Great news: More protection for Tahoe!

This summer Sierra Watch scored a major win for Tahoe. That victory just got better:

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Contact: Tom Mooers; (530) 265-2849 x200

September 30, 2021


Sacramento, Calif. – The California Third District Court of Appeals took action last week that could have major implications for new development proposed in the Tahoe Sierra. The court granted Sierra Watch’s request for partial publication of its August decisions over Alterra Mountain Company’s proposed development in North Tahoe, thereby securing the conservationists’ win as legal precedent.

Pictured: Lake Tahoe & Olympic Valley from Palisades Tahoe on Monday

“Establishing our recent victory as citable law helps protect Tahoe from harmful development proposals,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch, “And it’s another great example of how we work to stand up for our mountain values.”

For more than ten years, Sierra Watch has led a grassroots effort to stop Alterra Mountain Company’s proposal to remake North Tahoe with a series of highrises and an indoor waterpark. Of particular importance is the future of Lake Tahoe and ongoing efforts to protect its clarity. 

For decades, development in the Tahoe Basin—as defined as the watershed of Lake Tahoe—has been highly regulated, monitored by the bi-state Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to ensure that new projects do not harm the lake’s famously blue waters.

Projects just outside the Tahoe Basin, however, do not fall under that jurisdiction—even though they can have a major impact on the lake.

In the case of Alterra Mountain Company’s proposed development in the valley formerly known as Squaw, the project is proposed for land outside the Tahoe Basin. Because snowmelt in the valley does not flow into the lake but, instead, into the Truckee River, land use decision-making authority falls exclusively to Placer County—not the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Traffic from Alterra’s proposed development, however, would pour into the Tahoe Basin, adding more than 1,000 new daily car trips to Tahoe’s traffic—each car contributing the pollutants which, in turn, would cloud the lake and rob it of its clarity.

In its case against Alterra’s erstwhile project, Sierra Watch argued that the California Environmental Quality Act required vigorous review of potential impacts on the lake. 

“Just like what your next door neighbor does on his or her property can impact your home, development next door to Tahoe can be destructive to the lake,” says Mooers of Sierra Watch. 

Alterra countered that there was no need to review potential impacts because the project “did not propose development in the Tahoe Basin.”

The court agreed with Sierra Watch, writing in its decision, “Lake Tahoe is a unique and significant environmental resource” that merits special emphasis in environmental review; and review must “determine whether the project’s impacts on Lake Tahoe and the basin were potentially significant—not simply summarize, and then declare inapplicable, another agency’s framework for evaluating these types of issues.”

The court’s decision in favor of Sierra Watch in August was a major milestone in the ongoing, ten-year, grassroots effort to turn back Alterra’s proposed development and Keep Tahoe True. It means that Alterra can’t move forward with its proposal without addressing impacts on Tahoe. The court’s latest action—publication of the decision—extends that victory to inform future proposals as well.

“The decision against Alterra’s proposed development helps protect Tahoe now,” says Mooers. “Establishing it as precedent helps protect Tahoe in the future.”