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Keep Squaw True Meets to Curb Controversial Development

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Proposed development map

Proposed development map

Courtesy of Sierra Watch

Courtesy of Sierra Watch

Proposed development map

Jackson Heath, News Editor

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On Sept. 29, the Fairway Community Center in Tahoe City was packed with a group of locals wearing purple shirts bearing the slogan “Keep Squaw True” who gathered to discuss the most recent vote on the large-scale development being planned for Squaw Valley. In partnership with the equity group KSL Capital partners, Squaw Valley plans to make renovations and additions to the ski resort to include 10-story-tall high rises, 1,500 new rooms, 50 acres of total development and a year-round indoor water park.

Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth stated the development would “position the resort as a true four-season destination, provide more year-round jobs, on-site affordable workforce housing, tens of millions of dollars in other benefits to our local community and assist in stabilizing the North Lake Tahoe economy.”

The “Keep Squaw True” group, in conjunction with Sierra Watch and the League to Save Lake Tahoe, is working to stop these plans from moving forward. The major concerns of these groups are the environmental impact, the core values of the community and the safety of those who live in Squaw Valley.

Shannon Eckmeyer, the policy analyst at the League to Save Lake Tahoe, said they are not against all development, but the current plan is irresponsible.

“We supported the regional plan update issued by the TRPA in 2012 along with Placer County,” Eckmeyer said. “The goal of that regional plan was to really focus appropriate redevelopment with environmental restoration in Lake Tahoe, and this project conflicts directly with the goals and policies and everything that we have been working on to improve existing conditions.”

The Squaw plan states an increase in tourism will provide a boost to the local economy. In Tahoe, tourism and traffic are closely linked. Isaac Silverman, Sierra Watch’s staff attorney, studied the 4,000-page Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and confirmed the number of additional cars will pose a threat to the environment and increase traffic throughout the entire basin.

“They [Squaw Valley and KSL] want to add a lot of traffic. How much? It’s an average of 3,186 cars to area roads each day. So you take something that’s bad and it’s going to make it worse,” Silverman said. He also mentioned on peak days, it would not be unreasonable to expect over 8,400 cars on the road.

“If this project is approved, more cars on the road mean more fine sediment and more nitrogen in the air, which means more algae and a drop in lake clarity,” Eckmeyer said.

Perhaps one of the most controversial parts of the plan is an indoor water park, which will include slides, a lazy river and possibly a ski jump into the pool. The EIR done by Squaw Valley in 2011 stated the local creek had enough water to supply the park with the millions of gallons’ water needed to run the park. Opponents pointed out that 2011 was a historic year for snow amounts with all mountains recording increases of over 100 percent. Since then, California has been in a major drought.

Silverman stated the water park would need to pump 78,263,299 gallons of water annually for the bedrooms and water park operations (the water park alone would be about 15,000,000 gallons).

In May, after the final development plans and EIR were made, the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council voted against the plan. Being an advisory committee, the council has no power in the actual vote, but provides its opinion on the plan. The Placer County planning commission voted 4-2 in favor of the project. The final say is for the Placer County Board of Supervisors, who are expected to vote on Nov. 15.

While major concerns about the plan focus on the environmental impacts, the community has already been seeing some negative side effects from this project.

“It’s essentially taking a place with rural character and making it urban,” Silverman said.

Rob Gaffney, a member of the Sierra Watch Board of Directors, used his experience working in psychiatry wards to explain his view of social interaction when tensions become high and create a split in a community. He learned that “when a strong personality comes into a community system, very rapidly it creates this ripple effect throughout the whole community system.”

“When KSL came to town, about 12-18 months in, I got close enough to see a little foreshadowing that this [splitting] was going to happen to the community,” Gaffney said. “I started having this draw towards having negative feelings towards people that I’ve respected for many, many years. That was just a huge red flag for me.”

He decided to not take sides on the subject early on in order to collect more data and analyze the situation further.

“We have seen bullying tactics, trying to force people to support a project or else you won’t be a part of the future of Squaw Valley,” Gaffney said.

The split creates tension and when a community is in trouble, structure is needed. Gaffney sees this as the most important next steps for the future.

“We all know that Placer County should be providing structure for us, but they are not,” Gaffney said. “So we have to as a community provide that structure. So how do you do that? Well you create community values. I’m not talking about the environmental stuff; I’m just talking about what you want to see in your community.”

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Keep Squaw True Meets to Curb Controversial Development