Squaw Valley development: Key players look ahead to Placer supervisor vote | SierraSun.com

Squaw Valley development: Key players look ahead to Placer supervisor vote

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Visitors must have wondered if a sporting event was going on, as hundreds of people donning either white or purple T-shirts filled the Kings Beach venue where the Grateful Dead once played.

But it wasn't a game or a concert that drew so many spectators. It was a public meeting on the future of Squaw Valley.

Following a 10-hour hearing Thursday at the North Tahoe Event Center, the Placer County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan for approval, to move ahead with the 94-acre proposed redevelopment project for the resort and to certify the plan's final environmental impact report.

Commissioners Richard Roccucci, Richard Johnson, Jeffery Moss and Larry Sevison were in favor. Mickey Gray and Wayne Nader were against. Fred Arcuri was not present.

"It's not over, this is only a recommendation," Roccucci said in a Friday interview with the Sierra Sun. "You know at some meetings you go right in and you know how you're going to vote, but this wasn't one of those.

"It wasn't a 100 percent decision — I teetered back and forth during the meeting."

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Roccucci said there are still issues with the plan, like the height of the Mountain Adventure Camp, which he expects the county board of supervisors will bring up.

"I'm still concerned with traffic … I'm also concerned with people being able to live on-site and helping the local economy improve," he said, adding that he voted in favor because: "I just thought it was an opportunity to redevelop the area and finish what they started."

Gray, who voted against, is the lone commissioner whose district (5) resides within the Tahoe area of Placer County.

Notably, Sevison, a Carnelian Bay resident who represents the commission's at-large seat east of the Sierra Crest, is also on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board as the Placer County representative.

While Squaw Valley is not within the Lake Tahoe Basin, the EIR indicates increased traffic, should the development occur, would have negative environmental impacts on Lake Tahoe.

SIERRA WATCH ATTORNEY: EIR 'NOT ADEQUATE'

Not unlike several commenters at Thursday's hearing, Roccucci said he believes that many of the issues opponents have can be worked out.

Sierra Watch Attorney Isaac Silverman, who was in attendance for the meeting's duration, said he was surprised by the outcome because he'd met with Roccucci and Johnson prior to the meeting.

"Based on my conversations with them, I thought we had a shared understanding of elements of this plan that were inappropriate," he said after Thursday night's vote.

Silverman said he thinks the board made a mistake in approving the recommendation, and that he hopes the board of supervisors will vote differently.

"We fully plan on moving forward, just how we have, and when it comes before the board of supervisors, there's going to be another room full of very impassioned, passionate community members letting them know how they feel about this," said Silverman.

He said if the board listens to what the community wants, they would deny the project.

"We think there was overwhelming evidence that the EIR was not adequate, backed up the Attorney General, backed up by the work that we'd done," said Silverman.

Silverman's latter comment referred to the California Attorney General's Office, which issued a 15-page letter on Tuesday to Placer County Deputy Planning Director Paul Thompson, the planning commission and board of supervisors that outlined its concerns with the plan and ultimately concluding the EIR is a failed document.

SQUAW CEO: WE'RE 'COMMITTED TO THIS COMMUNITY'

Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, was also at Thursday's meeting for all 10 hours.

He said he's planning to reach out to California Attorney General Kamala Harris to meet with her and discuss the letter.

"The first thing I thought when I finished my first read was she is in need of some additional detail and information," Wirth said in an interview Thursday night.

He said he's looking forward to sitting down with Harris — who is squaring off against fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer in the 2016 election — because he said Harris never contacted him or anyone else with Squaw Valley Ski Holdings to learn more about the plan.

"Our success is based on success within the community," said Wirth. "We are not a nonprofit organization, but everything we've done relative to how we approach our business is a function of the triple bottom line — profit's one component of that, including the environment and the community."

He said that the last four winters prior to this past season at Lake Tahoe were dry and warm because of the drought, and the company wasn't reaching its revenue targets.

"We kept investing despite really challenging circumstances, and that's evidentiary of a company that's committed to this community and to this experience," he said.

Wirth also spoke of how Monday's news that Vail Resorts is buying Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia, Canada, for more than $1 billion makes the future of Squaw Valley, and Thursday's vote, that much more important.

"It's a substantially more competitive marketplace with Vail buying Whistler Blackcomb," he said. "Northern California is the hotbed of skiers, and I can tell you after working with Whistler Blackcomb as one of my ski areas, that a substantial component of their visitation comes from California, so it just got a whole lot more competitive."

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As the Sierra Sun reported Thursday, the commission’s vote serves only as a recommendation to the Placer County Board of Supervisors, which holds the final say in the matter.

There is no date set yet for when the board will hear the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan, although it’s likely to occur some time this fall.

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Project background

KSL Capital Partners is majority owner of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, as well as the company Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. SVSH first proposed a redevelopment plan in 2011, and has since scaled it down in size.

The current Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan outlines construction of up to 850 lodging units, with a maximum of 1,493 bedrooms; nearly 300,000 square feet of tourist-serving commercial space, while decommissioning about 92,000 square feet of existing commercial space; and the 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp.

Additional parking spaces, construction of up to 50 employee housing units and restoration of Squaw Creek also are proposed, among other plans.

In May 2016, the The Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council voted 3-1 to recommend Placer County deny the current proposal. It also voted 3-1 to, “recommend serious consideration be given to the project at a level approximately 50% of what is currently proposed, subject to further research to support the conclusions previously reached in the draft EIR.”

On Aug. 11, 2016, the Pkacer County Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor of the project and the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan. The issue now goes to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Visit bit.ly/1Hfvg0g to view the current project’s final environmental impact report, and other associated project details.

Visit thevillageatsquaw.com for information from the developers about their vision.

Visit keepsquawtrue.org, created by Sierra Watch, to find out more about opposition to the proposal.