Pictured: 2,686 comment letters

Release: Sierra Watch Report on Palisades Tahoe Public Comments: 99% Oppose Alterra Proposal

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Contact: Tom Mooers (530) 265-2849 x200 

May 4, 2023


Olympic Valley, Calif. –According to a new report released today, thousands of comment letters reveal overwhelming opposition to proposed development in Tahoe’s Olympic Valley. 

Pictured: Olympic Valley in Winter

Pictured: Olympic Valley in Winter

The letters were written by community groups, regulatory agencies, and – most of all – ordinary citizens. Nearly all – more than 99% – express opposition to Alterra Mountain Company’s latest attempt to secure new entitlements for its stalled Palisades Tahoe project.

“Each and every letter demonstrates a personal commitment to defend our mountain values from Alterra’s reckless development proposal,” said Tom Mooers of Sierra Watch, the conservation group that released the report. “Taken together they prove an undeniable consensus: Tahoe deserves better.”

The letters – more than 2,600 – were submitted to Placer County in response to its Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) for Alterra’s proposed development at Palisades Tahoe. 

Alterra’s project, first proposed back in 2011, would remake the Tahoe Sierra with development of a size, scale, and scope the region has never seen. 

New development would include: a series of high-rise condo hotels, many eight stories tall, containing 1,493 new rooms – as many bedrooms as three of South Lake Tahoe’s Stateline casinos combined; nearly 300,000 square feet of commercial uses – enough to build a mall covering more than five football fields; and a 90,000-square-foot indoor waterpark with artificial rivers, indoor water-skiing, video arcades, and North America’s tallest indoor waterslide.

Olympic Valley would be a construction zone for 25 years. At build-out, the project would add 3,300 new daily car trips to Tahoe traffic. And it would draw 78,263,299 gallons of water annually from the local watershed.

The struggle over Alterra’s proposal and the future of Tahoe has become the biggest development fight in the Sierra this century. Sierra Watch has engaged experts and built a grassroots movement to keep Tahoe Truckee True

So far, it’s working. After more than ten years of committed conservation advocacy, Sierra Watch secured a court order to rescind previous approvals of the project. 

“Thousands of Tahoe residents and visitors are standing with us to defend our mountains,” says Mooers. “Proving that we can indeed work together to protect the places we love.”  

Pictured: Allison Silverstein of Sierra Watch Recruiting Volunteers on Earth Day

Pictured: Allison Silverstein of Sierra Watch Recruiting Volunteers on Earth Day

Late last year, Alterra responded by seeking a new round of approvals for its same old plan. But, according to the report on comment letters, opposition continues to grow.

Regulatory agencies and conservation groups sent in letters, raising important issues – and pointing out inadequacies in the Revised EIR.

  • Sierra Watch engaged experts in law, planning, traffic, water supplies, and fire danger to research and submit its own 66-page comment letter. It clearly spells out how the Revised DEIR fails “to respect Tahoe and its mountain communities” with detailed arguments ranging from the impacts on the clarity of Lake Tahoe to the irresponsibility of telling Olympic Valley residents to survive a wildfire by sheltering in place in a parking lot.
  • The Olympic Valley Public Services District is the primary local water provider and runs the local fire department. In its letter, the district raises concerns about “vulnerability of the community’s sole source of water supply.” And it points out that the Revised EIR’s evaluation of public safety in the face of growing wildfire danger is “not accurate.” 
  • CalTrans, California’s Department of Transportation, writes of its concern “for the overall increase in traffic volumes.”
  • The League to Save Lake Tahoe addresses how the project threatens the multi-generational commitment to Keep Tahoe Blue. “The League opposed the same project when it was proposed in 2012 as the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan, and continued to oppose it as it was approved by Placer County in 2016. We continue to oppose the Project in this, its most recent iteration. Consistent with our 2012 concerns, still unaddressed, the League’s opposition is due to the significant, unanalyzed, and unmitigated impacts to Lake Tahoe’s environment.” 

