Opinion: Why I support the village redevelopment at Squaw Valley
The following opinion column has been adopted from a letter I sent to Placer County Supervisors and Planners.
I have been a homeowner in Olympic Valley for the past four years and have been a regular four-season visitor and skier at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ever since I moved to Northern California in 1988.
During that time, I watched the initial development of the Village at Squaw rise and then stumble on economic woes. The current incomplete village is barely viable because it does not have the critical mass of residences, services and retail to provide a vital and successful community.
Squaw Valley Real Estate picked up the pieces and, working diligently and often against much local opposition, has come up with what I believe is a viable and responsible plan. They have been responsive to local concerns, scaling back their original plans by 50% and committing significant funds to environmental mitigation, transport and employee housing.
They propose to do the majority of their construction on current blacktop parking lots in a high-density format that reduces impacts. The contribution to the local economy through job creation and expansion of the tax base is substantial.
Many opponents have called for a further 50% reduction of the project. It is my view as an experienced businessperson that this is not an option. Further reducing the development has a number of downsides.
First, it does not provide sufficient critical mass to ensure future viability of the Village. Second, it is unlikely to provide the economic returns sufficient to attract a developer like KSL Capital Properties/Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. Nor would it provide the resources to fund the transport, community and environmental (i.e. Squaw Creek) mitigations that the current plan offers.
Finally, given the unattractive returns of a further reduced project, KSL might well throw in the towel, cut its losses and sell. That would ensure that Squaw falls significantly behind its deep-pocketed competitors, which now own the majority of ski areas in the Tahoe region. For this reason, I believe the very future of Olympic Valley hangs in the balance.
Some opponents have also suggested that approval of this project is being “rushed.” My wife has been involved in the Real Estate development and investment industry for decades, and I can say from her experience, this process has been exceptionally deliberative, painstakingly comprehensive, and exceedingly responsive to community concerns.
I first attended a presentation on the Village by KSL more than three years ago, and the project was already well along. Such charges are, in my opinion, baseless.
Squaw Valley cannot remain static, nor revert to the “good old days” as many opponents seem to wish. If Squaw Valley does not evolve to meet the demands of tomorrow’s visitors, it will be left behind and wither away.
As the total skier population declines, and climate change portends ever-shorter winters, ski areas must respond by 1) enhancing the skier experience to be competitive with other areas, and 2) expand amenities to attract and retain non-skier visitors and become a true four-season resort.
In summary, I believe that the proposed expansion of the Village at Squaw Valley is far more than the fulfillment of a long-time dream. It is an economic boon to the region and a necessity for the survival of Squaw Valley as a viable ski resort.
The benefits that the proposed development will bring to the region far outweigh any inconvenience. The world is not standing still; nor should our great mountain resort.
John Cate divides his time between his homes in San Francisco and Olympic Valley.