History of the Squaw Valley Public Service District: Part Two
Special to the Sun
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on the history of the Squaw Valley Public Service District, which was officially formed by Placer County on March 24, 1964. Parts one and two are written by Pete Bansen, chief of the Squaw Valley Fire Department.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — A previous segment covered the district’s history from its inception in 1964 to the late 1970s — here we resume the district’s history in the busy decade of the 1980s.
The 1980s saw big changes in the administrative and operations staff. Present-day staff members Aleta Drake and Jesse McGraw started with the district in the mid-80s and have directed the district’s finance and operations for more than 20 years.
Valerie Elder became board secretary in 1986 and held that position until retiring in 2004. The district has benefited greatly from minimal turnover in key positions over a long period of time — a phenomenon present on the board of directors as well, where Board President Dale Cox has served as a director since 1985, and Eric Poulsen since 1987.
In 1985, at the urging of Board President Jim Davisson, the district assumed operation of the fire department from Placer County, which had operated the fire departments in Squaw Valley and Northstar as “County Service Area” departments, funding a minimal number of paid positions, with the balance of the emergency response capability being provided by community volunteers.
Bob Hazen became the first fire chief under the district when he and the three fire captains (Jim Evans, Ken Priest and Victor Marshall) left Placer County employment to become district employees.
One of the first projects undertaken following acquisition of the fire department was to design and construct a new fire station, so that the department could move out of the old building (which had been built as a “temporary” first-aid and telephone switchboard building for the Olympic Games) and the district’s operations and administrative offices move in.
In 1988, the fire station at 1810 Squaw Valley Road was completed, and Chief Hazen retired. His replacement, Jim Evans, had started as a Squaw Valley State Park firefighter 16 years before.
For the first time the district had permanent office space, customer parking and a meeting room to accommodate both the district board of directors and community functions. Julie Dickman came to the district as an account clerk in the spring of 1989 and continues in that role (and several others) today.
Rick Lierman joined the district as general ,anager in 1991 and was very much responsible for bringing the district into the modern era of operation, customer service and planning for the future.
Under Rick’s leadership, most of the scientific and engineering work to determine the amount of available water in the valley were completed, the district started annual strategic planning workshops with the board and community, implemented an asset replacement program and adopted a water rate structure that rewarded conservation.
Fire Chief Pete Bansen, who had started as a volunteer firefighter in 1981, took over when Chief Jim Evans retired at the end of 1993.
The 1990s were a time of dramatic change in the valley and expansion in the district’s staffing and operations. The Resort at Squaw Creek opened in 1990 — arguably the most dramatic change in the valley since the Olympics. Increases in homebuilding and commercial construction accompanied the new hotel.
The dry years of the early 90s were a test for the district, but nothing like the flood on New Year’s Day, 1997. The flood generated issues throughout the district, with the fire department rescuing stranded residents along the Truckee River, and the utility department dealing with damaged facilities, record inflow into the sewer system and power outages.
The Village at Squaw Valley ushered in another major surge of construction and as the village project peaked, the district started looking toward building a new facility at the east end of the valley.
With Jesse McGraw acting as project manager, construction of the Fire and Administration Center at 305 Squaw Valley Road started in 2003 and was finished by early January of 2005 — the move from the old building to the new one took place in a blinding blizzard.
In 2006, the fire department increased staffing to four people per shift, including two firefighter/paramedics on each shift — a very high level of service for a small organization. Cindy Herbert joined the district in 2004, and Jim Smith in early 2005.
In 2011, Rick Lierman retired from the district after 20 years as general manager. Under Rick’s watch, significant improvements had been made throughout the organization and there was little similarity between the agency that he came to and the one that he left — the utility, administration and fire departments had all been recognized as being among the leaders in the region in terms of overall service, operation and planning.
Mike Geary moved to Squaw Valley from Northstar Community Service District, where he had been director of public works, to assume the GM post. Jim Smith retired from the board secretary role in 2012, creating a vacancy that was filled with Kathy Obayashi-Bartsch.
The district’s history is one of successful adaptation to change and actively seeking opportunities to improve the level of service to the community. As new projects and opportunities come our way, that track record of adaptation, innovation and improvement will continue.
Look for part three next Friday.