Opinion: Squaw Valley development proposal must be scaled back | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Squaw Valley development proposal must be scaled back

Jon Shanser
Special to the Sun

We have known for a long time that if we want to affect the outcome of Placer County's decision on Squaw Valley Real Estate's Village at Squaw Valley development proposal, the community must show up at meetings, write letters and talk to county officials.

The most important meetings in the approval process are fast approaching — the Entitlement Hearing before the Planning Commission and then the final hearing before the Board of Supervisors. Both of these will follow the release of the Final Environmental Impact Report due sometime early in 2016.

The Friends of Squaw Valley has been involved in this process for almost three years, with the goal of "advocating for environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and aesthetically compatible development in Squaw Valley while preserving its community character."

In pursuit of this goal, FoSV has prepared a Position Paper that is available on our website (friendsofsv.org) and our Facebook page. We seek comments on this document from the community, as it will be used by us in our interaction with and lobbying of County officials. We are hopeful that people will agree with our goals, write their own letters, and appear at these upcoming meetings.

The following is a synopsis of what we believe are important positions:

Project must be scaled back: The buildable acreage remaining in Squaw Valley is extremely small (unlike many other ski area villages), and the environment is very sensitive to overdevelopment. It is therefore not surprising that the draft EIR detailed 23 areas of significant and unavoidable impacts resulting from SVRE's proposal. These included traffic, noise, scenic views, water and pollution. The only way to diminish these impacts is by reducing the number of bedrooms (aka population).

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For this reason alone, we believe that the project, as proposed, must NOT be approved by Placer County.

Further, FoSV contends that the environmental impacts, as bad as they are, are probably understated. We believe the analyses of traffic and water in the dEIR were fundamentally flawed, and that their impacts, as well as everything else that depends upon them (e.g. noise, pollution, etc.) are greater than projected.

Thus, while the dEIR proposes an alternative (17.3.4) with a reduction to 50 percent of the bedrooms in order "to avoid or substantially reduce" the significant environmental impacts, we believe that a reduction of that size is insufficient. The analyses must be redone, and the dEIR must be revised in order to correct the flaws and more accurately state the impacts.

Based on a revised dEIR, the county must require submission of a revised project, the size of which reduces the impacts to an acceptable level in keeping with the benefits to the local and regional area.

Overriding considerations not justified: The Board of Supervisors may only approve a project with significant and unavoidable impacts by making a "Finding of Overriding Considerations," wherein benefits are determined to outweigh the severity of the environmental harm. FoSV contends that the benefits of the proposed project to Squaw Valley, the greater Truckee-North Tahoe region, and Placer County do not outweigh the environmental damage, and would not justify such a finding.

We advocate instead the Board of Supervisors require a scaled back project, without significant and unavoidable impacts, that does not necessitate a Finding of Overriding Considerations.

Conditions of approval required: While FoSV rejects this particular project proposal, and regardless of the number of bedrooms that may be approved, we believe that any Village project approval must have additional requirements imposed upon the developer, including a reduced entitlement timeline, traffic mitigation accountability, enhanced valley transportation, Squaw Creek improvements completed with first actual construction, rigorous monitoring to confirm adequate water supply, and performance metrics to ensure a viable and sustainable village.

In summary, FoSV advocates that Placer County officials reject the project as proposed. Instead, the Planning Commission must direct that traffic and water be reanalyzed and the dEIR be re-released. We believe that a revised, scaled back project be resubmitted, eliminating all severe and unavoidable impacts, as well as balancing remaining impacts with the local and regional benefits.

Dr. Jon Shanser is an Olympic Valley resident and a founding member of The Friends of Squaw Valley. He may be reached for comment at jonshanser@gmail.com.

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Click here to learn more about the project and view the draft EIR.