Guest Column: Incorporating Olympic Valley an incredibly risky notion | SierraSun.com

Guest Column: Incorporating Olympic Valley an incredibly risky notion

Andy Wirth

Referencing Dr. Fred Ilfeld's Op-Ed ("Incorporating Olympic Valley — myths vs. realities" — Sierra Sun, Sept. 19), I am compelled on behalf of Save Olympic Valley — a group inclusive of many individuals, property owners, business owners, homeowners, employees and renters in Olympic Valley — to set the record straight with the facts and the truth.

Dr. Ilfeld is entitled to his own opinions; he is not however entitled to his own facts.

The facts and the truth are that the anti-incorporation sentiments expressed by a great many, including the Poulsen family, the Newsoms on behalf of PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, Squaw Valley Lodge homeowners, Resort at Squaw Creek, Creekside Estates and Squaw Valley Resort, just to name a few, are logical and based on experience, analysis and facts.

The major property owners mentioned above (who are joined daily, by many other homeowners and property owners), who all want nothing to do with the notion of incorporation, represent over 90 percent of the Transient Occupancy Tax collected in Olympic Valley and nearly two-thirds of property ownership.

This is actually a very diverse group with varying points of view on any given topic, but maintain one informed and common point of view … that incorporating Olympic Valley is a very bad and incredibly risky notion.

First and foremost, it is Save Olympic Valley's analytically and fact-based point of view that the proposed town is not financially viable and would introduce an immense amount of risk for all citizens, landowners and business owners of Olympic Valley and the entire North Lake Tahoe community.

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Save Olympic Valley's members, some of whom are the "original locals," and all property and business owners have every right to question the merits of incorporation and have done so with fact-based and informed analyses. They have concluded incorporation is not a good idea for them nor does it benefit anyone in the community but a small group with a very enigmatic position and ever-changing vision.

What if the King Fire had run another six miles and decimated the tax base of Olympic Valley? The truth is painfully apparent. One fire, just six miles away, threatened our valley and could have brought the town of Olympic Valley "to its knees" if it were incorporated, much the same way a board member of Incorporate Olympic Valley promised to bring Squaw Valley to its knees.

Tragically, this fire takes a previously stated hypothetical and makes it quite conceivable. Had the King Fire run another six miles, just one fire, substantially reducing most aspects of the valley's tax revenues and adding incalculable and not-forecasted cost burden, would have undoubtedly sent our "town" straight into Chapter 9 receivership, creating even further financial hardship and volatility for all of us in the entire community. That scenario was just six miles or roughly half a day away.

The IOV opponents will once again claim that our coalition is "fear mongering." Two weeks ago, on a Thursday morning, as I stood atop Alpine Meadows and saw the King Fire after it made its overnight nine-mile run, standing next to Squaw Valley's fire chief, I can tell you that this scenario was all too real. This is truth and not at all myth.

We're all waiting for the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis, but it's currently stalled because the only economic analysis firm, which bid the job, withdrew from taking it on — another delay in a seemingly endless process full of stalls and delays.

Importantly, Dr. Ilfeld's supposition that the "town" would be financially viable is not based on any real analysis, but speculation on how much the proposed town could claim — or more factually stated, take away from — Placer County. The Incorporate Olympic Valley financial model, which they use to claim pro-forma financial solvency, is remarkably incomplete and astonishingly presumptuous.

Dr. Ilfeld claims the IOV proponents are not "anti-development." If that were the case, why has everything produced by IOV, including press statements, website content and petitions since Spring 2013 been anti-development? It is only through a very recent change of position that Dr. Ilfeld, (but not the rest of this small group), has suggested that Incorporate Olympic Valley is not anti-development. This politician-like pivot move continues to make understanding the pro-incorporation group's vision and goals difficult for everyone in North Lake Tahoe to understand or support.

Dr. Ilfeld goes on to disclaim as myth, Eric Poulsen's notion that strong concerns exist as to a pool of "qualified, well educated, and informed prospects" who could and would be able to serve on a town council in such a small town.

Interestingly, this specific concern was brought up by multiple members of Save Olympic Valley who have already served their community on the Squaw Valley MAC, Design Review and/or water boards. Their statements and position are based on decades of experience in actually serving the community on these and many other citizen boards.

It is hard to take their thoughts as anything but experience-based fact. To construe them as myth is not based on any facts or real experience, this coming from the first of the "longtime locals" and the founding family of Squaw Valley, the Poulsens.

Dr. Ilfeld cites the "myth" associated with one of the multiple, recent bankruptcies by towns in California: the Mammoth Lakes bankruptcy. Ilfeld claims the simple reason for Mammoth's bankruptcy was due to inadequate legal representation.

The truth is substantially more complicated. Mammoth Lakes, due to lack of critical mass and a lack of sound financial foundation, fell into Chapter 9 bankruptcy as a result of one negative incident. His comment that "Olympic Valley will retain skilled and knowledgeable legal counsel as staff," is absurd.

Do you think Mammoth Lakes knowingly sought advice from inadequate and unskilled legal counsel, then made an inappropriate decision and became in breach of contract? Of course not! The fact is the small size of the town would undoubtedly create "single points of failure" that have the ability to take the town down. Dr. Ilfeld's simplification of the Mammoth Lakes bankruptcy is a dangerous example of not understanding the complexity of running a municipality.

Let's address this important matter and the challenges our community faces with the facts and truth, not convenient speaking points that are characterized as "myth busting." We welcome dialogue and community input. Please visit our website for more information: http://www.saveolympicvalley.org.

— Andy Wirth is president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, which owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts.