Sierra Watch remembers Judge William A. Newsom

— By Tom Mooers, Sierra Watch Executive Director. First published as a guest column in The Union, serving Western Nevada County, CA, —

In December we gathered in Dutch Flat for the funeral of Bill Newsom.

For a guy who had been everywhere — and knew everyone, it was no accident that he chose a final resting place beneath the cedar and the pine of his beloved Sierra.

Bill was a man of the mountains.

He lacked any capacity to tolerate injustice of any kind, anywhere — especially in the Sierra. And became, therefore, a hero of conservation — founding, for example, California’s Mountain Lion Foundation, as well as serving on the Board of Directors for Sierra Watch.

Newsom (r.) with the rest of then Sierra Watch Board

For a small, regional nonprofit like ours, Bill was what you’d call a good get. Bill had experience in law — as a judge, even. He was a proven leader. And Bill had d Bill had connections. His son, at the time, was Mayor of San Francisco — imagine that!

So when Bill agreed to meet with me back in 2003, I was stoked. He granted me 20 minutes and told me to meet him for coffee in Colfax. Two hours later, we were still talking. Within a few months, Sierra Watch had a new board member. And I had made a friend.

Over the next six years, I came to understand and appreciate what Bill meant to the cause of conservation in the Sierra and to an organization like ours. It wasn’t just his connections.

Newsom with Tom’s daughter, Abby

And it wasn’t that he turned out to be the best lunch date ever. Holding court at the New Moon in Nevada City, he’d people his anecdotes with characters like Adlai Stevenson and Aldous Huxley, throw around lines from Yeats and Frost. He strategized with Senators — and partied with Rolling Stones.

But beyond his connections and the conversation, the most important quality Bill provided to Sierra Watch was: clarity. Clarity of vision, clarity of action.

Sometimes our work can bog down in political nuances and strategic consternation. Not for Bill. He had a way of divining what was truly at stake — and what we should do about it.

In 2013, for example, as Sierra Watch was assessing proposed development in Squaw Valley, we tur

ned to Bill for guidance. With characteristic clarity — and a biblical reference — he proclaimed the project as completely unacceptable and set us on our path to Keep Squaw True.

Bill’s picture in River Ranch Restaurant

Bill left the board the next year, and we threw him a party — a proper asada at River Ranch on the Truckee River.

In case anyone had forgotten what kind of guy Bill was, there was picture of him on the restaurant wall — with a mountain lion. In his lap. Not a dead one either — just temporarily sedated as part of a habitat restoration program. It was the kind of picture you might find of ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World.’ Except it was real. Just like Bill.

In the years that followed, we remained friends. And Bill remained committed to our shared cause. Now it’s up to us to remain true to Bill.

 

Tom Mooers is the executive director of Sierra Watch, reach him at tmooers@sierrawatch.org or call his office at (530) 265-2849 ext. 200

 

The Movie to Keep Squaw True: See it in December!

The Movie to Keep Squaw True is coming to a theatre near you – December showings in Tahoe City and June Lake!

Check out our first trailer!

SAVE THE DATE/GET TICKETS:

December 8 & 9 – Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema

Tahoe City, CA
7:30 PM (Saturday – SOLD OUT); 2 PM & 4PM (Sunday – Tickets still available!)
$12 tickets available online and at door (We advise people to buy tickets in advance!)
For tickets and more info: www.tahoearthauscinema.com/shows/keep-squaw-true/

December 11 – T-Bar Social Club

June Lake, CA
7:00 PM, Q&A with Robb Gaffney and Tom Mooers after movie
$7 tickets available only at door
For address and more information: https://balancedrocksaloon.com/t-bar-social-club/

Pictured: Robb Gaffney Wants You To Watch The Movie to Keep Squaw True!

The Movie to Keep Squaw True tells the epic story of how we rise up to defend the integrity of an incredible place.  How we stand up to a private equity Goliath and their corporate henchmen.  And how we tap the power of our collective passion to protect Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra Nevada. 

