I’m not sure exactly how cold it was when I pulled into the Squaw Valley post office at 6:30 Sunday morning. My car thermometer said it was 1 degree, Jen’s car, which pulled in right behind me, thought it was 6 degrees. Either way, it was the kind of cold that quickly chills most Californians to the bone. Robb arrived next, smiling greetings as his breath steamed out from underneath the hood of his down jacket. He grew up in upstate New York which, at least according to most East Coasters now living in California mountain towns, means that he is impervious to cold.
Shecky, Chase, Lizzie, Kimball, and the rest of the early crew arrived shortly after and we took up positions along Squaw Valley Road. It was beautiful with tram face and headwall towering above us, imposing in the soft dawn light.
Temperatures may have been low but our spirits were high.
In recent weeks most of us had heard versions of the same odd story from Placer County officials and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, the entity created by KSL Capital Partners to manage their real estate and resort investments in the Tahoe-Truckee region.
That story goes something like this: the developer’s current application resolves most community concerns about traffic, our environment, our quality of life, and our mountain culture. This is the application that still includes an indoor water park the size of a small Walmart and 10 stories tall, and 1500 new bedrooms in a series of similarly tall condo-hotel high rises and 35 timeshare home sites in the mouth of Shirley Canyon.
It’s an odd story considering the record 338 local jurisdictions, regulatory agencies, conservation organizations, and individual citizens that submitted written comments on the proposal’s draft environmental impact report. The overwhelming majority of individuals, 97 percent, wrote to express either outright opposition due to 23 significant and unavoidable impacts of the proposal identified in the report or raise serious questions about the adequacy of the study. Many comments, including the letter submitted by Sierra Watch did both–opposed the project and pointed out how analyses of traffic, water, greenhouse gas emissions, and many more failed to show just how severely the project would harm our home.
This is the how the community actually reacted to the same application that we’re told addressed our concerns.
Or what about the more than 1,200 people who have already signed our petition to Keep Squaw True?
Do the the more than 40 local businesses and conservation organizations who signed a letter opposing the current proposal matter count? How about the countless Keep Squaw True bumper stickers we see at Squaw and around town?
These people, businesses, and organizations are important representatives of the community. Gridlock, light pollution, noise, a 25 year construction period, water security, and climate change are real concerns that haven’t been addressed.
This false narrative is a big reason that I jumped at the invitation to join a community demonstration in Squaw Valley.
It was a perfect chance to provide living, breathing, proof that our community’s voices are not being heard and to communicate loudly and clearly to locals and tourists alike that Squaw Valley and the Tahoe-Truckee deserve better.
Besides, I spend a lot of my time poring over and writing boring legal and planning documents making sure that if community concerns aren’t addressed we are prepared to challenge illegal approvals in court. This sounded like way more fun.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one who was fired up.
Before too long, the sun rose over the ridge and our numbers swelled. We had music to keep us energized but we probably could have just danced to the steady beat of the cars honking in support as they drove past. Our group peaked at around 30 demonstrators (I was too busy waving a sign for a more precise count) with people filtering in and out to warm frozen fingers and toes.
It was a really good time.
Andy Wirth, the CEO in charge of managing KSL’s investments in Tahoe, even swung by after a few hours and got his picture taken delivering hot cocoa and Starbucks. It was either a nice gesture or a slick public relations move, maybe even both.
I had a huge smile on my face as he poured my cocoa because, “hey free cocoa on a cold morning!”, but also because the simple fact that he showed up acknowledges the power and importance of our voices. I wish he’d stuck around a little longer for some real dialogue, or just to hear the cars honking in support.
Still, what Andy did and his motivations for it aren’t that important. What does matter, what is vitally important, are the decisions Placer County will make in the coming months and years, the ones that will shape the future of this land, this place, and this community that we love so much.
Can our environment or our infrastructure handle another 1500 bedrooms and highrises in this little alpine valley?
Is the entrance to Shirley Canyon for hiking or home sites?
Does everything that’s proposed make sense here in the Tahoe-Truckee region?
To many of us these answers are clear, and it is equally clear that disagreements between KSL and the hundreds of people honking their horn in support yesterday will take more than hot chocolate to resolve.
That’s why we’re gathering petitions, signing up businesses and organizations, talking to the Placer County Board of Supervisors, hanging out on the side of the road, and yes, preparing for a legal challenge if all else fails.
I left the demonstration inspired by the tremendous passion of the organizers and fellow demonstrators and reaffirmed in my work by the vocal support of the many passersby. The burst of petition signatures we’ve seen in response to social media coverage of the demonstration helps as well.
Below is one last group photo snapped as things were winding down (that’s me holding the big Keep Squaw True sign) that shows the late crew and Tram face in all its glory.
I haven’t heard a date just yet, but we all left thinking that it’d be a good idea to do this again soon.
Stay tuned for more information about that and other ways to help.
It probably won’t be quite as cold, but if it is we’ll bring the hot cocoa.
As always, together we can Keep Squaw True.
Sierra Watch Staff Attorney