But the big story of the comment letters is the deep and broad engagement of individual citizens. Of the 2,629 letters submitted by ordinary people on the Palisades Tahoe proposal, only eight express support of the project; 2,621 are against it. 

Pictured: 2,686 comment letters

Pictured: 2,686 comment letters

Some comment letters express frustration with Alterra’s ongoing unwillingness to compromise on its old proposal or seek a collaborative effort to planning. Many letters point to one particular issue facing Tahoe – traffic, wildfire, workforce housing – and how the proposed development would make it worse. All tap a shared sense of place and commitment to making sure Tahoe’s spirit of the great outdoors isn’t lost to Vegas-style excess – and an indoor waterpark.

Not surprisingly, most of the letters point to the issue of traffic – and question the wisdom of adding 3,300 new daily car trips to a region already strangled by gridlock.

  • “We literally cannot drive our kids to sports practices, make it to the grocery store, or conduct the basic chores of daily life without sitting in hours of standstill traffic simply trying to make it across town.”
  • “When my daughter needed urgent care we could not get through to Tahoe City because traffic from Olympic Valley was backed up to Carnelian Bay!”
  • “I understand we choose to live here and we make sacrifices to do so, but what is the limit. It took 3 plus hours at times last weekend to get from Truckee to Olympic Valley. Imagine if that were your loved one needing emergency care. Or it was a fire and you and/or your beloved family couldn’t get out.”
  • “These development plans are absolutely absurd. The traffic in town is NOT sustainable and we all know that. As someone that went into labor last week and sat in Palisades Tahoe traffic on Donner Pass road to get to the hospital was absolutely INFURIATING.”

In the event of wildfire, that traffic could prove deadly. The Revised DEIR concedes that it would take evacuees more than 11 hours to escape three miles from Palisades Tahoe to Highway 89. Those stuck in the valley would be told to “shelter in place” in a parking lot or on a golf course.

  • “As I am sure you all know, California is increasingly prone to wildfires. With the amount of people that could potentially be in the valley, if a fire were to start (and that is not unlikely), the fire would scream down the valley, and the estimated evacuation time has been placed at ten hours. That is unacceptable. People will die.”
  • “If there is a fire in the basin, and you allow this project, you put me and my family in harm’s way.”
  • “I am 14 years old. Evacuating Palisades Tahoe have always been a problem, imagine adding thousands more people into the mix. It would take over 11 hours to evacuate the 3 miles to highway 89. Alterra is going to build a death trap, If we don’t stop them. Please save the place me and thousands call home.”

Commenters also express concern about Olympic Valley’s limited water supplies and how Alterra’s demand could harm natural resources and threaten the flow of their own faucets:

  • “As a hydrologist, I understand (it doesn’t take much research and general logic for anyone else to understand) that we do not have the water availability to support the amount of rooms this development proposes, nonetheless a waterpark!”
  • “I find it concerning and irresponsible to want to add a water park to the project based on the drought records. I am worried the town’s water supply could be severely compromised long term.”

Most important and most impressive is what lies at the foundation of the letter – a shared appreciation for Tahoe and a deep commitment to its future:

  • “I am strongly opposed to Alterra’s Palisades Tahoe Project as proposed. After studying their plan, it’s clear to me that it would be the worst possible development to ever happen here. It would destroy nearly everything that makes Olympic Valley the unique natural mountain community that it is.”
  • “As a society, we can either choose to be thoughtful with our remaining natural areas, which we all love, or we can create another Disneyland‐esque attraction on the paved‐over memory of this treasured valley.”
  • “The fresh air and untainted wilderness have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. However, all of these things that I cherish are at risk – from fires, pollution, water shortage, and traffic.”
  • “I am only 19 and I don’t know much, but if I know something, it’s that I am going to protect my home, always and forever.”

The comment letters are now in the hands of Placer County and Alterra Mountain Company; they’ll decide how to respond.

“Our hope is that the County and Alterra will take these letters – and the people who wrote them – seriously,” says Mooers. “Tahoe deserves no less.”

To read the full report, visit: sierrawatch.org

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.