Sierra Watch: Squaw Update and Gondola Alert

The lifts have stopped spinning and it’s a lovely 74 degrees in Tahoe City.

As we swing into summer in the Sierra, here’s a quick update and timely alert: 

Pictured: Professional cliff diver and Keep Squaw True supporter, Brandon Beck, at Lake Tahoe

Update: Sierra Watch Challenging Squaw Valley Development

On May 24, our mountains had a day in court. In a day-long hearing, Sierra Watch spelled out how Placer County’s 2016 approvals were illegal under state planning laws.

Pictured: Placer County Superior Courthouse in Roseville

The Sierra Sun was there to cover the hearing:

“Sierra Watch’s attorneys argue Placer County fell well short of fully analyzing the impacts of Squaw Valley’s planned 25-year village redevelopment project, particularly when it comes to fire safety, traffic and resulting environmental effects on the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

We’ve pasted their full coverage below.

Alas this is not an episode of Law and Order; it does not get resolved in one hour. Our arguments are built on years of long-term effort. And a decision isn’t due for another 90 days. In the meantime, we’ll be out talking to folks who love Tahoe and getting them involved in our ongoing effort to Keep Squaw True.

Alert: Forest Service Accepting Comments on Proposed Gondola

The United States Forest Service is accepting written comments on KSL and Alterra Mountain Company’s proposal to construct an aerial gondola of 37 towers traversing 2.5 miles of the Pacific Crest of the Sierra Nevada from Squaw to Alpine.

It’s important to remember that, although the Forest Service is also considering alternative alignments, KSL is still applying for permission to run the gondola through land designated by Congress for national wilderness protection.

Pictured: KSL’s proposed gondola route

And the integrity of Granite Chief Wilderness – as seen on the right side of the picture above –  is not the only issue at stake. 

Even the project’s most “environmentally superior” route would have 33 adverse environmental impacts on important Tahoe values; including increased traffic, loss of wildlife habitat, and destruction of that unique Sierra experience the Forest Service calls “solitude or primitive unconfined recreation.”

Sierra Watch is engaging experts in planning, wildlife, and traffic to better understand the proposal and what it would mean to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and our Tahoe Sierra. We’ll be submitting thorough and robust comments to the Forest Service. 

Pictured: Simulated mid-way station at Barstool Lake

If you care about this issue, you should send them a letter, too. Comments are due June 11, 2018.  You can learn more about the project here:

          https://www.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/

You can mail or email comments to:

          U.S. Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Ranger District

          c/o NEPA Contractor

          P.O. Box 2729

          Frisco, CO 80443

          Email: Comments@squawalpinegondola-eis.com

And there is an online comment form here:

          https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=48417

There’s no better time to get involved.  One thing Sierra Watch has learned: the more that people get involved, the better the chance that important decisions reflect our shared values.

— From the Sierra Sun

Forging ahead: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows pushes forward with development, gondola projects

by Brian Hamilton, Editor of Sierra Sun and The Union – May 31, 2018

Pictured: (Sierra Sun File Photo) Opponents, wearing purple “Keep Squaw True” T-shirts, of Squaw Valley’s village redevelopment plan made their case before the Placer County Board of Supervisors, which approved the project by a 4-1 vote in November 2016. The prohect is the subject of two lawsuits filed by Sierra Watch

Sierra Watch’s attorneys argue Placer County fell well short of fully analyzing the impacts of Squaw Valley’s planned 25-year village redevelopment project, particularly when it comes to fire safety, traffic and resulting environmental effects on the Lake Tahoe Basin.

And the nonprofit organization, which has led an opposition campaign “Keep Squaw True,” recently took that case to court. That lawsuit is one of two filed by Sierra Watch over Placer County’s approval, with another alleging supervisors violated California’s Brown Act.

Both cases were argued in courtrooms in May, while another planned project — a gondola linking Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows — was also the topic of a public hearing in the past week.

“Just because the project is not located in the Basin, doesn’t mean impacts on the Basin shouldn’t be considered,” Daniel Selmi, a Sierra Watch attorney, said in a May 24 hearing in Placer County Superior Court. “The County’s obligation is to examine the impacts. The village will generate some traffic and some of that traffic will venture into the Basin … an environmentally stressed area. It’s obvious. There’s not some sort of wall between the two. Lake Tahoe is the draw up there.”

Selmi and fellow Sierra Watch attorneys outlined what they deemed as deficits in the meeting requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act, arguing Placer County approved the project despite failing to consider the full impact on the region and its residents through a thorough analysis.