It’s a seven-year saga of how we keep a favorite Tahoe mountain from being turned into a Vegas-style amusement park, and it’s an inspiring example for conservationists everywhere.

Watch the movie and be a part of the movement to Keep Squaw True!

The Movie to Keep Squaw True is written and directed by Robb and Scott Gaffney, produced by Sierra Watch, and features a cast of enthusiastic Tahoe locals and iconic Squaw legends.

Sign the petition to Keep Squaw True to stay up-to-date on 2019 movie showing announcements for California, Nevada, and the Rockies, and check back here: https://www.sierrawatch.org/kst-movie/

 

Sierra Watch and Partners File Appeal on Martis Valley West

Last week Sierra Watch and our co-plaintiffs submitted the Opening Brief in our ongoing challenge to the Martis Valley West development proposal. 

The brief not only spells out why Placer County’s approval of the project was illegal, it also sticks up for a set of principles that are fundamental to the future of Tahoe and the Sierra. 

— Click here to read the brief —

Pictured: North Lake Tahoe from Martis

The Martis Valley West project, proposed for a “very high fire hazard zone” along Brockway Summit, would allow construction of new roads, commercial development, and 760 houses on the northern rim of the Tahoe Basin. 

It would add 3,985 daily car trips to our existing gridlock – many of which would travel into the Tahoe Basin and add pollutants that are robbing the lake of its famous clarity.

Even though Placer County’s own Planning Commission – as well as local residents and common sense – recommended against approval, the Board of Supervisors approved the project on October 11, 2016.

We challenged those approvals immediately, and, earlier this year, the trial court issued its ruling.  We won – but on narrow grounds.  By filing an appeal, we seek to strengthen our victory.

According to the 77-page document filed by Sierra Watch, League to Save Lake Tahoe, and Mountain Area Preservation in California’s Third District Court of Appeals last week, those approvals “violated two state laws designed to protect the environment: the California Environmental Quality Act (‘CEQA’) and the Timberland Productivity Act.”

Pictured: Sierra Watch at the Placer County Superior Court

Specifically, the County failed to meet the basic standards of state law in assessing the development’s impacts on: the clarity of Lake Tahoe, climate change, and public safety in the event of a wildfire and, also, in immediately rezoning land that had been given substantial tax breaks for a long-term commitment to remain forest.

Clarity of Lake Tahoe

The California Environmental Quality Act, the brief points out, designates the Tahoe Basin as an area of “Statewide, Regional, or Areawide Significance” and calls expressly for its protection.

Even the United States Supreme Court agrees “that Lake Tahoe is ‘uniquely beautiful,’ that President Clinton was right to call it a ‘national treasure that must be protected and preserved,’ and that Mark Twain aptly described the clarity of its waters as ‘not merely transparent, but dazzlingly, brilliantly so.’”

But the Martis Valley West proposal threatens our multi-generational effort to Keep Tahoe Blue.  As the brief reminds us, “It would send nearly 1,400 car trips per day into the Tahoe Basin, creating emissions and sediment that would significantly contribute to the degradation of the Lake’s famed clarity and the Basin’s fragile air quality.”

And, in approving the project, “the County refused even to describe this important element of the regional setting, much less adequately analyze the Project’s significant impacts on the Lake and Basin.”

That failure to consider regional impacts of a specific development, according to the brief, renders approvals “fatally defective.”

Public Safety/Wildfire

This week we are getting painful reminders of the growing risk of wildfire – and the importance to plan accordingly. And state law also requires decision-makers to assess the project’s impacts on public safety in general and wildfire danger in particular.

In the case of Martis Valley West, all those subdivisions, the brief reminds us, “would be built in a ‘Very High’ fire severity zone, increasing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the region and exposing residents, visitors, and fire-fighters to dangerous conditions.”

