TAHOE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL GENERATING OVERWHELMING OPPOSITION
Auburn, Calif. – Today marks the close of the comment period for the initial environmental review of massive development proposed for Tahoe’s Squaw Valley, and letters are pouring in from local residents, neighboring jurisdictions, government agencies, and regional conservation groups.
Sierra Watch delivered its detailed 130-page letter to Placer County this morning.
“Our comment letter makes it clear: Squaw Valley development proposals threaten everything we love about Tahoe,” says Sierra Watch Staff Attorney Isaac Silverman. “Approving this project would not only be irresponsible but, under California state law, illegal.”
KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Denver, Colorado, purchased Squaw Valley in 2010, citing the property’s “great growth potential”. They filed an initial application for development entitlements in 2011 and followed through with the final version of its “Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan” earlier this year.
The proposal would remake Squaw Valley with a series of highrise condo projects with 1,500 new bedrooms − as many as in three of the giant casinos at Tahoe’s Stateline combined − and a massive indoor amusement park with waterslides, fake rivers, arcades, and simulated sky-diving.
All told, the project would be so big the applicant is asking for 25 years to finish construction.
California planning law requires thorough environmental review of large development proposals and ample opportunities for public involvement in the planning process.
Today marks the deadline for comment letters on the 2,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the project.
The scathing Sierra Watch letter was prepared by the law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger and a team of experts in law, planning, hydrology, wildlife biology, transportation, and related fields.
The team reviewed the proposed plan, relevant biological data, hydrological models, recent transportation studies, the Water Supply Assessment for the project, and related case law − as well as the DEIR.
Their findings are clear and spelled out in compelling detail in the 130-page letter: the DEIR fails in numerous respects to comply with fundamental requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the proposed project demonstrates a disturbing disregard for existing Placer County policies.
For example: transportation is a particularly important issue in the region as no one wants to spend their time in Tahoe stuck in traffic. But, as detailed in the Sierra Watch letter, the DEIR fails to adequately assess the Project’s impact on local and regional roadways. A few of the failures include:
- The DEIR underestimates total traffic, claiming, for example, that the indoor amusement park would attract 1,200 guests per day but would generate only 58 car trips per day.
- The DEIR fails to adequately analyze impacts on summer traffic of the 8,410 new peak-day car trips it estimates the project would generate.
- The DEIR minimizes the traffic impacts in Truckee, in Tahoe, and beyond, ignoring the addition of more than 4,000 new daily car trips to Interstate-80.
The current drought underscores the limits of Squaw Valley’s watershed and existing concerns about water security. As explained by Sierra Watch, the DEIR both overestimates existing supplies and underestimates likely demand.
- The DEIR misleads the public with incorrect annual precipitation data, claiming average mountain precipitation in Squaw Valley is 263 inches per year; the actual amount is only 80.6 inches per year.
- And the DEIR makes almost no mention of the current drought, relying on precipitation data through only 2011 and dismissing future droughts by claiming, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, that they “are expected to be limited.”
Sierra Watch also points to deficiencies in assessing the proposed development’s impacts on broader issues − on the key values that make up the unique and treasured sense of place in Squaw and Tahoe:
- The DEIR fails to adequately analyze the proposal’s effects on Squaw Valley’s iconic scenery, consistently downplaying the severity and extent of impacts that would result from the Project’s numerous highrises.
And Sierra Watch demonstrates that, contrary to the conclusion of the DEIR, the proposal is starkly inconsistent with local land use plans. For example:
- General Plan Policy 1.G.1 calls for expansion of existing ski areas where circulation and transportation system capacity can accommodate such expansions. But the Project is proposed for an area that lacks the transportation infrastructure to handle thousands of new daily car trips.
- General Plan Policy 1.K.1. requires that new development in scenic places maintains the character and visual quality of the area. The Project and its highrises, however, would cause “significant and unavoidable” negative impacts to Squaw’s legendary scenery.
“Any one of these arguments would render the DEIR inadequate under CEQA,” according to the Sierra Watch letter. “Combined, they build an overwhelming argument against approval of the proposed development.”
The Sierra Watch comment letter might be the longest, but it’s not the only letter being delivered to Placer County.
The nearby Town of Truckee, for example, is submitting its own letter, calling into question the proposal’s impact on traffic and workforce housing in the region.
Tahoe interests are also weighing in. The League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Friends of the West Shore both wrote out of concern for Lake Tahoe and the DEIR’s failure to adequately disclose, analyze, or mitigate basin impacts. The Friends of the West Shore cite “a general failure of the document to assess and consider specific impacts to the Lake Tahoe Basin, including vehicle trips and VMT, air emissions, housing/employee impacts…and recreational impacts.”
Regulatory agencies and service providers are expressing concern as well with CalTrans, the Lahontan Regional Water Board, the Squaw Valley Mutual Water Company, the Squaw Valley Public Service District, and others submitting letters on topics under their particular jurisdiction.
Finally, local residents and Tahoe lovers are speaking up as well. A standing room only crowd packed last month’s planning commission hearing where commissioners heard an hour of testimony unanimously opposed to the project and critical of the DEIR.
The letters that are pouring in strike similar themes. “The DEIR, though very thick, is insufficient in its analysis of cumulative impacts, water resources, traffic, nightsky pollution, social and real estate impacts due to 25 years of construction and North Tahoe Quality of Life,” writes Dan Heagerty from neighboring Alpine Meadows “The project clearly would result in excessive significant and unavoidable environmental and social impacts.”
The Friends of Squaw Valley, a local group that formed in response to the proposal, writes, “In general, the DEIR points to a project which will result in substantial impacts, will change the environment of Squaw Valley as we know it, and which is inconsistent with the Placer County General Plan and the Squaw Valley General Plan. We believe that the project should be substantially reduced in size to avoid this outcome.”
Given the chorus of growing and overwhelming opposition, Sierra Watch is asking Placer County to “deny the Project outright” and to “ask proponents to submit an entirely new application for entitlements”.
“The current development proposal is a non-starter,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch. “But we are confident that, working together, local residents, Tahoe lovers, Placer County, and the landowner could come up with a better blueprint for reasonable development that would prove worthy of Squaw Valley − one of the great, iconic places of our shared Sierra.”
For a copy of the Sierra Watch letter, visit http://dev.cjbuilt.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SW-Cover-Letter-and-SMW-Comment-Letter.pdf. And those interested in more information about Sierra Watch and its effort to Keep Squaw True should contact Isaac Silverman at (530) 265-2849, ext. 203; or visit keepsquawtrue.org.