Placer County Court rules against Squaw Valley case seeking to sanction Sierra Watch
A Placer County judge ruled against Squaw Valley Resort after the company attempted to sanction Sierra Watch to collect $226,893 in attorney fees from the environmental nonprofit organization.
The sanction was sought against Sierra Watch after it had failed in a lawsuit against Placer County and Alterra Mountain, Co., which owns Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, over a redevelopment project, that claimed the county had violated the Brown Act by approving the project. A judge ruled in August, no violation occurred.
“We thought their case was frivolous,” said Ron Cohen, president of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, said this week. “The judge said twice in the ruling that there was no evidence.”
“[Sierra Watch’s] intent was to use this Court to ‘gum up the works for years’ and to force Squaw to ‘abandon the current proposal.’” read the motion seeking attorney fees, referencing a statement made by Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch in a 2017 Inertia article. “This is improper and sanctionable,” the motion continued.
“Based upon a careful review of the pleadings in support of and in opposition to the current motion, the entire file in this action, and its observations at trial, the court cannot conclude that petitioner’s action was clearly frivolous or totally meritless,” the ruling states.
“From our perspective it’s clear they filed this motion as a way to attempt to silence Sierra Watch and to keep the public from being heard,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. “For years what we’ve seen from Alterra has been a consistent attempt to steamroll Squaw Valley and secure as much development as they can,” he said.
“We can’t silence them,” said Cohen, who was named president and chief operating officer in August. “The point isn’t to silence them; it’s to get the community to start talking about how we move forward. Let’s work together here. These fights don’t result in wins for anyone.”
In August, a judge ruled in favor of Placer County against a lawsuit filed by Sierra Watch which claimed the county had violated the Brown Act when approving the 25-year village redevelopment project at Squaw Valley.
The Brown Act ensures the public’s right to participate in the government’s decision-making process.
In its case, Sierra Watch said a memo announcing that Squaw Valley agreed to pay a Tahoe Regional Planning Association Air Quality Mitigation Fee of over $440,000, was not available to the public within 72 hours before the Nov. 15, 2016 meeting when the project was approved by supervisors.
The memo wasn’t emailed to the Board of Supervisors until 5:36 p.m. Nov. 14, the complaint states. A copy of the memo was placed at the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Office in Auburn, meaning the document was not available to the public prior to the meeting during the next day’s normal business hours.
The judge ruled Placer County was not a party to the fee agreement. He also ruled that the agreement was not significant enough to require notice in a public agenda.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2652.