Yet, somehow, in approving the project, the County “summarily dismisses the Project’s emergency evacuation hazards as ‘insignificant.’”

In doing so, the County “plainly failed to comply with state law.”

Climate Change

California law codifies a state-wide commitment to consider climate impacts in development decision-making. 

The Martis Valley West project, the brief points out, “would emit roughly 30,000 metric tons of CO2 per year at buildout,” which would “vastly exceed the new significance threshold of 1,100 per year.”

Yet the County failed to assess how the Project could effectively mitigate its impacts and, because there is “no effective mitigation for this significant impact,” approvals “cannot stand.”

Timber Production Zoning

California enacted the Timberland Productivity Act in 1976 to “protect California’s forest resources and timberlands”. 

In order to safeguard vulnerable forests in “areas where second home subdivisions have been encroaching on valuable timberland,” the law confers generous property tax breaks on owners of timberland in exchange for placing their land into Timber Production Zones (TPZ), a designation which strictly confines the land’s use to timber production and related uses.

In exchange for lower taxes, the law prescribes a ten-year waiting period for any rezoning to become effective.

In the case of Martis Valley West, the County waived that waiting period and, as our brief contends, “violated the state Timberland Productivity Act (“Act”) by illegally rezoning protected forestland to accommodate the Project.”

Again, each one of the issues is reason enough to overturn Placer County’s approvals of the Martis Valley West project.  Most are issues that we will raise again in our Squaw Valley challenge.  And, together, they raise some of the most important questions facing Tahoe and the Sierra:

Should we consider the impacts one development project might have on the region’s natural resources?

Should planners and decision-makers consider the danger of catastrophic wildfire in approving subdivisions in California forests?

Can we apply state planning law to help reverse the catastrophic impacts of climate change?

And should landowners who get a tax break by committing to keeping land in forest be held accountable to that commitment?

Obviously we think the answers should be yesyesyes, and yes.  But we’ll have to be patient to see if the Court of Appeals agrees; their decision could take years.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact Sierra Watch Executive Director, Tom Mooers directly with any questions or comments.  You can reach him by phone at (530) 265-2849 ext. 200 or by email at tmooers@sierrawatch.org.

 

Onward!

 

Tahoe Development News: Sierra Watch Prevails Against Alterra Court Challenge

September 27, 2018

Court Dismissed Developer Attempt to Intimidate Sierra Watch

Roseville, Calif. – Placer County Superior Court sided with Sierra Watch and ruled against developers Alterra Mountain Company in their attempt to sanction the Tahoe conservation group for its efforts to enforce California’s open government laws.

“This was a clear attempt on the part of Alterra to harass a local non-profit and intimidate the public,” said Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.  “It failed.”

The controversy arose from Alterra’s continued pursuit of the biggest development project in the Tahoe Sierra. 

Originally, KSL Capital Partners proposed the Squaw Valley project in 2011; then they joined forces with Henry Crown and Company to form Alterra Mountain Company. 

Alterra is now pushing that Squaw Valley project, as well as buying ski resorts throughout the world and selling the new ‘Ikon Pass’ to skiers, which grants access to 36 mountains on three continents.

In Squaw Valley, Alterra seeks to build a series of high-rise condo hotels, including a 90,000 square-foot indoor waterpark.  The project would take 25 years to construct and add thousands of car trips to Tahoe’s crowded roads. 

Pictured: Squaw Valley

Sierra Watch, a Nevada City based conservation non-profit, is leading the effort to turn back the Alterra proposal and secure community-based planning for Squaw Valley.  The group’s campaign to “Keep Squaw True” is based on the grassroots support of thousands of individuals and scores of local businesses.

After the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved Alterra’s proposed development in 2016, Sierra Watch initiated two public interest court challenges to the approvals: one based on state planning laws; the other based on violations of California’s Brown Act.

Sierra Watch’s Brown Act case challenges Placer County’s last-minute deal with the developers and the California Attorney General, negotiated in secret and announced the same day the project was approved.

