Dispute flares over access to Donner records | SierraSun.com

Dispute flares over access to Donner records

Laura Brown
Sun News Service
Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun file photoA Save Donner Summit sign protesting the Royal Gorge development was in place last summer. A new dispute has arisen over whether planning documents are public record.
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Donner Summit residents already distrustful of Royal Gorge developers are fuming after they were denied access to what they believe were public documents delivered to Placer County last month.

On Nov. 21, Royal Gorge LLC delivered more than 200 pages of documents to Placer County, including an anticipated alternative water supply study and specific land-use plan and geotechnical studies for its 950-unit summit development surrounding the Royal Gorge cross-country ski resort.

A formal application for the project isn’t expected until the first of the year.

When Serene Lakes property owner Joseph Gray requested to see the documents stamped “Administrative Draft Private,” the county denied his request, citing a Public Information Act exemption for the preliminary material considered in draft form.

“We’re kind of flabbergasted that the county is playing this game,” Gray said.

This week, The Union in Grass Valley filed a request to see the documents under the state Public Records Act. Placer County has not responded.

The need for public disclosure becomes even greater during the planning stages, because community input can help frame a project, said Jim Ewert, a legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Why is it decision-makers should see this information and not the public?” asked Ewert, posing the argument that decision-makers would be getting the same misinformation.

County Planning Director Michael Johnson says the county is “consistent and compliant with state law.”

“There’s a perception that information is being hidden… That’s not the case,” Johnson said.

Royal Gorge developers Todd Foster and Kirk Syme have promoted transparency throughout the project’s planning process but denied public viewing this time to avoid “confusion.”

“Because certain Royal Gorge preliminary draft planning documents have created confusion and needless speculation in the past, we decided that it will be appropriate to complete and improve the documents before releasing them to the public,” said Royal Gorge project manager Mike Livak in a written statement.

“I think they just want to get done what they want to get done and don’t want to deal with the public,” said Bill Oudegeest, president of the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association.

Oudegeest told the Sun Thursday that a hearing on Dec. 24 would determine if the documents would go back to Royal Gorge.

A second hearing in January will determine whether the documents are public or not, Oudegeest said.

Attorney Donald Mooney, hired by the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association, believes the public is entitled to view the documents since the requests were made before Royal Gorge asked for their return.

“They should have been provided with the information,” Ewert said.

If the county retained copies of any part of the documents, the information would be disclosable to the public, Ewert said. As of Tuesday evening, The Union could not confirm whether the county has copies of the documents.