyon well below Ellis Lake. There is a gravel turnout/parking area about 4.6 miles from the entrance to Blackwood Canyon at Highway 89.

Park at this location and cross the road. A few steps up the road on the south side of the road is an unmarked trail. Follow the trail as far as it goes. You will pass through a forest area lined with beautiful granite walls and boulders and walk through a lovely meadow before climbing very slightly where you end in a meadows with a running stream that meanders through it. You look up and find yourself surrounded by steep mountains in all colors from gray to rust to brown.

Look out for mosquitoes (they are biting), but enjoy the scenery. The flowers are fantastic and plentiful. There are fields of them in bloom. This was the best wildflower walk of the season for me.
This is a relatively easy and short hike. I would estimated it at 2 miles round trip.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

The Squaw Valley Community Is Not Willing To Accept “Significant & Unavoidable Impacts” Of The Village Project

Placer County Planner Alex Fisch starts his overview of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Village At Squaw Valley Project.

Placer County Planner Alex Fisch starts his overview of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Village At Squaw Valley Project.

It was a lonely day for Chevis Hosea, VP of Development for Squaw Valley. About 125 people showed up at the Placer County Planning Commission held in Kings Beach Thursday. Not one of them spoke in support of the proposed expansion of the Village at Squaw Valley. When the meeting was over, it seemed clear that the Squaw Valley community is not willing to accept the many “significant and unavoidable impacts” of the project identified in the Draft Environmental Impact Report, released by Placer County on May 15.

“This room is full at 10:00 am on a work day because people care about Squaw Valley and North Lake Tahoe, and they don’t agree with the future mapped out by KSL’s proposal.” Isaac Silverman, Sierra Watch

The Village at Squaw Valley Project portion of the meeting began with an overview of the dEIR by Placer County Planner Alex Fisch. Each of the 23 impacts that were designated as having “significant and unavoidable” impacts in the dEIR were the focus of the planner’s 45 minute presentation. In many cases, it seemed as if some of the key details were left out.

As an example, during Fisch’s discussion of visual resources and building heights, he never actually mentioned the maximum building height of 108 feet, nor did he show any illustrations of how those heights would actually affect the views. He also failed to talk about the issue of shadowing and how that would affect the village experience. He did suggest that these visual impacts were only noticeable to locals and that visitors would likely not notice the impact. Given that KSL is planning on filling beds with visitors from New York arriving on Jet Blue flights, there could be some truth to that – as long as they arrive after sunset.

Much of his presentation focused on the mitigations that might help offset some of the impacts. While many of the mitigations offered made sense, many seemed like a bandaid on a gaping flesh wound. I don’t think anybody was impressed by his statements that modern engine shrouds and mufflers would minimize the noise of heavy construction equipment. Regarding the increased traffic at Highway 89 and Squaw Valley Road, he suggested that one mitigation would be to simply increase the timing on the signal to improve flow into and out of the valley. While that might be fine if you’re going to Squaw Valley – it’s a major problem for those wanting to get to Alpine Meadows, Tahoe City or Truckee. Similarly, his suggestions that cataloguing, photographing and building an interpretive display to replace the historical Olympic buildings in the valley was off the mark – like that time your parents bought you a stuffed animal when you really, really wanted a puppy.

It was evident that Fisch may not spend much time in Tahoe, or that he drives no further than Squaw Valley when he does. When talking about mitigation of traffic at Highway 89 and Alpine Meadows Road, he mentioned that planning was in the process for installing a signal and widening the bridge to better handle increased traffic. Apparently he has not driven that way in the last 2 months to note that construction actually began on that project in May.

Chevis Hosea from Squaw Valley spoke next, as the applicant for the project. He was the only person to speak in favor of the project during the meeting. As always, Hosea focused on the argument that Squaw Valley had already reduced the project by 50%. We have said it before – it is an argument that holds no water. It is a common real estate developer tactic to ask for much more than you want initially, so you can later play that “we listened and we reduced” card. Hosea also threw out a hurried set of numbers and calculations that ultimately suggested that Squaw Valley Real Estate could develop 1500 housing units and actually reduce the number of developed acres in the valley by 9 acres. We’re betting that Hosea may have been pretty good at selling Yugos too.

For the next hour, the floor was opened to public commentary. Planning Commission Chair Ken Denio reminded people that commentary must be pertinent to the issues within the dEIR and not on the merits of the project itself. He also imposed a strict three minute time limit to each speaker.  During the comment period, 19 different speakers stepped to the podium, all of them speaking against the project.

