Court hears Martis Valley West case

The state’s Third District Court of Appeal has 90 days to determine if an environmental report on the Martis Valley West development project was done properly.

The Sierra Watch, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and Mountain Area Preservation are behind the appeal, fighting a Placer County Board of Supervisors’ decision six years ago to approve the Sierra Pacific Industries’ project.

If the court finds the environmental impact report failed to comprehensively examine key realms of life that the project impacts, the development company will be sent back to the drawing board. A new EIR will be required if the project is to continue.

To environmental advocates, the supposed risks ignored by public authorities in the Martis Valley West project — a 662-acre parcel that would replace trees with 1,360 units — are not unlike those posed by Alterra’s recently rejected project at “the Village at Squaw Valley.”

“Their arguments are very familiar,” said Tom Mooers, The Sierra Watch executive director. “Our arguments are rock solid, they’re very familiar. It’s more so about distilling and reiterating the points we’ve been making throughout the years.”

Plans for “the Village” at Palisades Tahoe, established by Placer County and local experts in 2015, were ultimately rejected in an August appeals court decision. The supervising judges involved in Alterra’s case agreed that county officials and their hired experts did not sufficiently examine impacts to evacuation routes, nor air quality or lake clarity.

Aside from discussing specific aspects that fall within the California Environmental Quality Act, called “CEQA,” lawyers debated whether developers overstepped by rezoning hundreds of acres as fit for timberline production.


Attorneys Daniel Selmi and Eugene Wilson discussed environmental issues at Friday’s hour-long public hearing. Selmi said exchanging one swath of tree acreage on Martis Valley East for another of equal size on Martis Valley West is not viable.

“That language of the act is quite specific when immediate rezoning is in place,” Selmi said, adding “it’s only when continued use of land in the timberland production zone is no longer is desirable.”

Selmi said the value and quality of the land being swapped is not the same, even more so due to the encroaching development pressure on the west side compared to the east.

Wilson, with the California Energy Commission, said the environmental impact report failed to note the true value of 650 acres of trees amid the tremendous loss of forest taking place across Placer County.

The final EIR report relied on forest information shared with the county in 1986, Wilson said.

Attorney for the defense, Whitman Manley, said the Timberland Productivity Act was addressed during a deal negotiated in 2013, noting a number of fees the development company agreed to pay to address issues of impact, including traffic.

Mooers said he expects the court decision to come out a little sooner than the 90-day deadline.

“We expect something a little sooner, although it’s not up to us,” Mooers said. “We’ve been at this in Martis Valley for 20 years, specifically on this case for more than five.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at

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