Whit Manley, representing Squaw Valley, said the project’s environmental impact report met all requirements, and that Squaw Valley went beyond its obligation under law to mitigate the impacts identified. But it’s no surprise Sierra Watch isn’t satisfied by the report, saying the organization doesn’t seem to recognize efforts to mitigate issues outlined, which has included scaling back the scope of the project from 1,877 residential units to 1,295 in 2011, and then again to the 850 units eventually approved.

“I recognize the petitioner thinks that’s still too many,” Manley told Judge Michael Jones. “I don’t know what’s acceptable to them. But what matters, ultimately, is what is acceptable to the Board of Supervisors.”

He said the court should not be asked to weigh which side has “better evidence,” but whether the supervisors’ conclusion — approval — was within the boundary of the law, as opposed to “second-guessing people elected to make these decisions.”

FULL FIRE DANGER KNOWN?

The project’s environmental impact report raised more questions than it answered, said Amy Bricker, a Sierra Watch attorney who addressed impacts on fire safety with added traffic to evacuation routes, already estimated to take several hours to move everyone out of the area. She said while a “shelter in place” approach discussed in the report might provide safety to some, it doesn’t fully consider the project’s impact on a site designated a very high Fire Hazard Severity Zone.

In his opposition brief to Sierra Watch’s suit, Manley wrote “the Board found that the Project would not interfere with adopted emergency evacuation plans, and that people or structures would not be exposed to a significant risk of loss from wildland fires.”

“The question is how bad is it going to be?” Bricker said in court. “The best-case scenario is sitting in your car for five hours … just to get over to (State Road) 89.”

“(Even with shelter in place) there’s no analysis of how bad the situation is going to be, how long would they be there? … These are all unanswered by the analysis. It jumps to the conclusion that (the project) does not create a safety risk. How did it reach that conclusion?”

Each side now awaits word on the judge’s ruling, which could take up to 90 days from the May 25 hearing on the matter (See this story at SierraSun.com for copies of all court filings in the cases).

BROWN ACT ALLEGATION RESOLVED?

A separate suit filed by Sierra Watch alleging Placer County’s supervisors violated California’s Brown Act by not properly notifying the public in entering what it describes as an “11th-hour agreement” by the Squaw Valley to pay a Tahoe Regional Planning Association Air Quality Mitigation Fee.

Sierra Watch said a memo on the agreement was not available to the public within 72 hours of a Nov. 15, 2016 meeting where the project was approved by supervisors. The memo wasn’t emailed to the Board of Supervisors until 5:36 p.m. Nov. 14. A copy of the memo was placed at the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Office in Auburn, meaning the document was not available to the public prior to the meeting during the next day’s normal business hours.

A “Proposed Statement of Decision” was released by the court on May 9, with Jones determining “the County did not violate (the Brown Act) in considering approval of the Development Agreement.”

And, Jones continued, “(Sierra Watch) suggests several alternative ways in which the County might have alerted members of the public to the existence of the (memo) following its distribution to the Board,” Jones wrote. “But nothing mandates the use of alternative methods … Petitioner fails to establish a violation of the statute.”

Isaac Silverman, a Sierra Watch attorney, said the organization won’t comment on the matter until a final ruling is made.

Clayton Cook, deputy county counsel, said Placer County has been clear it did not violate the law in reaching the agreement.

“Everything has been done within the Brown Act and the letter of the law,” Cook said. “It appears the court ultimately sided with us.”

 Report by Brian Hamilton, Editor of the Sierra Sun and The Union

 

Big Week for Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, & Sierra Watch

It’s a great week to Keep Squaw True.

Thursday we’ll be in court, pursuing our legal challenge to Placer County’s 2016 approvals of KSL’s reckless development.

In a day of oral arguments, we’ll point out that ‘Shelter in Place’ is not a viable tactic for dealing with catastrophic wildfire. 

That adding thousands of cars to Tahoe’s crowded roadways would bring traffic to a frustrating halt

And that KSL shouldn’t get a free pass to pollute the waters of Lake Tahoe.

Meanwhile on that same day, in Kings Beach, the Placer County Planning Commission will take public input on the draft environmental review of the proposed Squaw to Alpine gondola.

It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the project – and make your voice heard:

          Placer County Planning Commission

          Thursday, May 24 at 10:00 a.m.

          North Tahoe Event Center

          8318 North Lake Boulevard, Kings Beach, CA 96134

County officials will take public comment on KSL and Alterra Mountain Company’s proposal to construct an aerial gondola of 37 towers traversing 2.5 miles of the Pacific Crest of the Sierra Nevada from Squaw to Alpine.

