Placer County Releases Squaw Valley Development Report: Initial assessment warns of traffic, noise, and highrises

Olympic Valley, Calif. – Placer County planning officials released their initial environmental assessment of proposed development in Squaw Valley today. The document paints a bleak picture of traffic, construction, and high-rises for the Tahoe Sierra.

“The county’s report makes it crystal clear,” said Tom Mooers of the conservation non-profit Sierra Watch. “Proposed development in Squaw Valley threatens everything we value about Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada.”

Meadow and Mountain

Meadow and Mountain, Squaw Valley

KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Denver, Colorado, purchased Squaw Valley in 2010, citing the property’s “great growth potential”. They filed an initial application for development entitlements in 2011 that has undergone some revision of the last four years.

Yesterday’s release of planning documents included the final version of the “Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan” − and a detailed assessment of what that project would mean to Squaw Valley and the surrounding North Tahoe Region.

The proposal would remake Squaw Valley with a series of highrise hotels and condo projects with 1,500 new bedrooms − as many as in three of the giant highrise casinos at Tahoe’s Stateline combined − and a massive indoor amusement park as big as a Walmart and ten-stories tall, with waterslides, fake rivers, arcades, and simulated sky-diving.

All told, the project would be so big it would take 25 years to construct.

Proposed Building Heights

Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan: Proposed Building Heights

“This is a development proposal the likes of which North Tahoe has never seen,” said Mooers of Sierra Watch. “It threatens to displace scenic views and outdoor fun in the Tahoe Sierra with highrises and indoor amusements.”

California planning law requires thorough environmental review of large development proposals. The initial assessment Placer County released Friday, known as a Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR), is designed to encourage public involvement and inform decision makers.

The Draft EIR for the proposed Squaw Valley development runs over 2,000 pages and assesses the project’s potential impacts on everything from water quality to climate change.

Its initial findings are clear: proposed development would have “significant” and “unavoidable” impacts on Squaw Valley − and beyond.

According to the Draft EIR, development would add to area traffic and “exacerbate unacceptable operations” on Highway 89 in Tahoe City, in Truckee, and in between.

In terms of Squaw’s iconic mountain scenery, the project would make a “substantial contribution to the cumulative degradation of the existing visual character or quality of the site and its surroundings” with a “significant and unavoidable impact on scenic vistas.”

Because the project would destroy two of the remaining three buildings from the 1960 Winter Olympics, it would have “significant and unavoidable” impacts on Squaw Valley’s cultural resources.

The project would threaten the peace and quiet of the mountains; generating noise louder than “applicable Placer County noise standards”, especially for the 25 years it would be under construction − even at night.

It would threaten the Sierra’s famously starry sky, by developing “a new source of substantial light or glare that would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area”. The local light pollution would be “significant and unavoidable”.

Beyond its local impacts, the project would have global implications as well. It’s so big that, according to the Draft EIR, proposed development would put Squaw Valley on the wrong side of climate change, with “the potential to result in a substantial contribution to GHG (Global Greenhouse Gas) emissions”, the fundamental culprit in global warming.

Closer to home, the proposed development and its likely impacts make it the biggest development issue facing the Sierra Nevada.

“The Draft EIR encourages us to ask some important questions about the Tahoe experience,” said Mooers. “Do we want to take our kids to sit in traffic and play in an arcade? Or do we want to find peace and quiet and share the great outdoors?”

Construction

Construction Traffic, Highway 89

Regulatory agencies, local jurisdictions, and the general public now have 60 days to digest the massive document and submit comments to Placer County.

Sierra Watch has lined up a team of experts in planning, hydrology, wildlife biology, land use law, and even herpetology to analyze the Draft EIR and its findings.

“We will engage the best experts in our review of the Draft EIR,” said Isaac Silverman, Staff Attorney for Sierra Watch. “Squaw Valley deserves no less.”

Additionally, Sierra Watch is bringing on a full-time grassroots organizer to recruit citizen comments and ensure public participation. “The best way to secure sound planning is to include meaningful public involvement,” said Silverman. “If you’re interested in shaping a good future for Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra Nevada, now’s the time.”

According to Placer County, public comments will be received through July 17, 2015. They can 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

And those interested in more information about Sierra Watch and its effort to Keep Squaw True should contact Isaac Silverman at (530) 265-2849, ext. 203; or visit keepsquawtrue.org.

KSL has money for a water park but not for the mountain

So I was at Squaw Valley on Wednesday.  I made some turns in honest to goodness powder and even jumped off a few things.

