The Village At Squaw Valley: The Community Vs Big Money

The Final Environmental Impact Report for the Village at Squaw Valley project was released by Placer County officials earlier this month. We’ve been trying to pull together some cohesive story on the FEIR ever since. But with each passing day, more layers get added onto the story. It’s time to just buckle down and and do a quick summary.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report for the village project was released last May. The massive document identified 23 different “significant and unavoidable impacts” from the behemoth of a development, which calls for 1500 bedrooms, hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space, a 90,000 square foot indoor water park and more. While much of the project will be built over existing parking lots, some will be built over sensitive aquifer recharge zones in Shirley Canyon.

You can imagine that the public outcry over the DEIR was intense. More than 350 responses to the document were received by Placer County from everything from individual residents and visitors to local businesses and government agencies. Nearly every one of those responses were not in favor of the project to some degree. The primary objections had to do with the scale of the project and the potential for traffic, noise and other issues in the North Tahoe area.

Final Environmental Impact Report Offers Very Little Change

The FEIR document released this month is just as complicated as the DEIR. The final document requires that Placer County staff respond to each of the individual comments received on the draft. It took them more than 6 months to do so. Based on that feedback, you would hope that either the applicant, Squaw Valley Real Estate, or Placer County planning staff would make significant alterations to the plan to avoid those significant and unavoidable impacts. Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen.

The only plan that would avoid those impacts was the alternative that was proposed that cuts the scope of the project by about 50%. Squaw Valley VP Chevis Hosea has noted on several occasions that the reduced plan would not be financially feasible, meaning that it doesn’t meet KSL’s investment goals.

Looking at the county’s responses to the comments is just frustrating. What you see is page after page of this:

The comment provides an opinion regarding the merits or qualities of the proposed project and does not address the content, analysis, or conclusions in the DEIR. The Placer County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will take the commenter’s opinions into consideration when making decisions regarding the project.

In many cases, comments that suggested that specific elements of the DEIR might not be correct, such as parking or traffic studies, were simply ignored, with commenters being directed to just read the same section of the EIR again. There was nothing presented in the FEIR that even begins to suggest that the Placer County planning department is actually planning for the future of North Lake Tahoe residents and visitors, rather than planning for the future income potential for KSL investors.

The Community Cries Foul To Placer County

Placer County supervisors held their monthly meeting in Lake Tahoe on April 19th. There was not a shortage of people that wanted to tell them that the FEIR was insufficient in protecting the environment of Squaw Valley and the greater North Lake Tahoe region, most of which is under the jurisdiction of Placer County.

Placer County supervisors received the message "stop the madness" from opponents of the Village project. Image via the Sierra Sun.
Placer County supervisors received the message “stop the madness” from opponents of the Village project. Image via the Sierra Sun.

“In spite of hundreds of letters from individuals, regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and local businesses, the County has stood aside while KSL tries to cram this project into a place – into a beautiful, special place – where it clearly does not belong. For KSL, it’s full steam ahead on the Titanic.  And, so far, Placer County has proved unwilling to defend Tahoe from a development disaster.”  – Tom Mooers, Sierra Watch

Community leaders and concerned citizens were quick to point out that rather than listening to the feedback from concerned locals, the developer seemed to just double down and stick to their guns. The FEIR still identifies 20 “significant and unavoidable impacts.” Ultimately, most speakers were in agreement that the only solution was to significantly reduce the scale of the project by restarting at square one with a new vision. It’s a message that we all need to keep hammering into the Placer County Board of Supervisors.

Andy Plays The Victim
Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth appearing calm and cool in this image from the Sacramento Bee.
Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth appearing calm and cool in this image from the Sacramento Bee.

The Sacramento Bee* jumped into the fray by offering an article about the village proposal. The article, titled “Squaw Valley chief faces community opposition to expansion” focuses on Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth’s struggles to convince the local community that the supersized expansion is a good idea, or even necessary.

The article itself does a credible job of portraying the widespread community opposition to the plan. But it also give Wirth an extended opportunity to paint himself as the victim in the battle, and as someone whom is a charismatic leader. The article allows Wirth to tell the story of his skydiving accident, his participation as a hero in the Undercover Boss program, name drop a number of his daredevil friends in the valley, paint himself as an environmentalist that fancies John Muir, and the other misleading propaganda we have read over and over since 2011. The online version of the article even includes a video of Wirth describing his skydiving accident where he nearly sheds a tear.

Andy fails to talk about how he crushed the community driven effort at the incorporation of Olympic Valley, nor his attempt to coerce local non-profits to support the development plans. It also fails to portray the threatening communications he has routinely sent out to employees and even passholders regarding the development at Squaw Valley. Yes, Andy has that other side too.

The article also contains a number of inane Wirth quotes. We thought it would be fun to allow you to vote for your favorite one, but our polling plug-in broke with a recent release of WordPress. Here’s our favorites from the Sacramento Bee:

  • “Wirth said Squaw is perfectly complemented by Alpine Meadows, where wide and open runs appeal to less advanced skiers than those at Squaw.”
  • “Squaw Valley’s goal is to bring more skiers to the mountain, not make money from real estate”
  • “I run a $100 million company, but I’m not a corporate guy.”
What to do if you are also concerned?

It’s imperative that we continue to let the Placer County Board of Supervisors know about your opposition to the project. Whether you are a resident of Placer County, or some neighboring community, or just an occasional visitor to the area – we will all be affected by the approval of the current project. Contact the board at:

Placer County Board of Supervisors
175 Fulweiler Ave
Auburn, CA, 95603
You can also send your letter via email to bos@placer.ca.gov

 

The public scoping meetings on the proposed Base To Base Gondola are scheduled for May 9th. It’s a separate project that requires a separate intervention by the community. Look for our article later this week with more details.

*Access to the Sacramento Bee requires a subscription or bypassing their paywall.

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