It’s important to remember that, although the U.S. Forest Service is also considering alternative alignments, KSL is still applying for permission to run the gondola through land designated by Congress for national wilderness protection.

Pictured: Visual Simulation of towers in designated wilderness

And the integrity of Granite Chief Wilderness is not the only issue at stake. 

Even the project’s most “environmentally superior” route would have 33 adverse environmental impacts on important Tahoe values; including increased traffic, loss of wildlife habitat, and destruction of the kind of outdoor mountain experiences the Forest Service calls opportunities for “solitude or primitive unconfined recreation.”

Sierra Watch is engaging experts in planning, wildlife, and traffic to better understand the proposal and what it would mean to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and our Tahoe Sierra. 

We’ll be submitting thorough and robust comments to the Forest Service.  And, if you care about this issue, you should send them a letter, too. Comments are due June 11, 2018.

You can learn more about the proposed Squaw to Alpine gondola here:

          https://www.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/

You can mail or email comments to:

          U.S. Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest, Truckee Ranger District

          c/o NEPA Contractor

          P.O. Box 2729

          Frisco, CO 80443

                     Email: Comments@squawalpinegondola-eis.com

And there is an online comment form for the Squaw to Alpine gondola here:

          https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=48417

Breaking News: Sierra Watch and Allies Appeal Martis Development Decision

Sierra Watch is proud to take action with our conservation allies to stand up for Martis Valley, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra Nevada. 

Why appeal a case we won?  To make our victory even stronger.

Yes, we prevailed in the initial ruling over the Martis Valley West project, but the court order to “vacate and set aside” development approvals was based solely on one issue: fire danger.

By appealing the decision, we have an opportunity to strengthen the ruling and create a precedent that will not only stop this reckless project now but, also, discourage threats in the future.

 

Tahoe conservationists challenge Martis Valley West court decision, seek adequate protections for Lake Tahoe

May 10, 2018

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, Mountain Area Preservation and Sierra Watch are filing today a notice of appeal in California’s Third District Court of Appeals seeking adequate environmental protection for Lake Tahoe from the proposed Martis Valley West Project.

Earlier this year, Placer County Superior Court issued an order to vacate and set aside Placer County’s 2016 approvals of the Martis Valley West project, a massive and controversial development proposal on Brockway Summit that threatens Lake Tahoe. The ruling focused on Placer County’s failure to provide sufficient analysis of the project’s impacts on emergency evacuation, such as in the event of a wildfire.

Although the Placer County Court decision halted progress on Martis Valley West, the court’s ruling failed to address several other significant environmental threats associated with the project, including impacts to the Lake Tahoe Basin. The three conservation organizations are asking a panel of three judges for the Court of Appeal to revisit those environmental hazards.

“While we are taking this action today to ensure that Lake Tahoe benefits now from the environmental protections that California law requires, this is also critical for the long term,” said Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “If we are to protect Lake Tahoe for future generations, we must set a precedent that future developments must take the health of the Lake into account.”

In 2016, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved the Martis Valley West proposal, a 760-unit residential development with 6.6 acres of commercial, located on a ridgeline overlooking Lake Tahoe and the Martis Valley, immediately adjacent to the Tahoe Basin. Placer County records show the project would add more cars to Tahoe’s existing traffic.

Tahoe’s famed clarity—and deep blue color—is arguably the region’s most fundamental asset. Public agencies and state regulators, charged with protecting the Lake’s clarity, point to pollution and sediment caused by traffic in the Tahoe Basin as the chief culprit in degrading the Lake.

According to Placer County’s environmental review, the Martis Valley West project would add up to 1,394 vehicle trips per day to Lake Tahoe’s existing traffic, further jeopardizing ongoing efforts to Keep Tahoe Blue.

“While the project sits on the boundary of Tahoe, the impacts from increased traffic, including auto-related pollution that will harm Lake Tahoe’s water quality, setting a dangerous precedent for, projects on the fringe of the basin,” said Alexis Ollar, executive director of Mountain Area Preservation. “Martis Valley West offers up practically zero mitigation for Lake Tahoe. Filing this appeal helps to safeguard our environmental laws, while standing up for our natural resources and health of our community.”

Although the recent Placer County Court ruling has halted progress on the Martis Valley West project, its proponents assert that they can address the shortcomings identified by the court’s ruling and eventually move the project ahead without addressing the rest of its environmental dangers. The three conservation organizations filing today’s appeal seek to ensure the project’s environmental threats are addressed, and that a precedent is set that Lake Tahoe is to remain protected.