I wasn't at the back of the line

I wasn’t at the back of the line

I also spent at least 15 minutes suspended off the ground on a stalled Siberia Express chairlift on my second chair of the day.  It felt like several lifetimes.  Then, after a phenomenal run from the top of Emigrant through a mostly untracked attic, encountered an absolutely monstrous line for Shirley and a lift that stopped and started too many times to count while I waited.

And yes, mountain run was inexplicably plowed bare and running Granite Chief, Headwall, and Solitude could have done a lot to alleviate the very long lift lines.  Or maybe operate that other ski resort Alpine Meadows one valley over.  That might have helped too.

You know what? I made the best of it. When I was stuck in line I threw some snowballs, joked with

Robb Thomas via www.snowbrains.com

friends, and handed out Keep Squaw True koozies to folks enjoying a beer. I watched people more talented and less sane than I throw themselves (with mixed results) off some huge cliffs.  It was a really fun day.

On one level it’s pretty easy to understand where Squaw is coming from.  We are in the middle (well hopefully the end) of a historically bad run of seasons.  How bad? Well as of April 1st Tahoe City had recorded 20” of snowfall.  That’s 1/3 of the previously recorded record low set, wait for it, last year.  There likely are not enough people left on staff to run those lifts, open additional terrain, police mountain run, etc.

But the more time I spend thinking about it the less forgiving I am. That’s because operations is only a small part of a much larger picture.  At the same time that the mountain seemingly runs on fumes, KSL Capital Partners is spending untold millions of dollars on real estate development specialists, attorneys, political operatives, and environmental consultants.  All to make the case for high-rise condo hotels, multi-million dollar timeshare “cabins” in the mouth of Shirley Canyon, and a 90,000’ indoor amusement park.

Squaw Valley is about the mountain. That’s one of the core ideas behind Keep Squaw True.   If KSL understood that they wouldn’t be spending so much money pushing such a destructive and out of touch plan, and they would have found a way to spin some more lifts on an honest to goodness powder day at the end of the worst season on record.  If you agree you should add your name to our petition.

I’ll leave you with some POV footage from Andy Hays, one of our Keep Squaw True ambassadors, doing his thing in the Chimney at Squaw on Saturday.  Nailed it.

Get published! How to write an effective letter to the editor about Squaw Valley development

Letters to the editor are an easy but effective way to help Keep Squaw True.  They educate fellow citizens about what’s at stake in Squaw Valley and the Tahoe-Sierra and they are an important way to demonstrate public opinion to important decisionmakers, whether they sit at a desk in Denver or serve on the Placer County Board of Supervisors.

Read on for tips for writing effective letters to the editor.

Getting published and making your point

  1. Make one point and make it well.  Letters to the editor must comply with strict word limits and there typically is not space to address multiple issues in a compelling manner.
  2. Make it personal. The letter should clearly communicate why you want a better future for Squaw Valley than KSL’s current plan.  Maybe you live in Truckee and work in Tahoe City (or vice versa) and are concerned about the increased traffic.  Maybe you live in the Bay Area and come to the mountains to get away from city life and not to spend more time around highrises.  Or maybe you have fond childhood memories of summer dips in the waterfalls of Squaw Creek and want that, not a massive indoor water park, for your own children.  Whatever your angle, making it personal makes it more powerful.
  3. A typical structure for an effective letter is:
    1. State the general problem/issue/threat. No need for sensationalism but this should be written to grab the reader’s attention.
    2. Elaborate on the issue. Make it specific.
    3. Provide a solution, in both general and specific forms.
    4. Conclude with a summary and the main message that you want to convey.
  4. Relate your letter to a recent article. While this is not a strict requirement at all news outlets it demonstrates that you are a reader and will increase your chances of getting published.
  5. Read all of the rules for the specific newspaper you are submitting to.  Follow them!

Below, find an example of a LTE we submitted to Sacramento Bee following (most) of these basic rules. The Sacramento Bee is tough since they limit you to 150 words.

Re: Drought alters face of Tahoe Tourism

The drought is tough, but irresponsible development, not a run of poor snow years, is the biggest threat to Squaw Valley and the Tahoe-Sierra.

KSL Capital Partners purchased Squaw Valley in 2010 and is asking Placer County’s permission for a resort development unlike anything North Lake Tahoe has ever seen—four city blocks worth of highrise condo hotels, a 108’ tall 90,000 square foot indoor water and amusement park near the existing village, and timeshare “cabins” in the mouth of Shirley Canyon.

