In wake of court decision, Palisades Tahoe says it’s committed to responsible development
A lot can change in a week.
Shortly after Sierra Watch celebrated a victory due to an appeals court decision over Alterra Mountain Company’s development plans for “the Village at Squaw Valley,” the corporation reintroduced the resort with a new name.
Developers for Squaw Valley — now officially Palisades Tahoe — have yet to announce a plan going forward on the project, which originally included a 90,000-square-foot “Mountain Adventure Center” and 274,000-square feet of commercial development, as well as 1,493 new rooms on an eight-acre parcel of land.
“We are disappointed in the decision and do not agree, but we will respect the process,” said Palisades Tahoe President & COO Dee Byrne. “We are committed to carrying out a responsible development in the valley, one that brings higher paying jobs, increased tax revenue, more affordable housing and millions in future investment in support of conservation and transit to Olympic Valley and the region. We are weighing our options for how best to move forward.”
Mountain Area Preservation Executive Director Alexis Ollar said the name change is significant to her, because one of the developer’s talking points amid public meetings in the project’s 2015 Environmental Impact Report was how the proposed development was technically located outside of the basin.
“During the public hearings, (their staff) pushed this narrative that it’s technically outside the basin,” Ollar said.
That technicality may be true, Ollar said, but “all the impact funnels into the basin,” and is destined to affect lake clarity and traffic.
Ollar said one of the huge points in Sierra Watch’s case against the developers had to do with how project consultants failed to include how Interstate 80 would be impacted by the project.
If the original proposal were approved, Highway 267 would become a “death trap” amid inevitable fire-related evacuation orders, Ollar added.
Added to a growing list of regular concerns brought about by development projects, Sierra Watch’s Executive Director Tom Mooers said the proposal offered little tangible support to the 500 employees it was supposed to draw to the region.
Mooers said commercial developers in the region tend to pitch high-end projects that generate low wage jobs.
“Their proposal was designed to serve one thing and one thing only, and that’s the profit of the private equity firm that wanted to (gain) cash from our mountain,” Mooers said. “If that’s the goal, you’re gonna end up with a plan that doesn’t include the great outdoors, but instead includes an indoor water park. That doesn’t value public safety, and instead puts people at greater risk of wildfire danger.”
Mooers said Alterra has three options moving forward: appeal the court’s decision to the California Supreme Court; draft a new Environmental Impact Report for the same project and redo the public comment process; or collaborate with other key stakeholders in the region to devise a new plan altogether.
“Hopefully, we can get to a collaborative process where we start with the values that any new development needs to respect, whether it’s the clarity of Lake Tahoe or something as basic as how bright the stars are in the Sierra sky,” Mooers said. “If we do that, we can end up with development that respects this place and also the people who live here. We can end up with development that includes workforce housing instead of just catering to jet-setting tourists.”
Mooers said Sierra Watch is not anti-development, but did not specify what a sustainably designed resort would look like.
“It should definitely include local voices, and respect for mountain values should be a given,” Mooers said. “The problem with Alterra’s proposed development is that they came to town and tried to cram their massive project down Tahoe’s throat. That’s just not a good way to plan for the future.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun and The Union, sister publications of the Tribune
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