“This is how we work together to protect our mountains,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. “By taking action today, we can stop one reckless project now and, also, prevent more irresponsible projects in Tahoe’s future.”

***

Mountain Area Preservation (MAP) is an environmental advocacy nonprofit organization based in Truckee, California and established in 1987. For the last 30 years MAP has worked collaboratively with our conservation partners to protect open space, advocate for smart growth development and educate the community on regional land use planning and policy. For more information, visit mountainareapreservation.org.

Sierra Watch works to protect great places in the Sierra Nevada. Founded in 2001, the Nevada City based non-profit has built a remarkable track record in land preservation in Martis Valley and on Donner Summit. Now they are leading the fight to Keep Squaw True. For more information, visit sierrawatch.org.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, also known by the slogan “Keep Tahoe Blue,” is Tahoe’s oldest and largest nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. The League is dedicated to community engagement and education, and collaborating to find solutions to Tahoe’s environmental challenges. Learn more at keeptahoeblue.org.

Agencies Release Impact Assessment of Proposed Squaw Alpine Gondola

Proposed Squaw Alpine Gondola Projected To Have 33 Adverse Impacts

For Immediate Release
Contact: Tom Mooers, (530) 265-2849 x200

 

Nevada City, Calif. – The United States Forest Service and Placer County issued their draft environmental studies today for the Squaw Alpine Gondola proposed to connect Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in North Lake Tahoe.

The joint Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report (DEIS/R) analyzes the proposal by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, a subsidiary of KSL and their newly formed Alterra Mountain Company to build an aerial gondola consisting of 37 towers traversing 2.5 miles of the Pacific Crest of the Sierra Nevada just north and west of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Pictured: Crest of Sierra, proposed for Gondola

The document assesses three different routes and predicts that even the project’s most “environmentally preferable” route would cause 33 adverse environmental impacts on important Sierra issues, ranging from increased traffic to lost opportunities for what the Forest Service calls “solitude or primitive unconfined recreation.”

Pictured: Map of proposed gondola routes

The environmental document compares the impacts of the KSL Capital Partners/Alterra Mountain Company proposal, Alternative 2 in their documentation, to two alternative gondola routes, Alternatives 3 and 4, or no gondola construction at all. 

KSL’s proposed route would cut through the Granite Chief Wilderness Designation as well as across the popular Five Lakes Trail.

Unsurprisingly, the studies identified “no action” as the “environmentally preferable” course for the Forest Service and Placer County, and it also found that KSL and Alterra’s original proposal to run the gondola through land designated for National Wilderness was the most environmentally destructive.

Instead the Forest Service and Placer County identified one of the alternate gondola routes, Alternative 4, as the “environmentally preferable” action alternative. However, even following the “environmentally preferable” route of Alternative 4, the Forest Service found that a Squaw Alpine Gondola would cause 33 adverse environmental impacts across 9 categories including: regional transportation, noise, air quality, vegetation, botany, wildlife and acquatics, wetlands, and hydrology and water quality. 

It would also cause an additional eight minor adverse environmental impacts including ones in two new categories: increased climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and lost “opportunities for solitude or primitive unconfined recreation.”

Sierra conservationists were diving into the document to better understand what the project would mean to Tahoe’s natural environment, and whether any of the routes.

“Our job now is to study this assessment to better answer the fundamental question: does the gondola make sense for North Tahoe or is it just another example of KSL and Alterra’s attempt to turn Squaw Valley into a Vegas-style amusement park?” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.

Its northern terminus in Squaw Valley is part of KSL and Alterra’s controversial plans to transform the North Tahoe mountain with highrise condos, an indoor water park, and a roller coaster – as well as the proposed gondola.

Pictured: Visual Simulation of Proposed Towers for Alternative 2

In November 2016, Placer County officials approved that application for development entitlements at the base of Squaw, but those approvals have been met with overwhelming resistance from the movement to “Keep Squaw True” – made up of local residents and California conservationists – and held up by two lawsuits in Placer County Superior Court.

The proposed gondola is still in the early stages of the public planning process. 

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is designed to inform the public and decision-makers about the project’s effect on the area and to seek ways to limit or prevent negative impacts. Regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, neighboring jurisdictions, and members of the public now have the opportunity to submit comments on the project to the Forest Service.

Of particular interest are the impacts that Forest Service identifies “adverse” or Placer County identifies as “significant and unavoidable.” And of the utmost concern is the scenic value and natural resources of the project location. 

