Looking Back: 2007 | SierraSun.com

Looking Back: 2007

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun file photoEarly 2007 saw frigid, snowless weather turn Donner Lake into an ice sheet necessitating ice rescues.
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Frigid Arctic air froze Donner Lake into an enormous sheet of ice in early 2007. The cold was coupled with a snowless January and then a warm, dry summer punctuated by wildfires in Truckee and Tahoe.

Weather routinely makes headlines in the Sierra Nevada. But 2007, even compared with the area’s typically fickle weather, was a year where Mother Nature was news.

In January, Donner Lake became a beehive of activity, as ice skaters and hockey players took advantage of the frigid temperatures that turned the Truckee lake to ice.

Unfortunately the recreation turned tragic when one Sacramento ice skater, George Sommerdorf Jr., ventured too far onto thin ice in late January, fell through and drowned.

Despite the cold, Tahoe-Truckee suffered from a dwindling snowpack by spring. And then a long and hot Sierra summer left forest tinder dry.

The conditions spawned aggressive and destructive blazes in Tahoe and Truckee. The wind-whipped Angora Fire, the largest in Tahoe’s history, burned more than 3,000 acres and 250 homes.

But fires in Truckee and on Tahoe’s North Shore burned homes and spurred evacuations. The Washoe Fire burned five homes near Tahoe City, and for many Tahoe residents jittery after the Angora Fire, the flames seemed dangerously out of control before aircraft and fire crews were able to douse them.

In Truckee, a blaze near Interstate 80 licked up toward the Tahoe Donner subdivision before it was knocked down by fire crews.

The fires shaped policy in 2007, as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency bent some of its tree-cutting rules to help homeowners protect their homes from fire.

After a long fund-raising effort, Waddle Ranch became public open space, without the possibility of development, on Nov. 1 2007.

Swapping private property signs for open to the public, Truckee Donner Land Trust’s Perry Norris and David Sutton of the Trust for Public Land, commemorated the preservation of 1,462 acres in the Martis Valley.

Aside from such usual conservation groups as the Land Trust, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation and Sierra Watch, government entities including Placer County, the Truckee-Tahoe Airport District and the State of California contributed to the $23.5 million purchase that prevented up to 1,000 potential homes.

But the purchase was just the beginning, Norris said, with plans for trails through the site, and a series of purchases that would create an open space corridor from the Martis Valley to the Mount Rose Wilderness.

After years of high-flying price escalation, the Tahoe and Truckee’s real estate market fell back to reality in 2007.

While the Tahoe-Truckee area was spared the rash of foreclosures seen elsewhere, offers did drop, sales flattened, and in some areas prices fell.

The weakening home sales market began to cause a ripple effect ” effecting everyone from Realtors to architects to lumber yards.

The national housing situation didn’t help things much, with upheaval in the mortgage industry affecting prospective homeowners ability to land loans.

2008 remains a year of uncertainty for housing, with many prognosticators predicting a rocky road ahead for real estate.

If bears took notice of years, 2007 would be one they’d like to forget.

A dry summer forced the animals down toward water and food, often putting them in the way of fast-moving vehicles and angry homeowners.

Before the summer of 2007 had ended dozens of bears had been killed on Tahoe and Truckee roadways. And many more brazen ursines had been shot or trapped and killed after wreaking havoc on area homes.

One Tahoe City man took the law into his own hands, allegedly firing a rifle at a mother bear in his Tahoe City backyard and killing the animal. The man, Michael Babcock, was charged with felony and misdemeanor charges in November.

In two years, San Francisco-based JMA Ventures went from Tahoe unknown to ski resort heavyweight. After purchasing Homewood Mountain Resort in June 2006, JMA Ventures picked up Alpine Meadows in July 2007. Headed by Truckee resident Art Chapman, the company began working on ambitious development plans for the base of Homewood, including a ski village, a gondola and a mid-mountain lodge.

Plans for Alpine Meadows were much more subdued ” a boost in customer service, and bringing the mountain back to being a locals favorite, according to the resort.

JMA followed up the Alpine Meadows purchase by buying a ski mountain in Montana, Red Lodge, solidifying the company as a big player in the skiing industry.

While no roundabouts were built, no downtown parking structures erected, and no new buildings constructed ” Kings Beach residents endured enough planning to inundate a town twice its size.

Between the complex commercial core project, which plans sidewalks, roundabouts or stoplights and parking for the town and five development projects, active Kings Beach community advocates were kept in their toes in 2007.

The redevelopment plans, which comprise a large chunk of the town’s downtown strip, were met with mixed reaction from residents. And controversy over the commercial core options got downright combative at times.

Some residents chose to respond to the onslaught of planning by forming their own community groups ” including the North Tahoe Citizens Alliance and the Kings Beach Business and Citizens Alliance.

North America’s largest cross-country ski resort has become the latest battleground over Sierra Nevada development.

Donner Summit residents were widely unimpressed by Royal Gorge owners’ plans to build a 950-unit “conservation community” on some of the 2,900 acres surrounding the cross-country ski resort.

And many have banded together under the banner of “Save the Summit.”

But developers of the planned project have other hurdles to contend with: an antiquated sewer system that lacks the capacity to handle the new homes and water availability.

The developers are currently working with Placer County to finalize development plans, while many Donner Summit residents band together with environmental groups Sierra Watch and the South Yuba River Citizens League to fight the project.

2008 promises to be a determining year for the future look of Royal Gorge and Donner Summit.

Truckee Town Council decided in February to ban offices from Commercial Row in an effort to preserve the downtown area’s character and vitality.

The ordinance allows only bars, restaurants, and retail space on the first floor between Spring Street and Bridge Street along Donner Pass Road.

The ordinance was adopted in response to public concern over the economic impact business offices place on the downtown area, and the perception that offices detract from commercial districts, Jenna Endres, town associate planner, said in a 2007 interview with the Sun.

Originally passed as a 45-day urgency ordinance Oct. 2006, the temporary ban was extended to a year on Dec. 7, 2006, allowing town staff to explore options for a more permanent solution, according to staff reports.

Perennial prep soccer powers Truckee and North Tahoe squared off in early November to determine the 2007 Nevada 3A state soccer champion.

The Wolverines emerged victorious, with the boys winning by a 3-1 margin and the girls edging the Lakers 2-1 in extra minutes on a pair of goals by junior striker Katie Dill. Truckee’s girls earned a Nevada record sixth state championship while the boys pulled even with North Tahoe with six state championships.

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