Placer County Planning Commission Approves The Squaw Debacle 4-2

One thing is for sure, Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth and his minions are great at attempting to crush the last bit of soul out of Squaw Valley and the rest of the North Tahoe region. I thought it was better if I did not actually attend today’s meeting, and my 12 hour workday prevented it. So instead of any sort of editorial tonight, we’re just posting the Sierra Watch’s latest press release just about verbatim. We would love to have your comments… 

The Placer County Planning Commission voted today 4-2 to recommend approval of a massive development proposal for Tahoe’s Squaw Valley.

“The bad news is that the Planning Commission chose irresponsible development over the values of Tahoe, the will of the community, and the laws of California,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch, the conservation group leading the effort to Keep Squaw True. “The good news is that this is not a done deal.  The proposal will go to the County Board of Supervisors next and it’s up to them to stick up for Squaw.”

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KSL Capital Partners’ development proposal would remake Squaw Valley and the North Tahoe region with a series of highrises and a massive indoor waterpark.

The Denver-based private equity firm is asking for entitlements for 25 years – and $1 billion worth – of development.  Their proposal has become the biggest development issue in the Sierra Nevada.

Concerns focus on a number of important issues: including traffic; – in the summer the project would add 8,410 new daily car trips to North Tahoe’s existing gridlock; Tahoe – many of those cars (1,353 each day) would head into the Tahoe Basin; and water – the project would consume 78,263,299 gallons of water annually.

Today’s hearing came in the context of growing opposition to the proposed development.

Earlier this week, the California Attorney General weighed in with a scathing letter, urging Placer County to deny approval of the project. “The California Attorney General has a longstanding interest in the protection of Lake Tahoe as a state and national treasure,” according to the fifteen-page letter, dated August 9, 2016.  “Because of the proximity of the proposed development to Lake Tahoe, we are concerned about the impacts the development will have within the Tahoe Basin.”

For the first two hours of today’s hearing, Placer County staff joined KSL in a series of presentations to advocate approval of the project. Andy Wirth served as chief spokesperson for KSL.  He touted a “50% reduction from where we started,” and a promised real estate transfer fee, designed to raise $15 million in community benefit fees.                    

Did Andy feel like he needed protection today?
Did Andy feel like he needed protection today?

Whit Manley, attorney for the developer, sought to assuage concerns about how the new buildings, the tallest of which would be 96-feet, impact Squaw’s famous scenery.  Manley said, “These are not going to block views of the mountains.” “We are not a developer,” Wirth told the Commission.  “We care about our legacy and we care about our mountains.”

Most of the speakers who followed seemed to disagree. Opposition focused on specific issues, such as traffic on local roads and the clarity of Lake Tahoe, as well as big picture issues–like the unique sense of place and mountain values of North Lake Tahoe.

David Blau of the League to Save Lake Tahoe slammed the County for ignoring the project’s impacts on Lake Tahoe.  “The lake is a national, state, and local treasure but has been ignored,” said Blau.  “But in the County’s review, it may as well be on the far side of the moon.”

Steve Hanson, owner of Video Stop in Tahoe City, stood up to represent 63 small business owners who have joined in asking Placer County to deny the project. “We are not anti-development, and we are not afraid of change,” said Hansen.  “But the traffic is strangling the businesses.”

Commander Ryan Stonebraker of the California Highway Patrol reinforced public safety concerns related to the ability of Tahoe’s limited infrastructure to handle more development. “This is about public safety. We have an abundance of congestion,” said Stonebraker.  “My concern is that we have a massive amount of development and growth – how much can we sustain?  We have to do what’s appropriate for the community and the safety of everybody here.”

“Take the timeless values of Tahoe to heart,” Tom Mooers of Sierra Watch urged the Commission.”  And vote to deny the project.” Labor and the local workforce also turned out for the hearing, setting up a display of the grim reaper outside and, inside, joining the chorus of opposition to the proposed development.                    

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Some audience members spoke in favor of the project.  Many were employees of the developer who bussed employees to Kings Beach for the meeting. Local developer Ciro Mancuso, father of famed Olympian Julia Mancusco, told the Commission, “What Squaw is asking for is very reasonable.”

After nine hours – at 7:30 p.m. – the public comment period was closed, and the Commission began their deliberations. Commissioners sought specifics on the proposed indoor waterpark and its uses, asking if it would really be an indoor waterpark. “There would probably be some wet components in this waterpark,” answered Chevis Hosea of KSL.  He touted a “smorgasbord of activities, including water slides, action rivers, training facilities, bowling, and multi-generational arcades.” Hosea said final decisions would be based on research of their customer base.  “Kids love water,” he said.  “We’ll also probably have indoor sky diving.  A lot of fun things there.”

And then the Commission was ready to vote. In a series of motions, they voted 4-2 to certify the environmental review for the project and recommend that the Board of Supervisors give their full approval. Commissioners Johnson, Moss, Roccucci, and Sevison voted to approve the project.  Commissioners Gray and Nader voted against the development. The Commission’s recommendation will go to the Placer County Board of Supervisors, likely sometime this fall.

Keep Squaw True supporters were disappointed but undaunted.

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“If you were there, you would have heard the passion and goodwill from our community all day long,” said Robb Gaffney, author of the book Squallywood and Keep Squaw True volunteer.  “And Placer County just thumbed us down.  But it’s not over, and we’ll be back. There has never been a more important time in North Tahoe for all of us to be involved,” said Gaffney, “fighting for what we know to be authentic and true.”

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