Due to the amount and scale of the infrastructure any proposed route would have adverse or significant and unavoidable impacts to what the agencies refer to as the area’s “visual character.” Although the study found that the alternative would reduce the severity of this degradation, infrastructure would still impact viewsheds throughout the region, including from within the Lake Tahoe Basin and the nearby Granite Chief Wilderness.

That proximity to the Granite Chief Wilderness is also the reason that the Forest Service found minor adverse impacts to “opportunities for solitude or primitive unconfined recreation.”

Pictured: Wilderness Boundry by Proposed Route

“There’s a unique sense of place at the crest of the Sierra, and industrial-scale infrastructure looming over the Granite Chief Wilderness presents a clear threat to the integrity of the Five Lakes Trail and to the wilderness experience,” according to Mooers.

Wildlife habitat will prove to be another challenging issue; the project runs through land identified by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for the preservation and recovery of the endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged Frog. Even the environmentally preferable route would disturb and destroy wetland and riparian habitat usable by the endangered frog, resulting in multiple adverse impact findings.

And although proponents tout the project as a traffic solution, the Forest Service and Placer County found that construction of the Squaw Alpine Gondola would actually attract more than 700 new visitors and put around 430 more cars on the road during busy weekend days.  

And, according the review, when the project is considered cumulatively alongside KSL’s controversial waterpark and village Squaw expansion plans, the picture is particularly grim: travelers should expect slow speeds and long waits extending from Interstate 80 to Squaw Valley.

Finally, conservationists also flag the role of the project in providing new “growth-inducing” infrastructure, which could encourage new development in a treasured alpine landscape. That’s because a Squaw Alpine Gondola would not only connect to the existing Alpine Meadows development and proposed development in Squaw Valley, it would also connect with a new development proposed for the White Wolf property in between the two resorts.

Although details remain scarce, would-be developer Troy Caldwell has submitted initial plans to build 38 luxury homes, a ski lift, a lodge, tennis courts, equestrian facilities – and a connection to the new gondola as a central amenity.

Conservation groups had hoped to create a collaborative agreement that might allow for a new gondola, as long as it was tied to protection of some of the iconic White Wolf landscape. But proponents were unwilling to consider a broader approach.

The Forest Service and Placer County will be accepting comments on their Draft documents through June 11, 2018. The massive document for the Squaw Alpine Gondola is available at:

http://media.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/documents/Squaw_Valley_Alpine_Meadows_Draft_EIS_EIR.pdf

 

For more information on the Squaw Alpine Gondola and the comment period/process, please go the USFS website to learn more: https://www.squawalpinegondola-eis.com/

 

About Sierra Watch

Sierra Watch works to protect great places in the Sierra Nevada. Founded in 2001, the Nevada City based non-profit has built a remarkable track record in land preservation in Tahoe’s Martis Valley, on Donner Summit, and for other treasured Sierra landscapes.  For more information, visit www.sierrawatch.org.

 

###

All Rise to Keep Squaw True / Court Date Moved to May

One important arena where we apply our shared commitment to Sierra values is in court.

We had planned on being there today, presenting our primary challenge to Squaw Valley development approvals. But the hearing has been postponed until May 24.

That case, of course, is not the only game in town.

This spring we’ve already notched an important victory in our challenge to irresponsible development in Martis Valley. The initial ruling from the Superior Court stated that Placer County failed to address the Martis Valley West project’s “impacts on emergency evacuations in the area – especially in light of its high fire hazard status”. And the court ordered a suspension of approvals. Look for that case to enter the appeal phase this summer.

And we made our case in our secondary challenge to Placer County’s approvals of the Squaw Valley development: that their last-minute, secret, back-room deal to avoid a lawsuit from the State Attorney General deprived the public of its right to open and participatory government. We expect a decision in early June.

In case anyone forgot, here’s what’s at stake: KSL Capital Partners and its new ski conglomerate, Alterra Mountain Company, propose to remake North Tahoe with Vegas-style super-sized development. With highrises, a roller coaster, and – wow – an indoor waterpark.

For seven years, Sierra Watch has been leading a grassroots effort to Keep Squaw True. The foundation of our success is you – and the thousands of folks who stand with us to defend our Tahoe values.

Over the past few months, we’ve focused on the briefing phase of our primary challenge to Placer County’s Squaw approvals. In documents submitted to the court, we’ve spelled out, in black and white, our key arguments that detail how the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate and illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act, known as ‘CEQA’.

