Opinion: Commissioners make right call with Martis Valley West
Those people who hung in through the end of the July 7 Placer County Planning Commission meeting were richly rewarded when the Martis Valley West project was recommended for denial with a vote of 5-2.
Due to public outreach by Mountain Area Preservation, League to Save Lake Tahoe, North Tahoe Preservation Alliance, Sierra Watch, Friends of the West Shore, and Tahoe Area Sierra Club (all of whom had members in attendance who spoke against the project), about 350 members of the public attended.
Because no public comment was scheduled (although later that was changed), many attendees held signs saying “DENY Martis Valley West” on one side and “Listen to the People” on the other.
Listen to the people they did. The meeting, a continuation of a meeting at Granlibakken last month on the same topic, was scheduled so the commissioners could hear more information about some of the project’s most serious impacts: traffic and fire evacuation.
With the area already over capacity (did you drive anywhere over the July 4th weekend?!), adding thousands of new cars would almost surely result in injuries or deaths in the event of an emergency requiring evacuation of Basin residents.
This fact was pointed out by many of the people and groups who commented, as well as representatives of the California Highway Patrol and the North Tahoe Fire Protection District.
It’s also worth noting that for projects that would result in severe environmental impacts, Placer County is required to submit a Statement of Overriding Considerations.
According to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), by which Placer County is bound, a Statement of Overriding Considerations is “a statement of the lead agency’s views on the ultimate balancing of the merits of approving a project despite its environmental damage.”
This means something where the benefit to the public would outweigh the deleterious environmental impacts that would be caused by the project. During the meeting, Commissioner Mickey Gray asked his fellow Commissioners what that overriding consideration might be. No one could supply an answer.
Clearly, the “overriding consideration” is money — and lots of it. Using a very conservative estimate of $800 per square foot for the finished luxury homes, the bottom line is $1.8 billion (760 homes at 3,000 square feet). Even after considering Realtors’ commissions, county fees, and construction costs, the developer and land-owner, Mountainside Partners and Sierra Pacific Industries, stand to make a billion dollars or more.
Wishful thinking and deep pockets do not make severe environmental impacts magically disappear. The principled stand taken by the Planning Commission is the first step in what, I’m hopeful, is a new era of responsible environmental stewardship — rather than wholesale exploitation — of the lake and its surrounding areas.
Coral Amende is an Incline Village resident.