This proposal to remake Squaw Valley into a luxury destination resort would diminish the very things that make Squaw Valley special.  Learn more and sign our petition to Keep Squaw True.

When the snow returns, decisions made in the coming months will determine whether or not it falls on a resort true to the mountains and the people who love them.

Rules and procedures for letters to the editor at local news outlets

Submitting a letter to the editor is relatively straightforward, but you must pay careful attention to the requirements of each individual news outlet.

Below I’ve identified the primary news outlets that are important for spreading our message and influencing decisionmakers regarding Squaw Valley and listed each one’s policies concerning letters to the editor.

Auburn Journal

The Auburn Journal utilizes an online form for LTE submission. That form, which asks for name, address, telephone #, and email is available at:

http://www.auburnjournal.com/contact/forms/letter-editor

Letters should be no longer than 200 words and must include a name, address and phone number and must be signed or confirmed by the editor. Letter writers are limited to one every 30 days

Tahoe Daily Tribune/Sierra Sun Times

The Tahoe Daily Tribune/Sierra Sun Times uses a webform for LTE submissions.  The form is available at: http://apps.tahoedailytribune.com/utils/forms/index2.php?formId=lettertoeditor.

Official guidelines for letters are copied below.

The decision to print any submission is completely at the discretion of the Tahoe Daily Tribune editor. Letters must include the author’s name, hometown, affiliation (if any) and phone number (for verification of authorship only). Form letters and letters considered libelous, obscene or in bad taste will not be printed. Anonymous letters will not be printed. Tahoe Daily Tribune reserves the right to edit all letters. Because of space constraints, please limit your letters to 300 words. Letters containing long lists of names will not be printed. The deadline for submissions is noon, three days before publication.

Moonshine Ink

Moonshine Ink does not list specific LTE guidelines however short and to the point is good for this format. Limiting the letter to 250 words or less is a good rule of thumb.  Submissions, including your name, email address, telephone contact #, and address, can be sent directly to editorial department at editors@moonshineink.com or via their contact form at: http://www.moonshineink.com/connect.

Reno Gazzette Journal

Letters and columns may be published and/or distributed in print, electronic and other forms.  Letters to the editor can be sent electronically by either e-mailing them to letters@rgj.com or using their online form. You can also fax your letters to the editor at (775) 788-6458 or send them by USPS to Reno Gazette-Journal, Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 22000, Reno, NV 89520.  Letters are limited to 200 words and may be edited for length and clarity.  Submissions that are considered potentially libelous will not be published. Writers are limited to one letter every two months.

Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento Bee utilizes a web form to collect letters to the editor.  To be considered for publication the Bee imposes a 150 word limit and a requirement that the letter responds to a specific story or letter previously published in the Sacramento Bee.  They ask that an individual only submit one letter every 30 days. Due to the high volume of letters they ask you not to call to confirm receipt.

The form, available at http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/submit-letter/, also asks for your name, postal address, daytime phone number, email address, the date and headline of the story or letter to which you’re responding and a suggested headline.

San Francisco Chronicle

You can submit letters to the editor of 200 words or less at: www.sfgate.com/submissions.

Letters should be 200 words or fewer. Shorter letters have a better chance of publication.

San Jose Mercury News

Submit via email at letters@mercurynews.com and make sure to put letter to the editor in the subject line. You must also include full name, address, and phone number.

Letters may also be submitted via fax @ (408) 271-3792.

 

We’re Hiring! Come work with Sierra Watch to Keep Squaw True

Sierra Watch

              Keep Squaw True


Sierra Watch Field Organizer

Position Description

Sierra Watch seeks a passionate conservation advocate to recruit and mobilize grassroots involvement as Field Organizer for our campaign to Keep Squaw True.

Sierra Watch
Founded in 2001, Sierra Watch has built a remarkable record of measurable success in Sierra conservation.

We spearheaded the long-term effort to protect Tahoe’s Martis Valley, played the lead role in turning back irresponsible development on Donner Summit, and now we’re building our leadership team to protect iconic Squaw Valley.

This is a dream-job opportunity to play a determining role in what is shaping up to be big the biggest conservation issue in the Sierra Nevada.