The Brown Act, passed in 1953, is designed to ensure public involvement in government decision-making.  “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” the law states.  “It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

A cornerstone of the law is that the public must have the opportunity to be informed participants in decision-making.  Specifically, the law requires a governing body 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”.  But, Sierra Watch contends, in the case of the Squaw Valley development and its impact on Lake Tahoe, the County did neither.

Throughout the five-year planning process, conservationists, as well as the California Attorney General, raised concerns about how the Alterra project would pump traffic – more than 1,300 new daily car trips – into the Tahoe Basin, adding pollution to the lake and threatening the ongoing effort to Keep Tahoe Blue.

Pictured: Lake Tahoe

Placer County’s answer was to negotiate an arrangement with the developers and the Attorney General – in secret – and then to spring the deal in a surprise announcement on the day of their approvals.  At the 2016 hearing, County Counsel Karin Schwab announced that a deal had been struck and touted the County’s leadership role, citing their “extensive discussions with the Attorney General.”

But the deal was reached in the eleventh hour – not in time to make the public agenda for the Board of Supervisors meeting, nor made “available for public inspection”, another requirement of the Brown Act.

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

Nevertheless, in June 2018 the Placer County Court ruled in favor of Placer County and the developers in the Brown Act challenge; that decision is now on appeal.

Following that decision, Alterra attempted to pile on, entering a motion to sanction Sierra Watch – and collect $226,893.60 from the non-profit – as punishment for pursuing the case. 

“This is the kind of tactic that gives lawyers a bad name,” says Isaac Silverman, Sierra Watch Staff Attorney.  “It’s not the first time big developers have tried to abuse the courts to silence the Squaw community; hopefully it will prove to be the last.”

Alterra claimed that Sierra Watch’s challenge had been “clearly frivolous and totally lacking in merit” – in spite of an abundance of evidence and arguments, based on depositions, formal memos, notices, agendas, and emails between the Attorney General’s office, Placer County counsel, and the developers.

Pictured: Keep Squaw True supporters at 2016 hearing

Alterra further attacked Sierra Watch and its motives, claiming that the group’s Brown Act challenge was based solely on the personal feelings of its Executive Director, Tom Mooers, and not on the actions of Placer County.  In their brief, they claimed Sierra Watch acted because Mooers “took losing Sierra Watch’s campaign to stop the Project at the Board of Supervisors as a personal affront” because he is “hubristic”.

In its ruling handed down this week, the court disagreed with Alterra and sided with Sierra Watch.  “Based upon a careful review of the pleadings in support of and in opposition to the current motion, the entire file in this action, and its observations at trial, the court cannot conclude that petitioner’s action was clearly frivolous or totally meritless,” the ruling states.

In the months ahead, Sierra Watch will follow through with its appeal of the original Brown Act challenge.

“Alterra needs to understand that, in our long-term commitment to Keep Squaw True, we will not be intimidated,” said Mooers of Sierra Watch.  “And that they’d be better served working with the Tahoe community than attacking it.”

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.

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SOLD OUT- World Premiere of The Movie to Keep Squaw True

UPDATE: Please stay tuned for updates on our tour and showings in Tahoe, across Northern California, Western Nevada, and ski communities across the U.S. Get our latest updates about tour information by signing the Keep Squaw True pledge and getting on our contact list!

Sierra Watch is hosting the World Premiere of The Movie to Keep Squaw True in Truckee, September 14.

The Movie to Keep Squaw True premiere poster

Tickets are available at sierrawatch.org/movie-premiere.

“The movie is a David and Goliath story of a local community coming up against big money and big development. We’ve got an amazing opportunity to shape the future of our region and it’s happening right now with Sierra Watch,”  Robb Gaffney, interviewed by Moonshine Ink.