While many great points were brought up by the 19 different speakers, addressing nearly all of the impacts, there were a couple of themes that kept popping up:

• The term “significant and unavoidable impacts” was an affront to many speakers. The dEIR does contain an alternative plan, which reduces the current plan by approximately another 50%. Following the alternative plan would eliminate most, but not all, of the impacts. While the alternative plan may not allow KSL Capital to meet it’s investment goals, it does protect Squaw Valley for locals and visitors alike, while allowing for reasonable growth and improvements.

• The potential for a 25 year construction period was of great concern to nearly every speaker. Both Fisch and Hosea suggested that the period may not last so long and would depend on the economy. We would suggest that it is equally likely that sometime in the next 25 years, a new owner may want to pursue even more development within the valley. One millennial speaker suggested that he would be in his mid-50’s by the time construction was complete, while a middle aged man suggested he might be dead before the construction was done.

“Tuesday Bluesday will become a heavy metal show with all the construction.” – Peter Schweitzer

• Several speakers addressed issues with the impacts from the development being underestimated by the dEIR. As an example, the traffic flow studies for “peak traffic” were conducted in February 2012. One speaker noted that regional media had heavily covered the lack of snow on Donner Summit that February and that surely that month would not be representative of true peak traffic. Similarly, as we have reported before, the water supply assessment was completed with data up through 2011, before the current 3 year drought began. Most speakers indicated that the dEIR was underestimating the impacts of the development proposal.

• The restoration of Squaw Creek is an important part of the redevelopment plan. The portion of the creek relegated to the “trapezoidal channel” next to the parking lot has resulted in a multitude of issues downstream. It’s not the kind of thing that anyone really thought about in the late 50’s during the preparation for the Olympics. The specific plan calls for a restoration of the creek only when the project is approximately half way to build out, which could be years away. Many speakers yesterday suggested that the creek restoration should be come a condition of the approval of any project.

• Another common theme was that the scope of the project is just too big for the scale of Olympic Valley, a relatively small valley. One speaker noted that the large village at Vail is in a valley that contains a four lane freeway, while the village at Aspen is built in a valley large enough to accommodate an airport that serves commercial jets. Another speaker noted that there is currently a 3 year inventory real estate in the valley – calling into question the need for 1500 new units.

That moment when you realize that you've been too busy taking notes to prepare your own comments. The author is surrounded by some of Squaw's finest citizens, there to express concerns about the dEIR.

That moment when you realize that you’ve been too busy taking notes to prepare your own comments…. The author is surrounded by some of Squaw’s finest citizens, there to express concerns about the dEIR.

There should have been a twentieth speaker Thursday. Due to my furious note taking, I decided to pass on my opportunity for public comment. I had hoped to share concerns about the impact of the project on the greater Lake Tahoe region. There will be far reaching impacts far outside of Squaw Valley. We have reported on them continuously since KSL Capital purchased Alpine Meadows. The economic impacts to the surrounding community are barely addressed within the dEIR. Businesses outside of the valley were severely affected by the development of the Intrawest village – as more people headed directly to the Valley and never left to spend tourism dollars in surrounding towns.

At the conclusion of the public commentary period, Commissioner Larry Sevison was the only Planning Commission member to make any meaningful comment on the issues brought up by the public. He hoped to see the concerns addressed when the final EIR is released, roughly in October. Sevison is the lone representative on the commission from east of the crest. Other than a cursory thank you from Chair Ken Denio, no other commissioners offered commentary on the dEIR.

It was refreshing to see the community come together Thursday to protect the future of Squaw Valley, Olympic Valley and the surrounding community of North Lake Tahoe. With the exception of a very few local businesses that stand to benefit from construction and an increased visitor population in the valley, the current proposal for the Village at Squaw Valley is not something the public seems to be supporting. We hope that the Placer County Planning Commission and Board Of Supervisors are willing to listen to the public, rather than cater to whims of an out of state equity firm.

For more on the meeting, check out the Sierra Watch Press Release.

If you missed the meeting, comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report can still be submitted. Public comments on the project will be received through July 17, 2015. Comments may be emailed to cdraecs@placer.ca.gov or mailed directly to:

  • Maywan Krach, Community Development Technician
  • Environmental Coordination Services
  • Placer County Community Development Resource Agency
  • 3091 County Center Drive, Suite 190
  • Auburn, CA 95603

Andy Wertheim: Great Summer Weather

Hello Friends,

Another week flies by and it is Blues Tuesday again at Squaw Valley.  Weather in Tahoe has been beautiful the past couple of days.  We did have rather windy conditions at times, but it is perfect now.  Perhaps even a little on the hot side. Our local mountain bike trails remain in good condition with plenty of wildflowers blooming along the way.