The Field Organizer will staff our Squaw Valley Field Office as part of a focused, effective, results-driven organization with a staff of four and headquarters in Nevada City, California.
For more information, visit:

sierrawatch.org
keepsquawtrue.org

Position Description
Sierra Watch seeks an effective advocate to lead the grassroots component of our concerted Keep Squaw True campaign.  Responsibilities will include: recruiting and mobilizing volunteers;generating constituent letters and citizen input to decision makers; organizing outreach events and community forums; expanding social media reach;turning out people to key public hearings and community events; and coordinating involvement in broader Tahoe volunteer opportunities.

The ideal candidate has one-two years professional organizing or equivalent leadership experience and has demonstrated entrepreneurial leadership in setting priorities and following through.

The position demands excellent communications skills.  A passion for the Sierra Nevada is a must; a sense of humor is encouraged.

Salary DOE with health benefits − and a season pass to Squaw Valley. Location is North Lake Tahoe, California.

To Apply
Send a cover letter, resume, writing/media sample, and references to:

 Field Organizer Search
tmooers@sierrawatch.org
Position is open until filled. Please, no drop-ins.

Squaw Valley Looks to Martis Valley for Water Security, New Development

yubanet header

Published on Feb 26, 2015 – 8:55:10 AM

By: Tom Mooers, Sierra Watch

Squaw Dry in September

Olympic Valley, Calif. February 26, 2015 – The Board of Directors of Squaw Valley’s primary water provider yesterday reaffirmed its intent to solve its local problems with water imports from Martis Valley.

In a 4-1 vote, the Squaw Valley Public Services District (SVPSD) directed staff to “…define a preferred water supply alternative from Martis Valley” as a “redundant water supply” and to identify sites for wells and a pumping station in Martis Valley, a pipeline corridor, and terminal storage tanks in Squaw Valley.

The SVPSD seeks water imports in order to serve new and existing customers in an emergency caused by drought or local contamination. But the district also acknowledged that if the pipeline were built, the new water resource would also be available to support new development.

“We share the district’s concern about water security,” said Isaac Silverman of conservation non-profit Sierra Watch. “But what we learned today is that water exports from Martis Valley could be used to support new development in Squaw Valley.”

Yesterday’s discussion over Squaw Valley’s future took place amidst the harsh reality of record-breaking drought and, also, the possibility of massive new development on the valley floor.

In Squaw Valley, painful reminders of prolonged drought are all around. With only about 25% of the annual snowpack, south facing slopes are bare. Earlier this month, the ski resort had to cancel World Cup events scheduled for March.

Although the current drought has been severe, according to SVPSD General Manager Mike Geary, “It’s not the worst case scenario for water in Squaw Valley.”

What really concerns him is “…extended drought with timing of storms that won’t be as fortuitous as the last few years.” Regarding the current drought he said, “We’ve been pretty lucky.”

Meanwhile, future demand threatens to put even more pressure on insecure supplies; Denver-based KSL Capital Partners seeks entitlements to build out a series of ten-story tall highrise condo/hotels, with 1,500 new bedrooms and an indoor water park they say will “compete with Lake Tahoe” for tourist dollars.

Last summer, the water district released a state-mandated ‘Water Supply Assessment’ for KSL’s proposed development. That study concluded that there would be enough water in the local watershed to provide new customers with ample water.

But that assessment did not include any data from the existing drought, now in its record-breaking fourth year. So, at yesterday’s meeting, the district decided to redo its studies, including up-to-date data from the ongoing drought.

Geary stated that, although he believed the current assessment met minimum legal requirements, project proponents agreed to redo the assessment over concerns that the initial Water Supply Assessment would be “…more challengeable if it did not include the severe drought we are currently in.”

The new assessment, due out in July, is expected to incorporate streamflow and well-elevation data over the last three years as well as increased snowmaking and adjusted occupancy projections. The final version will be folded into the environmental assessment for KSL’s development proposal, a draft of which is due out in April.

Meanwhile, SVPSD will look for well sites in Martis Valley and a corridor for an underground pipe along the Truckee River.

Martis Valley interests, however, are unenthusiastic about exporting its resources to supply new development in Squaw. SVPSD board member Carl Gustafson, voiced his disapproval as well, saying that that taking water from one watershed and moving to another is simply “bad policy.”

Tahoe area conservationists promise to monitor every step of each planning process, engaging experts and coordinating public participation along the way.

“For anywhere in region, if the problem is too much development and not enough water, the solution is not to import water from somewhere else in Tahoe,” said Silverman. “The last thing Tahoe needs is a pipeline to supply new highrises.”