All Rise to Keep Squaw True / Court Date Moved to May

One important arena where we apply our shared commitment to Sierra values is in court.

We had planned on being there today, presenting our primary challenge to Squaw Valley development approvals. But the hearing has been postponed until May 24.

That case, of course, is not the only game in town.

This spring we’ve already notched an important victory in our challenge to irresponsible development in Martis Valley. The initial ruling from the Superior Court stated that Placer County failed to address the Martis Valley West project’s “impacts on emergency evacuations in the area – especially in light of its high fire hazard status”. And the court ordered a suspension of approvals. Look for that case to enter the appeal phase this summer.

And we made our case in our secondary challenge to Placer County’s approvals of the Squaw Valley development: that their last-minute, secret, back-room deal to avoid a lawsuit from the State Attorney General deprived the public of its right to open and participatory government. We expect a decision in early June.

In case anyone forgot, here’s what’s at stake: KSL Capital Partners and its new ski conglomerate, Alterra Mountain Company, propose to remake North Tahoe with Vegas-style super-sized development. With highrises, a roller coaster, and – wow – an indoor waterpark.

For seven years, Sierra Watch has been leading a grassroots effort to Keep Squaw True. The foundation of our success is you – and the thousands of folks who stand with us to defend our Tahoe values.

Over the past few months, we’ve focused on the briefing phase of our primary challenge to Placer County’s Squaw approvals. In documents submitted to the court, we’ve spelled out, in black and white, our key arguments that detail how the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate and illegal under the California Environmental Quality Act, known as ‘CEQA’.

The other side – KSL and the County – got to submit their own brief in response. You can read the arguments from both sides at our website:

But if you’re not excited about the prospect of reading through the legalese, here’s a summary of some of the back and forth on three key issues:

Pictured: The blue waters of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe

1. Impacts on Tahoe and Lake Clarity

In our briefs, we point out:

  • “The Project site is just outside the Lake Tahoe Basin, an international destination renowned for its deep, clear lake surrounded by scenic mountains.”
  • “CEQA explicitly recognizes the Basin as having ‘Statewide, Regional, or Areawide Significance’ and thus meriting particular attention in an EIR.”
  • “The Project would add over 1,300 car trips and 23,842 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in a single day to the Basin.”
  • “In addition to increasing traffic, these cars would cause air pollution and produce finely-crushed road sediment that degrades the clarity and water quality of Lake Tahoe.”
  • “Under CEQA, the County was required to analyze the Project’s impacts on the environmental carrying capacity of the Lake Tahoe Basin, even though the Project lies just outside the Basin boundary.”
  • But “the EIR fails to apprise readers of the Project’s environmental setting, largely ignoring its potential to degrade the nearby Lake Tahoe Basin, including the Lake’s famed clarity.”

They reply by downplaying the issue:

  • “Though Petitioner [Sierra Watch] hints otherwise, the Project is not within the Basin and thus not of ‘regional or area wide significance’ as a result of its proximity to Tahoe.

2. Tahoe Traffic and Gridlock in Squaw

We contend:

  • “The Project’s traffic would cause significant impacts by either turning bad traffic into gridlock or exacerbating already unacceptable conditions.”
  • But the County and KSL “resort to baseless assertions that the Project’s mitigation is ‘state-of-the-art’ and that Squaw Valley has successfully managed traffic in the past.”
  • And, don’t worry, “the EIR promises that many of the Project’s significant impacts will be avoided because the applicant would impose measures to ‘manage’ the huge number of cars traveling to, parking at, and leaving the site.”

In their brief:

  • They acknowledge that “the Village will generate traffic. Some will venture into the Basin.”
  • But that “the County addressed all potential impacts caused by project-related traffic in the Basin.”
  • And “Petitioner claims that Squaw cannot be trusted to mitigate the area’s ‘notoriously bad traffic.’ Wrong. The traffic mitigation measures in the EIR are state-of-the-art and will be enforced by the County.”

Pictured: Smoke in Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe from the 2014 King Fire

3. Fire Danger and Evacuation

In our brief, we point out the risk to public safety:

  • “The Project is located in a ‘very high fire severity zone’—the worst fire risk rating available—and that it would take between 5 to 10.7 hours to evacuate the site via the single access road.”
  • “Given the severity of the fire danger in the area, the FEIR is shockingly deficient.”
  • Its “reliance on the concept of ‘shelter in place’ is equally untenable. Sheltering in place during a wildfire in a ‘very high fire severity zone’ unquestionably exposes people to serious safety risks.

They tell everyone to shelter in place:

  • The local fire department’s “Wildland Fire Evacuation Plan identifies evacuation routes and communications protocols, provides guidance to reduce risk, and calls for using the parking lot to shelter in place if evacuation routes are blocked.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Don’t worry; “Village parking structures will continue to serve as a place of refuge.”

One thing we can agree on: in its final brief, the County, KSL, and Alterra claim that, “Unrelenting in its opposition, Sierra Watch (Petitioner) claims the Project will inflict damage on Lake Tahoe.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We should indeed stand up to prevent damage to Tahoe. And we should be unrelenting in our commitment.