What:

The Gaffney Brothers present the World Premiere of the full-length feature film: The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

When:

Friday, September 14

Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show begins at 8:00

Where:

Truckee Community Arts Center

10046 Church Street, Truckee, CA

Why:

For seven years, North Tahoe has been living through the biggest development fight in the Sierra Nevada. Legendary local filmmakers Robb and Scott Gaffney have captured the epic struggle in a feature-length film, and, on September 14, you can be among the first to see The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

Pictured: On Location shooting The Movie to Keep Squaw True

Also: there will be snacks provided by Fat Cat Bar & Grill and libations from Alibi Ale Works.

How:

Tickets available online at sierrawatch.org/movie-premiere

$10 advance/$12 door

 

Afterparty at Alibi Ale Works’ Truckee Public House!

 

Directed by Robb Gaffney; Written and edited by Scott Gaffney; Produced by Sierra Watch with the help of the Squaw-skiing and Tahoe-loving community!

Other notes:

If you are unable to attend the September Premiere, stay tuned for future announcements on showings in select venues across Northern California and Western Nevada. Get on our email list to stay up to date on all things Keep Squaw True by signing the pledge!

All Crowdrise donors at the $50 or above level: please respond to Sierra Watch Field Representative, Chase Schweitzer to reserve your ticket(s) if you have not done so yet. If you cannot attend this showing, we will honor your reserved ticket(s) at later showings!

Free parking in Downtown Truckee after 6:00 p.m.

Handicap accessible event; please contact Chase for accommodations.

Placer Court Give Developers Round One Victory in Squaw CEQA Challenge

Breaking news: Placer County Superior Court has ruled against Sierra Watch’s Squaw CEQA challenge and upheld Placer County’s 2016 approvals of KSL’s massive development.

The good news is that Sierra Watch is well-positioned to appeal the case and further our shared effort to Keep Squaw True.

Pictured: Picturesque Squaw Valley

To review: the controversy began in 2011 when KSL Capital Partners, a Denver-based private equity firm now partnered with Alterra Mountain Company, submitted a development proposal to remake North Tahoe with a series of high-rise condo hotels and a 90,000 square-foot indoor waterpark. 

The project would take 25 years to construct and add thousands of car trips to Tahoe’s crowded roads. 

Sierra Watch launched a grassroots campaign to Keep Squaw True. Thousands of supporters have signed the petition to deny the project. 

Placer County’s own Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council sounded clear opposition, recommending that the County deny it outright and consider cutting the project in half. Hundreds of local residents showed up to Placer County’s public hearing and stood in opposition. 

Regardless, on November 15, 2016, by a 4-1 vote, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the project–with the only ‘no’ vote coming from the Supervisor who represents Tahoe and Squaw Valley.  

Pictured: Opponents of Squaw Development at 2016 Hearing

A month later Sierra Watch took the development to court.

In legal briefs and oral arguments, Sierra Watch showed that Placer County’s approvals violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to study the development’s potential impacts on critical issues, including Tahoe’s famed water quality, increased danger of wildfires, scarcity of local water supplies, and traffic.

In its seventeen page ruling, however, the court sided with KSL and the County.

Regarding Tahoe and the clarity of the lake, for example, the court pointed out that the “the Project is located outside of the Tahoe Basin,” and that the County’s claim that its impacts on the lake “would not be significant” passes legal muster.

The ruling also agreed with KSL’s arguments that “shelter in place” is an adequate plan for wildfires, “There is also substantial evidence in the record to support the availability and propriety of allowing residents and visitors to shelter in place in the event of emergency if necessary.”

Obviously, we respectfully disagree.  And we are preparing to take our Squaw CEQA case to the California Court of Appeals.

We hope you’ll continue to stand with us as we defend our awesome mountains.  When it comes to our work to protect Tahoe and Keep Squaw True, now is the time to keep on keeping on!

This setback in our Squaw CEQA case is temporary; our commitment to the Sierra is timeless.

SIGN THE PETITION TO KEEP SQUAW TRUE

 

 

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.”

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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.

 

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