 The shoreline just south of DL Bliss. Photo via TripAdvisor

The shoreline just south of DL Bliss. Photo via TripAdvisor

Of course, lots of people and autos come along with summer in Tahoe.  Saturday we paddled our kayaks from Bliss Park to Emerald Bay, about a nine mile round trip (assuming you paddle into Emerald Bay.  The lake was calm for the entire trip and the boat traffic was tolerable which makes the tour that much better.  We did see a couple of Osprey sitting in trees.

If you plan to use the beach facilities at Bliss Park, then take this warning to heart.  Go early or be ready to find no parking.  I was forced to park in the overflow parking area at the Balancing Rock nature trailhead.  This is about 1.25 miles from the beach.  We arrived at the park about 10:30 and were obviously late.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim
Follow the jump for info on one of Andy’s latest listings near Shylandia 

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Placer County Planning Commission Will Meet Thursday: It’s Your Turn To Comment On The Squaw Valley Village Proposal

SVSH CEO Andy Wirth and VP Chevis Hosea address the crowd at Base Camp today.

SVSH CEO Andy Wirth and VP Chevis Hosea address the crowd at Base Camp in July 2014

The Placer County Planning Commission will be holding their June meeting in Kings Beach on Thursday, June 25th at 10:00 am. The primary agenda item for the morning is to accept public commentary on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (dEIR) for the Village at Squaw Valley project. It’s an important opportunity to let Placer County officials know that we care about the future of the North Lake Tahoe area.

We reported on the release of the dEIR last May. The document cautioned that the project would result in “significant and unavoidable impacts.” More than 2o specific concerns were raised in the report, many of which would have far reaching impacts outside of the Olympic Valley area. The report also highlights the possibility for as much as 25 years of continuous construction activity in the Valley. The infrastructure improvements to meet the needs of development in the Valley will result in years of delays and expenses for locals and visitors alike in the North Tahoe area.

While we know that many of you have already written letters to Placer County, it’s not too late to send your comments (details in our previous report). Even better, show up at this Thursday’s meeting in Kings Beach. It’s important that we let Placer County know that although KSL Capital does own a chunk of land in Olympic Valley, they do not own the future of Lake Tahoe.

We encourage you to reread our summary of the issues, and at least the Executive Summary portion of the dEIR and show up at the Planning Commission meeting this Thursday. The meeting will be held at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach at 10 am. If you have not been through Kings Beach, the perma-construction project is still in progress and parking is very limited, so plan some extra time or consider using public transportation. We hope to see you there!

Image courtesy of Keep Squaw True

Image courtesy of Keep Squaw True

A Return To Lakes Basin

Mount Elwell looms over Long Lake

Mount Elwell looms over Long Lake

The Lakes Basin Recreation Area is just a short hop away from Tahoe, so with a few extra days between jobs, we took a short little vacation opportunity last week. I am no stranger to the area, as it was literally our back yard for nearly 20 years. Less than an hour after leaving Truckee, we were pulling into the Lakes Basin Campground – located on Gold Lake Road, a dozen miles from Graeagle.

Over the years, I’ve camped in this campground more than 100 nights, and not much has changed since my last stay about 5 years ago. The campground is built amongst the remaining foundations of the Lake Center Lodge, which operated along Bear Creek from 1912 through 1977. While it’s quite a bit more crowded since it was discovered by Sunset magazine and the mountain biking community, it still remains a retreat from the busy days of summer around Lake Tahoe.

We were surprised to find the campground nearly “full” on a midweek evening, preventing us from securing one of the best sites until the next day. The campground, which used to non-reservable, has now joined the ranks of several other popular parks where reservations are made far in advance, and then campers never show up, leaving many sites reserved , but unoccupiable by real campers. Nonetheless, it’s hard to go wrong at Lakes Basin, and on our second day, the friendly and efficient campground host, Jane, allowed us to move into a prime site. We were then steps away from the swimming hole, built by the Sheridan family in 1949.

The Lakes Basin lives up to it’s name, with at least 12 lakes within easy hiking distance of the campground, and another 15 spread along Gold Lake road. One year, a large group of us made a goal of swimming in twenty of the lakes in one day. It turned out to be quite the challenge! This time we satisfied ourselves with taking the Bear Lakes loop, which visits 6 lakes over the course of 3.5 miles. We were all game for more, except for our Corgi, who needed to be carried the last mile back to camp on the second day.

Although there were many new faces around the camp, we still managed to run into families that we have seen camping there for more than 30 years. It’s been far too long for us, and we hope to get back for a couple of more trips this summer.