The Proposed Village At Squaw Valley: Which Side Are You On?

Those "radical environmentalists" standing up for their mountain and their community last winter.
Those “radical environmentalists” standing up for their mountain and their community last winter.

The Placer County Planning Commission meeting is now just days away. At their August 11th meeting, the Commission will be discussing, and potentially approving or denying, the controversial Village At Squaw Valley Specific Plan. If you haven’t heard it enough, that meeting will be held at 10:30 AM at the North Tahoe Events Center in Kings Beach. We suggest you consider arriving earlier. We encourage you to attend if you care about the future of not just Squaw Valley, but also Alpine Meadows and the entire North Tahoe/Truckee region.

We’ve reported on the plan over what seems like 4,367 posts over the last 5 years. We know, it’s just as tiresome to read all of those posts as it has been writing all of them. Today’s posts seeks to summarize the two sides that will be in place for Thursday’s meeting – both seeking to convince Placer County officials that this development is either the best thing or the worst thing to ever happen in Lake Tahoe. We’re making mostly generalizations here, and we’re positive that there are a few people that just don’t fit into either side and would prefer to straddle both sides.

The People Who Support Sustainable Growth For North Tahoe…And Likely Oppose The Project At Some Level

Although they have been called “environmental radicals”, “anti-everythings”, and NIMBY’s – the truth is that the people that oppose the Village project, in its current form, are likely normal everyday people. Who do they include?

  • Local residents that chose to come to Lake Tahoe to raise families in a non-urbanized setting. They own homes and businesses or otherwise make their living and home in the North Tahoe region. They have been bringing their families to ski at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows for generations, and enjoying Lake Tahoe’s beaches, mountains and trails, with little need for additional amenities. They have felt the pinch of increasing numbers of visitors in Tahoe via the traffic on local highways and lines in the local markets and eateries.
  • Daytrippers from Northern California and Nevada are also frequently opposed to the Village project. They have also been coming to Tahoe for generations, leaving the Bay area or SacTown before dawn, and hoping to get a jump on the traffic on Interstate 80 and Highway 89. They’re gleeful if there is still some parking available when they arrive, and just want to grab a quick and affordable meal for the family before driving home after a day skiing or at the lake.
  • People that have taken the time to understand the environmental review process for the Village project are also likely to oppose the project. The Environmental Impact Report identified more than 20 “significant and unavoidable” impacts from the proposal. Most of these impacts were simply ignored or glossed over by Placer County officials, under the assumption that the financial benefits of the development might outweigh the numerous impacts. About 350 individuals, organizations and government agencies questioned the draft EIR’s validity in describing the actual impacts of the proposed development. About 3 individuals wrote in support of the project via the EIR comment process.
  • Sierra Watch has been around a long time and has been at the forefront of protecting the future of the Tahoe and Northern Sierra region for everyone. Sierra Watch has been instrumental in curbing overzealous proposals along Donner Summit and in Martis Valley and their oversight of the Village project has been welcome. Sierra Watch has done some amazing in depth looks at the environmental review process, providing literally thousands of pages of documentation about the true potential impacts of the project. The most recent release from Sierra watch is an 91 page letter to the Planning Commission from Sierra Watch’s legal representative that sums up why the EIR for the Village project fails to abide by the California Environmental Quality Act guidelines. One would assume that if the Planning Commission were to approve the project, Sierra Watch would likely sue them for not following the CEQA guidelines. Here’s a link to a copy of the EIR letter from Sierra Watch’‘s legal team.
  • The “Keep Squaw True” movement also opposes the Village project in it’s current form. You may have noted their purple shirts and stickers all over the region over the last year. The KST movement is a grassroots movement, supported by Sierra Watch, designed to educate locals and visitors alike about the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed Village. Dozens of local businesses also signed on with KST to oppose the project as well. The Business letter spells out some very important concerns. Personally we find it pretty hilarious that one group of second homeowners in Squaw Valley has attempted to paint the Keep Squaw True movement as a bunch of out-of-town radical environmentalists that is trying to squelch their voice.
This one looks dangerous...
This one looks dangerous…
  • The Friends of Squaw Valley, a group of local homeowners who will have to live the rest of their lives in a construction zone if the project and 25 years of construction is approved. FoSV has been advocating for a “goldilocks solution” that finds a happy medium and strikes a balance. The grassroots organization has also done a great job of bringing awareness to KSL’s grand plans.
  • Many people that loved Alpine Meadows, the way it used to be, are also opposed to the Village project. They have seen the erosion of the Alpine Meadows experience over the last 4 years and know that will only become a bigger problem if the village expands and the Base To Base gondola is built. There’s a reasonable line of thinking that if the Village expansion is denied and a new proposal is not submitted, that the reasoning for building the gondola would also go by the wayside. There would even be a potential that KSL Capital would sell off Alpine Meadows separately to recover some costs from the failed project. It could happen.
We sold more of these this season than other other sticker produced by Unofficial Alpine.
We sold more of these this season than other other sticker produced by Unofficial Alpine.
The People That Stand To Make Money From The Village Project…And Therefore Likely Support The Project

To identify those that support the Village at Squaw Valley project, all you have to do is determine what they have to gain, a.k.a. “What’s in it for me?”