The other side – KSL and the County – got to submit their own brief in response. You can read the arguments from both sides at our website:

But if you’re not excited about the prospect of reading through the legalese, here’s a summary of some of the back and forth on three key issues:

Pictured: The blue waters of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

1. Impacts on Tahoe and Lake Clarity

In our briefs, we point out:

  • “The Project site is just outside the Lake Tahoe Basin, an international destination renowned for its deep, clear lake surrounded by scenic mountains.”
  • “CEQA explicitly recognizes the Basin as having ‘Statewide, Regional, or Areawide Significance’ and thus meriting particular attention in an EIR.”
  • “The Project would add over 1,300 car trips and 23,842 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in a single day to the Basin.”
  • “In addition to increasing traffic, these cars would cause air pollution and produce finely-crushed road sediment that degrades the clarity and water quality of Lake Tahoe.”
  • “Under CEQA, the County was required to analyze the Project’s impacts on the environmental carrying capacity of the Lake Tahoe Basin, even though the Project lies just outside the Basin boundary.”
  • But “the EIR fails to apprise readers of the Project’s environmental setting, largely ignoring its potential to degrade the nearby Lake Tahoe Basin, including the Lake’s famed clarity.”

They reply by downplaying the issue:

  • “Though Petitioner [Sierra Watch] hints otherwise, the Project is not within the Basin and thus not of ‘regional or area wide significance’ as a result of its proximity to Tahoe.

2. Tahoe Traffic and Gridlock in Squaw

We contend:

  • “The Project’s traffic would cause significant impacts by either turning bad traffic into gridlock or exacerbating already unacceptable conditions.”
  • But the County and KSL “resort to baseless assertions that the Project’s mitigation is ‘state-of-the-art’ and that Squaw Valley has successfully managed traffic in the past.”
  • And, don’t worry, “the EIR promises that many of the Project’s significant impacts will be avoided because the applicant would impose measures to ‘manage’ the huge number of cars traveling to, parking at, and leaving the site.”

In their brief:

  • They acknowledge that “the Village will generate traffic. Some will venture into the Basin.”
  • But that “the County addressed all potential impacts caused by project-related traffic in the Basin.”
  • And “Petitioner claims that Squaw cannot be trusted to mitigate the area’s ‘notoriously bad traffic.’ Wrong. The traffic mitigation measures in the EIR are state-of-the-art and will be enforced by the County.”

Pictured: Smoke in Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe from the 2014 King Fire

3. Fire Danger and Evacuation

In our brief, we point out the risk to public safety:

  • “The Project is located in a ‘very high fire severity zone’—the worst fire risk rating available—and that it would take between 5 to 10.7 hours to evacuate the site via the single access road.”
  • “Given the severity of the fire danger in the area, the FEIR is shockingly deficient.”
  • Its “reliance on the concept of ‘shelter in place’ is equally untenable. Sheltering in place during a wildfire in a ‘very high fire severity zone’ unquestionably exposes people to serious safety risks.

They tell everyone to shelter in place:

  • The local fire department’s “Wildland Fire Evacuation Plan identifies evacuation routes and communications protocols, provides guidance to reduce risk, and calls for using the parking lot to shelter in place if evacuation routes are blocked.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Don’t worry; “Village parking structures will continue to serve as a place of refuge.”

One thing we can agree on: in its final brief, the County, KSL, and Alterra claim that, “Unrelenting in its opposition, Sierra Watch (Petitioner) claims the Project will inflict damage on Lake Tahoe.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We should indeed stand up to prevent damage to Tahoe. And we should be unrelenting in our commitment.

Earn These Skis or Board/Help Make The Movie to Keep Squaw True

Sierra Watch is proud to unveil the custom topsheet of our brand new Keep Squaw True skis and snowboards designed and manufactured by Slant Skis right here in North Lake Tahoe.  The special edition topsheets designed for The Movie to Keep Squaw True crowdfunding campaign feature the stunning photography of award winning local photographer Ming T. Poon:

Earn your pair of the custom made special edition Slant Hindsight Skis, an $850 value, or snowboard (more details coming soon) by becoming a fundraiser for our Crowdrise campaign to fund The Movie to Keep Squaw True and raising at least $2,000.

Getting set up is easy:

  1. Click “Join the Team” on our Crowdrise page to create a shareable page that’s already got all of the information from our campaign page. 
  2. Take a couple of minutes to add a few sentences about why this campaign is important to you. If you have any pictures or videos of yourself at Squaw or in Tahoe, you can even add those!
  3. Share it with your family and friends — Post it to Facebook and tag 100 of your friends and family who care about our mountains.  Send an email about it to people you think might be interested. Post about it on your Instagram feed, and link to your fundraising page in your bio.

