State of Sierra Watch – 2019

Each fall we check in on another year of Sierra Watch and our work to protect our favorite places in the Sierra Nevada from irresponsible development.

So far, 2019 could be summarized by: one terrific movie, three legal briefs, more than 400 donors, and a massive challenge.

One Terrific Movie

The first thing I often ask people these days is, “Have you seen the movie?!?”

I mean The Movie to Keep Squaw True.

If your answer is, “No, not yet,” I suggest you set aside an hour, pop some popcorn, and stream it at

It tells the epic story of how we – together – are stopping reckless developers from turning one of our favorite Tahoe mountains into a Vegas-style amusement park.

If you’re a Squaw skier, it’s must-see streaming. If you love the Sierra – and Tahoe in particular, there’s something in it for you, too.

The film not only covers some of the action and characters unique to Squaw; it conveys deeper, timeless truths about our work and the values that – together – we stand up to defend.

Piedmont Theatre

The Movie to Keep Squaw True playing at Oakland’s Piedmont Theatre.

We took it on tour through the first half of 2019, firing up audiences in the Rockies and Reno, in Tahoe and Truckee, and down in Oakland and San Francisco. And it’s been an incredibly effective way to let people know about what’s at stake in Tahoe and recruit them into our growing movement to Keep Squaw True.

Three legal briefs

All that stands between both Martis Valley and Squaw Valley and irresponsible development is Sierra Watch – and our litigation to overturn illegal development approvals.

This year, we’ve completed our briefing in the Martis Valley West appeal and submitted our opening briefs in the Squaw Valley challenges.

Although not quite as entertaining as The Movie to Keep Squaw True, I actually recommend reading them. Turns out good lawyers are great writers. And our briefs in each case spell out clear, compelling arguments, backed by state law and court precedent.

For example, the two development proposals would add more than 7,000 new daily car trips to North Tahoe traffic. But Placer County officials largely ignored what all that development would mean to our roads – whether on any given weekend in the summer or during evacuation from a catastrophic wildfire – as well as downplaying the development’s impact on the lake itself.

You can find our case spelled out below.

Squaw Valley – California Environmental Quality Act Suit:

· July 3 – Sierra Watch Opening Brief
· Sep. 23 – Opposition Reply Brief
· Oct. 19 – Sierra Watch Reply Brief

Squaw Valley – Brown Act Suit:

· July 17 – Sierra Watch Opening Brief
· Sep. 27 – Opposition Reply Brief

Martis Valley West – CEQA Suit:

· Oct. 29, 2018 – Sierra Watch Opening Brief
· Feb. 21, 2019 – Opposition Opening Brief
· May 9, 2019 – Sierra Watch Reply Brief
· June 7, 2019 – Opposition Reply Brief

Our case for Tahoe, spelled out in black and white.

And if you’re really into this stuff, you can read the developers’ responses and see how they dodge and dissemble, pretending that pollution from more traffic in the Tahoe Basin is no threat to the lake. That, somehow, people stuck in their cars on Squaw Valley Road for ten hours trying to evacuate from a wildfire “would not be exposed to a significant risk.”

The hard work of legal research, brief-writing, and courtroom strategy might not be very cinematic. But it’s absolutely critical to our shared commitment to defend Martis, Squaw, and Tahoe.

And we’re confident that all that work will eventually compel developers and decision-makers to sit down to come up with responsible, collaborative planning for the future of our mountains.

415 Total Donors

Everything we do here at Sierra Watch – from legal briefs to bumper stickers – depends on the hundreds of individuals and families who stand with us to protect our favorite places.

Simply put, Sierra Watch combines our shared commitment to our mountains and shapes it into strategic, disciplined, and effective campaigns. 

Robb Gaffney, Scott Gaffney

The Gaffney Family – some of our Sierra Watch supporters.

So far this year, more than 400 of you have jumped in with donations. Each contribution both fuels and inspires our ongoing work, leveraging each individual donation into a shared investment. So: thank you!

A Massive Challenge

That combined commitment is what helps us overcome our biggest challenge: maintaining the capacity to sustain the effort.

In case you haven’t noticed, this stuff goes on for a long, long time. 

So the great challenge in 2019 – as it will be in the months and years ahead – is to keep at it. To slack off for one month is to lose forever.

We know it’s a lot to ask: years of commitment. At times when, especially in the absence of public hearings and news coverage, the proposed development projects are not so salient. 

And the conflict is draining. Most of us do not go to the mountains to seek conflict. But, when those mountains are at risk, the conflict finds us anyway. To turn from it would be to turn from the values that bring us to the mountains in the first place.

The mountains are calling, to turn a phrase, and we must keep going.

Here’s to a beautiful fall in our Sierra and plenty of snow this winter – and ongoing success in the months and years ahead!

 – Tom Mooers
   Executive Director
   Sierra Watch