  • Obviously, the Village At Squaw Valley is a very big deal (estimates call for $1 billion when completely built out) to Squaw Valley Ski Holdings and the real estate division, known as Squaw Valley Real Estate. Without a doubt, there’s still some SVSH employees that do truly care about the future of the region. But the decisions will be made by those that have to answer to KSL Capital, which is ultimately the owner of everything Squaw. KSL Capital itself is an out of state private equity firm and the investors in the particular fund that owns SquAlpine could be from anywhere. Reportedly, CalPERS is one of the largest investors in the fund that owns SquAlpine. As much as CalPERS might want to care about the future of Lake Tahoe, their single charge is to make sure that there is plenty of money around to fund the retirement needs of State of California workers. Nobody at KSL Capital cares about your mountain experience or the Tahoe community and environment.
  • There has been limited public support of the project from local builders, architects, mortgage brokers and real estate agents that are all positioning to get their slice of the pie from the Village. They have been pretty shameless in writing letters to the Sierra Sun and adding positive commentary on Facebook. We noted that a couple of them even wrote to the Planning Commission directly. Money is a powerful force for sure.
Athlete sponsorships are pure gold for SVSH. Image via SFGate.com
Athlete sponsorships are pure gold for SVSH. Image via SFGate.com
  • We’ve noted before that some local nonprofits, professional athletes and a few other small businesses have been coerced to speak up in favor of the projects, after Squaw Valley somehow donated to their cause or otherwise gave them some financial incentive to be beholden to Andy Wirth’s dream. Once again, money talks.
  • A couple of groups of second homeowners have also come out in favor of the project – not all of them, but a couple of them. This group does include a few full owners of condo properties in the valley, but most of them simply hold timeshares within Olympic Valley. The timeshare rental and resale market is difficult just about everywhere on the planet, including Squaw Valley. It’s likely that these people are working under the assumption that adding a 90,000 square foot indoor waterpark/bowling center/climbing gym or whatever it becomes would make their unit more marketable in the rental or resale market. Some of these people have likely been trying to sell their timeshare for 15 years, still regretting the day they took a free lift ticket in trade for a tour.
  • The uninformed casual visitor to Squaw Valley is also likely to support the project. They wandered through the Village and got hooked into visiting the Base Camp propaganda center. They may have have seen one of the hundreds of posts from Squaw Valley on Facebook. Somehow, they have managed to avoid the Highway 89 traffic junkshow because they arrived by taxi late at night and then never left the Valley and saw Lake Tahoe only from the top of the tram. A new indoor waterpark? That sure sounds like fun!
Did the people that got this mailer know about the 20+ significant impacts in the EIR? Probably not...
Did the people that got this mailer know about the 20+ significant impacts in the EIR? Probably not…
  • People that were directed to the Squaw Tomorrow website through Facebook, the TV advertisement we noted last week, or the latest mailer that was sent out to residents in western Placer County. They have only heard about the potential tax benefits from the project, or saw that it might provide more jobs, or provides a paltry sum for creek restoration. Those people may have never even visited Squaw Valley, but hope they might some day. They have not read about those 20+ significant and unavoidable impacts noted in the EIR, nor are they aware that there is huge public opposition to the project. They just clicked the link on the website or filled out the postcard and blindly instructed the Planning Commission to approve the project, thinking that some of those taxes might trickle down to funding their local school or fixing a pothole on their street in Auburn.

So there you have it, a vast oversimplification of how the sides will line up this Thursday. We are sure that we have missed some parts or that we have something not quite right – but we’ve been watching this process closely since the day Alpine Meadows was scooped up by Squaw Valley.

The Planning Commission meets Thursday, August 11th at 10:30 AM. The meeting will be held at the North Tahoe Event Center in Kings Beach, which is right next to the beach parking lot. It is pretty certain that both parking and chairs will be at a premium, just like Squaw Valley on any weekend with decent skiing. Arrive early. Your participation will help to protect the future of Lake Tahoe for everyone.

This is likely the last in a series of articles we have been publishing in preparation for this month’s Planning Commission meeting. Unless Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth has more tricks up his sleeve, we don’t anticipate publishing another article before Thursday. With Washoe County schools rebooting this week, my work schedule will be uber busy all week. In fact, it’s unlikely that I will make it to the meeting myself as I can’t get a replacement for me at work. The reality is that my calling is to inform a whole lot of people and get them involved in the process. Hopefully you have been inspired….  Mark @ UA

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