Don’t have time to become a Fundraiser for our top prizes of a Keep Squaw True snowboard or pair of skis of your choosing?  Simply donate $2,000, or more, to qualify, and we have a ton of other awesome perks available for donations at lower amounts too, like Keep Squaw True merchandise:

Pictured: Keep Squaw True gear to represent both on and off the hill

So join Sierra Watch and the Gaffney brothers, Scott and Robb, as we make The Movie to Keep Squaw True.  Every little bit helps in taking our story even further and securing a future for Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe that we can all be proud of.

Pictured: Sierra Watch Board Member, Robb Gaffney

The Movie to Keep Squaw True is just one part of our broader campaign as Sierra Watch continues to work to overturn Placer County’s illegal approval of KSL’s plan to build an indoor waterpark and acres of highrise condo-hotels in Squaw Valley.

Our legal team is actively challenging them in court in two separate lawsuits to throw out the approval for violating the California Environmental Quality Act as well as the state open government law, known as the Brown Act.  We expect our first decision later this spring; we’ll keep you posted.

If you have any questions about becoming a fundraiser, or questions about the crowdfunding campaign, please contact Sierra Watch Field Manager, Chase Schweitzer, via email at cschweitzer@sierrawatch.org or by phone at (530) 448-1506.

 

 

— Donate to make the Movie to Keep Squaw True —

Victory! Court Rescinds Martis Valley West Approvals

Yes we can work together to protect the places we love!

          

Breaking news from Martis Valley:

                

NEWS RELEASE

March 13, 2018

Contacts:

Alexis Ollar, Mountain Area Preservation, 530.582.6751 x101

Tom Mooers, Sierra Watch, 530.265.2849 x200

Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD., League to Save Lake Tahoe, 530.541.5388

 

Court Decision Halts Martis Valley West Project

Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe celebrate a court decision handed down Monday that halts the controversial Martis Valley West Project, a massive North Tahoe development proposal.

Placer County Superior Court issued an order to vacate and set aside Placer County’s 2016 approvals of the project, focusing on Placer County’s failure to provide sufficient analysis of the project’s impacts on emergency evacuation, such as in the event of a wildfire. The proposed project is located in a very high severity fire zone.

The conservation groups contend that the region’s community will benefit from the stoppage of a project that would threaten public safety, the local environment, and Lake Tahoe.

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We’ll follow up with more details – just wanted to share the great news now.

Onward!

Tom

Sierra Watch Executive Director

(530) 265-2849 x 200

tmooers@sierrawatch.org

 

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Squaw Approvals Broke State Law. Twice.

Remember when Placer County made its blanket approvals of KSL’s proposed development in Squaw Valley back in 2016?

Those approvals violated not only California’s planning law but, also, California’s good government law. As you can read in a brief Sierra Watch submitted in court today:

          Click here: Sierra Watch Opening Brief for Squaw Valley Brown Act Violation

It shows how Placer County violated California’s Brown Act when it included a last-minute deal with developers in its approvals, which was negotiated in secret and finalized the day before.

Maybe you were at the public hearing when the County made their surprise announcement about the deal – and the audience booed.

That announcement – and that deal – was both a blatant betrayal of Lake Tahoe and a flagrant violation of state law.

           Pictured: Blue waters of Lake Tahoe          

Here’s why: the Brown Act, passed in 1953, is a bold declaration of the importance of public involvement in government decision-making.

The law states: “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” and “it is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

Specifically, the law requires a governing body (like the Placer County Board of Supervisors) to “post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting” and, also, that key documents relevant to important decisions be made “available for public inspection”.

In the case of its Squaw Valley development and its impact on Lake Tahoe, the County did neither.

Let’s remember what’s at stake: the biggest development proposal in the Sierra Nevada.

KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Colorado, wants to develop Squaw Valley with a project of size, scale, and scope North Tahoe has never seen.

New development would remake the region with 1,493 new bedrooms in a series of highrise condo hotels, many of which would be nearly 100 feet tall, and include a 90,000 square foot indoor waterpark – as wide as a Walmart and more than twice as tall. 

Throughout a five-year planning process, Sierra Watch, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and even the California Attorney General raised concerns about how the project would pump traffic – more than 1,300 new daily car trips – into the Basin, adding to Tahoe’s gridlock and threatening the ongoing effort to Keep Tahoe Blue.

