My Turn: The 600-pound black bear in Squaw Valley’s room

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. – The California Environmental Quality Act provides us all with the opportunity to comment on KSL’s proposed expansion of the Village at Squaw Valley, which would include a greater-than-football-field size, six-story-high water park, as well as about doubling the village’s present occupancy.

However, it does not provide the opportunity to comment on the economic influence on our nearby communities, nor on the economic viability of the proposed project itself. That is the 600-pound black bear staring at our community malevolently.

If the proposed project directly impacted federal lands, then the National Environmental Policy Act would afford that analytical opportunity, but CEQA does not. That being the case, what can our communities do to understand the probable economic impacts on existing local businesses and on the prospects for the development of businesses in the future?

It seems that an impartial and objective economic-impact study and report would provide the needed information to satisfy everyone’s concerns. The recent Federal Court decision on Homewood indicates that such information is important. How such a report could happen is unclear.

There is yet another economic aspect to the proposed development; it concerns what can be called economic viability. We can assume that KSL and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, did their own proprietary economic analysis before purchasing the existing village and mountain operation.

But some of us are acutely aware of past reality. We remember the hopeful words about a destination resort that are contained in the 1983 Squaw Valley Plan, about the unsuccessful efforts of Mainline Properties, about Intrawest having plans for twice the size village they actually built, and about The Resort at Squaw Creek still holding the permissions to proceed with the construction of their next phase.

If the demand is really there for additional development, our black-bear-in-the-room might just wonder why these past efforts have not gone forward to completion.

Disturbingly, the word “blight” has been heard, usually referring to potential overdevelopment of the North Tahoe region. Not only is the Squaw Valley proposal out there, but also Homewood, Tahoe City and even Northstar. One might even add in Kirkwood because of the proclivities of their new owner, Vail Resorts, toward development.

Is it possible that all of these expansion efforts are targeting exactly the same pool of those relatively few affluent individuals who are still making it in our present economy? Or are those individuals going instead to the Martis Camp and Lahontan developments?

Further information on the proposed Squaw Valley projects is available on Placer County’s Planning Services Department website. I urge you to learn about the proposed project, think, make your own judgments, and express your opinions.

Having stated all that, it’s appropriate and important to applaud Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, for the improvements that they have already made on the mountain, and to encourage them to deal with the still-difficult problems.

Dave Brew is an Olympic Valley resident who first skied at Squaw in 1957, and has been a second-home owner most of the time since.

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