Tahoe conservationists score win in Martis Valley case

A six-year legal battle over the future of Martis Valley West — a 670-acre wooded property adjacent to Northstar previously slated by Placer County supervisors for development — hit another milestone this week.

California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal deemed the project’s environmental impact report, approved by Placer County Board of Supervisors in 2016, as “inadequate.”

The Martis project’s landowner, Sierra Pacific Industries, sought entitlements to allow construction of a gated development with new roads, commercial malls, and 760 vacation homes on an undeveloped ridgeline at the northern rim of the Tahoe Basin, according to a news release.

Now, it’s back to the drawing board.

According to a press release issued by the Sierra Watch, the appeals court took issue with the county’s disclosure of the project’s impact to Lake Tahoe. The court sided with the California Clean Energy Committee on separate claims that the project failed to incorporate available alternative energy sources and mitigation for added traffic.

Sierra Pacific Industries couldn’t be reached for comment.

Placer County officials said there were many positive aspects of Monday’s court ruling, “including the court’s affirmation of the county’s decision to shift Timberland Productivity Zoned land from west of 267 to the parcel on the east, and the approval of the environmental analysis of fire evacuation and impacts on forest resources.”

According to Placer County officials, the county is currently evaluating the areas in which the court asked for additional analysis, as well as the ruling as a whole, before it determines its next steps.

The decision comes as a relief to community-based conservation groups like Sierra Watch, the League to Save Lake Tahoe and Mountain Area Preservation.

“This week’s decision is a big deal for Tahoe,” said Tom Mooers, executive director for the Sierra Watch. “It puts a stop to the Martis Valley West development proposal, which in itself is a major threat to everything we love about our mountains.”

The Sierra Watch has been hard at work, Mooers said, trying to preserve and protect one of California’s most prized natural possessions.

Nonprofits and grassroots organizers have made serious gains through prevention over the last six months, Mooers said, adding that this victory sets yet another precedent for environmental standards regarding lake clarity.

“The decision furthers the precedent we set in the Sierra Watch case against reckless development in nearby Olympic (formerly Squaw) Valley — closing a major loophole and making sure that developers and decision makers can’t ignore how their projects could harm Tahoe,” Mooers said, adding, “even if they are proposed for outside of the Tahoe Basin.”

Placer County’s supervisorial authority that gave the green light to Alterra’s 90-foot high indoor water park at Squaw Valley in 2016 was rescinded by same appeals court in October.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at

This story was updated on Feb. 16 to state the Sierra Watch was the group involved in the lawsuit

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