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Martis Valley Development

When is enough enough? Population growth hits home

Aaron Vanderpool, Contributor

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Since the publishing of this article, the board tentatively approved Martis West in a 4-1 vote. 

I want to call the SNC community’s attention to a local issue that ties directly into your education as something to think critically about the world you live in and your future. On Sept. 13, the Placer County Board of Supervisors hosted a meeting in Kings Beach to determine the fate the controversial Martis Valley West project, involving 6,373 acres on the east side and 1,192 acres of the west side of Highway 267 near the summit between Truckee and Kings Beach. Being a North Lake Tahoe resident for 34 years and after spending five and a half hours at this meeting, I feel compelled to write this article to convey the importance of what I see happening here, share my observations, and inform more people.

On the surface, this project seems like a good idea. The proposal is to set aside the 6,373 acres on the east side for conservation (though not guaranteed and only if the public can come up with money to purchase it) and in exchange build 760 dwellings above Northstar. As I understand it, there is still potential to build up to about 4,000-8,000 more dwellings in the area. One of the arguments in favor of this project is the idea that we have gone from an original antiquated development plan in the 1970s of 12,000 dwelling units on this section down to 760 (losing sight of all other current and future development possibilities in the basin). An understanding of the exact build-out potential wasn’t clear even to the board members voting on this project, nor the developer. I would think that is something that is of utmost concern since they hold our future in their hands.

Throughout the day we heard from members of the Placer County Board, the planning committee, the developers, various organizations and dozens of extremely passionate and well-informed members of the public speak out about the proposed project. The majority voice was against approval of the project. The EIR (Environmental Impact Report) was cited repeatedly as not adequately meeting the project. The project doesn’t even meet Placer County policy by the board’s own words. The project doesn’t actually donate anything for conservation and only intends to sell the land. The development doesn’t connect to Northstar even though it is said to be “adjacent,” and the developer didn’t even know how close the buildings would come to the ridgeline of the Tahoe Basin, which shocked me.

On the pro side you have construction workers claiming that this will boost their livelihood for another couple years, which is a short-term gain to the economy and the idea that development and growth brings economic well-being. On the other side you have the small business community speaking out that we don’t need more resort-type projects making the affordable housing situation worse in the area and our economy is doing just fine off of the tourism that the natural beauty the lake brings and developments like this destroy. As many people commented, the thing that makes Tahoe special is its National Park-like qualities. Many people don’t like South Shore because of the level of development and North Shore is headed that direction. Projects moving forward like this without taking into consideration what makes Tahoe special are destroying the very value they wish to cash in on.

The theme that stood out during this event was the much bigger issue of population growth which is really striking home here. Four different people were calling for a moratorium until we can better assess the overall health of our local society and carrying capacity of the basin. It was clear from this meeting that the traffic in and around Tahoe is not only bad but going to get worse without a clear plan

ahead of us. That is one of the main arguments against this proposal because it congests one of Tahoe’s only safe exits from the basin during a disaster (not to mention a normal holiday). Just leaving the meeting I was late to class because of slow traffic.

I don’t see democracy happening when you have an overwhelming voice against this project, a clear lack of education on their own proposal and yet a board overwhelmingly ready to vote to approve it. In fact, one Placer County Board member called the members of planning subcommittee that recommended denial of the project based on research and relying on experts “uneducated,” as if he was any more educated to make the decision. These are the people holding your future in their hands. In addition, there is a clear lack of public outreach to have such controversy in opinions between the public and a board. The idea that they are set to approve this with clear lack of knowledge on their own proposal and against overwhelming public outcry is amazing to me.

I call on the Placer County Board members to recognize they are in the most difficult position with the responsibility on where our world is headed. I sympathize with those in leadership roles taking on these tough decisions, because I understand the complexities of achieving quality of life, equality of access, and sustainability in our growth dependent economy. It is encouraging to see developers going to lengths for conservation and green building practices, but for a developer to call more development sustainable is a contradiction on many levels.

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Martis Valley Development