Placer County’s answer was to negotiate a deal with the developers – in secret – and then to spring the result in a surprise announcement on the day of their approvals. 

“This really did literally come together yesterday,” explained KSL attorney Whit Manley at the 2016 hearing.

Pictured: Keep Squaw True supporters at 2016 Hearing

It’s not clear that the deal would actually have any impact on limiting the project’s impacts on the lake.  But we were never given an opportunity to assess and comment on the surprise arrangement, which commits the developer to estimated payments of less than $15,000 per year over 30 years. 

To put that number into context, Congress approved more than $400 million to protect Tahoe’s clarity less than a month later.

The deal, however, had not been put on the agenda for the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Nor was it made “available for public inspection” – another requirement of the Brown Act.

The County argues that it did make the last-minute documents available to the public.  But they were put in a file the night before the hearing – in a locked office building. 

So, arguably, they were “available” to anyone willing to commit a felony – breaking and entering.

Or, in terms of the law, as our brief points out, “Providing a memorandum at an office that is closed to the public in no way satisfies either the plain language or the purposes of the Brown Act.”

Of course our Brown Act litigation is not the only challenge to Squaw Valley development. We also filed suit to overturn Placer County’s approvals based on violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, known as ‘CEQA’. That law requires Placer County to adequately assess what development would mean to important issues such as transportation and safety. 

In our brief submitted in the CEQA case last month, we spelled out how Placer County violated state planning law by downplaying or avoiding the project’s impacts on Tahoe’s famed water quality, increased danger of wildfires, scarcity of local water supplies, and traffic.

In both cases, our goal isn’t just to win a lawsuit. Our goal is to ensure a process and results that respect the people and the values of our mountains.

The trial for the Brown Act challenge is set for March 6, and we’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here’s to snow – and justice!

 

Support Sierra Watch by making a direct donation or by supporting us as we take our story even further by making The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

Crowdfunding Launch! Help Us Produce The Movie to Keep Squaw True

Sierra Watch is proud to announce the official launch of our crowdfunding campaign for The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

And if you care about the future of Tahoe, you’ll want to click the link and see the inspiring promo:

You’re already part of the epic story of how we band together to protect our mountains. Now you can help produce the movie that tells our story to a world that could use a little inspiration.

This Gaffney Brothers production this will show a community of like-minded people from Tahoe City to Truckee, Reno to San Francisco, the United States & beyond, have come together to defend one of the most special and unique places in the Sierra Nevada.

Pictured: Sierra Watch Board Member, Robb Gaffney

What is crowdfunding, you ask? It is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many contributions from a large number of people, usually through the internet and social media.

It’s a grassroots way to make a grassroots movie about our grassroots movement to Keep Squaw True.

Pictured: Beautiful Squaw Valley

Chip in and view the great benefits of donating to make the Movie to Keep Squaw True.

We will keep you updated as we continue to crowdfund!

 

Contact me, Sierra Watch Field Manager, Chase Schweitzer, for an questions or comments!

Fund the Movie to Keep Squaw True Kick-off Party – Feb. 7th

This is one party you do not want to miss.

We’re celebrating the making of The Movie to Keep Squaw True on Wednesday, Feb. 7th in Truckee, and you’re going to want to be there:

You are already part of the epic story; now we need to share it with the rest of the world. 

A Gaffney Brothers production, the movie will tell the story of how a community of likeminded people from Tahoe City to Truckee, Reno to San Francisco, the United States & beyond, have come together to defend one of the most special and unique places in the Sierra Nevada.

On November 7th, we’ll launch our crowdsourcing campaign to help fund the movie – oh, and have a huge party.

We’ll be Keeping Squaw True while watching some sneak peaks of the movie, enjoying Alibi’s selection of drinks and food, KST and Squallywood door-prizes, and music from local artists, Truth cARTel and DJ Mich Michael.

The specifics:

This is all to celebrate the launch of our crowdfunding campaign that day, so come out, help us get the buzz going, and be one of the very first to help fund The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

Please RSVP through our Facebook Event, and invite your friends and family as well: https://facebook.com/events/316378025433486/

If you don’t have Facebook, forward this email to everyone you know and then shoot me an RSVP to cschweitzer@sierrawatch.org.

Can’t join the party but want to support the movie? Let us know by shooting me an email and we’ll keep you in the loop!

 

Chase Schweitzer

Sierra Watch Field Manager

(530) 448-1506

cschweitzer@sierrawatch.org