Sierra Watch’s complaint against Placer gets a complicated response
April 29, 2017
A judge has partially sustained Sierra Watch's allegation that the Placer County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act when it approved an amended development agreement for the redevelopment of the Village at Squaw Valley. The decision was made on Monday, April 17, at the Placer County Superior Court in Roseville, Calif.
"The court's ruling was in response to a motion filed by Placer County, in which the county requested that the court dismiss the claims by Sierra Watch," said Placer County Deputy Counsel Clayton Cook in an email. "The court granted part of our request – but denied another part, stating that the issue at hand is a factual dispute that needs to be resolved after discovery has been conducted."
Cook said that the decision made April 17 does not affect the project in question, and that Placer County stands by their actions.
In November, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley after years of meetings and controversy. The decision came after a 107-page memorandum amending the agreement was provided to the board.
Sierra Watch, an environmental group that opposes the redevelopment plan with its own campaign to "Keep Squaw True," alleges that because the documents were not made available to the public at the time they were provided to the board, the county violated state law.
The group filed a "Notice to Cure or Correct" on Dec. 5, 2016, asking the county to rehear the proposal after the public had more time to review the agreement between the project applicant and the attorney general's office.
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After the county denied their request for another hearing on Dec. 30, 2016, Sierra Watch filed a legal complaint on Jan. 19. That complaint, which is the second filed by the group over the redevelopment plan, was heard April 17.
Placer County filed a demur, which is an objection to the complaint. According to the tentative ruling, the court concluded that, "resolution of this factual question cannot be determined for purposes of this demurrer." Therefore, the petitioner, Sierra Watch, was given a leave to amend their petition.
A statement issued by Sierra Watch on April 18 said, "As to the question of the agenda, the court was not yet convinced that the County's actions were illegal, but it granted Sierra Watch the opportunity to amend its petition and clarify its concerns."
According to the statement, the group plans to submit an amended complaint within 20 days.
"The Brown Act might not force Placer County to make responsible choices for Tahoe, but it does require that if they are going to make bad choices that harm the Lake, they have to do it in the open, in the plain light of a public hearing," said Sierra Watch Attorney Isaac Silverman in the statement.
But there was another complaint made by Sierra Watch that was not sustained.
State law requires the board make its meeting agenda available to the public least 72 hours before a regular meeting. The agenda must include the time and location of the meeting and a "brief general description" of each item be transacted or discussed.
Sierra Watch argued the agenda failed to describe that the board "would be considering significant changes to the Development Agreement that was considered and recommended for approval by the Planning Commission."
Placer County objected to this, and that objection was sustained.
According to court documents, "No cases cited by petitioner support the contention that consideration of approval of the Development Agreement would be a separate item of business from consideration of approval of a Development Agreement with modifications."
Squaw Valley Spokeswoman Liesl Kenney said in an April 18 email that the position of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings remains the same, and that they believe there was no Brown Act violation.
As for the project, Kenney said that the next step in the process is to initiate the detailed design work necessary to create buildable plans and begin the search for developer partners to work within the approved project design guidelines.
She added that construction is expected to begin immediately after the county issues permits, though the pace will be dictated by market conditions.
As the Sierra Sun has previously reported, most of the 93-acre Village at Squaw Valley redevelopment will be built on what is currently a parking lot. A two-level parking structure will replace the current lot, freeing up space for a 90,0000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Camp that's expected to contain a water park, among other recreational attractions, though no clear plan has been set for the facility.
The redevelopment will also include 850 hotel, condominium-hotel, and fractional-ownership units, as well as 201 new employee housing units.
According to county documents, the redevelopment is expected to increase traffic into the Lake Tahoe Basin by 1,353 average daily trips on peak visitation days. To offset this, Squaw Valley has agreed to voluntarily pay a $440,862 air quality fee to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to future projects that help support clean air.
Amanda Rhoades is a news, environment and business reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2653. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @akrhoades.