Eco Truckee Tahoe Commentary
Town of Truckee Concerned About Squaw Valley Development
By Ted Lipien
At their July 14, 2015 meeting, three members of the Town of Truckee Council expressed deep concerns about water, traffic, and housing impacts on the town and its citizens in response to the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR). The company behind the proposed development project is Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. Its CEO is Andy Wirth. Many Squaw Valley residents have organized against Squaw Valley Ski Holdings’ development plans and Andy Wirth’s campaign to get them approved by forming Incorporate Olympic Valley.
Strong opposition from Truckee Council members to key elements of the Draft EIR was significant since the Town of Truckee Council is a strongly pro-development and pro-business body that usually bends over backwards to meet the needs of local business owners, often at the expense of the environment and interests of longtime area residents. The Truckee Council regularly approves almost every proposed development project in town, some without full EIRs. The Council recently gave a green light to the Fifty – Fifty (50/50) Brewery construction next to the Truckee River and the town’s center, agreeing that the project be categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Other breweries in the U.S. have been known to have toxic spills into rivers and causing an unpleasant odor, but the owners argued that these are not threats that could not be avoided with their proposed mitigation measures while a currently blighted area near the river will be improved by the project. It was approved by the Town of Truckee Council 4 to 0 based on its presumed low risk offset by economic and environmental benefits.
This and previous Town of Truckee pro-business votes are typical of the constant growth mentality. The Town of Truckee will even approve building a permanent trash container for a business right on the main downtown street sidewalk or agree to cutting of hundreds of trees for a new swimming pool or a new commercial park even if there are plenty of buildings and lots in town with vacancy signs and facilities that could be rehabilitated instead of encroaching upon open space and wooded areas, that’s how pro-business and pro-development most of the town’s officials are.
But while not opposing the development plans at the Squaw Valley on principle, the concerns expressed by the Town of Truckee Council Members and staff were substantial.
Town’s Mayor Alicia Barr, who owns the 50/50 Brewery and who recused herself and did not participate in the June 23, 2015 discussion or vote on her business project, was also absent from the July 14 meeting during which the Village at Squaw Valley Draft EIR was discussed. She submitted comments on the Squaw Valley project in writing which were read during the meeting. They were similar to comments made by other Council members.
Council member Carolyn Wallace Dee recused herself from the discussion of the Squaw Valley Specific Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report citing her Squaw Valley employment.
Truckee Council member Patrick Flora noted that it was unfortunate that no member of the public spoke at the Tuesday meeting about the the Village at Squaw Valley Draft EIR even though Truckee residents will suffer the impact of the project if it goes forward.
Council member Flora was right. No Truckee-based environmental organization made any public comments at the Tuesday meeting. Some local environmental organizations, however, are believed to get donations based on sales of Squaw Valley ski tickets. These pro-environment groups are also believed to get donations based on sales of jet fuel at the Truckee Airport, which with increasing private jet traffic and noise over many Truckee neighborhoods is also becoming a major environmental threat and a quality of life issue for local residents. Co-opting of environmental groups and other NGO with small donations, some of which even come from public funds, has become a favorite strategy of some businesses and public institutions in the area which want to blunt community opposition to their environmentally destructive activities and development projects. SEE: Truckee Airport Owes Residents More Transparency on Tax Subsidy and Jet Noise.
Sierra Watch seems to be the only local environmental organization which takes seriously the environmental threat posed by turning Squaw into an intensely developed, year-round destination resort.
True to their pro-development and pro-business reputation, most of the Town of Truckee Council members did not question the essential validity of the Squaw project, although Council member Morgan Goodwin wondered out loud what damage the Squaw Valley development can do to Truckee’s environment and its character as a small mountain resort town. Such comments are rarely heard at Truckee Town Council meetings.
All of Town of Truckee Council members who spoke at the Tuesday meeting were, however, deeply concerned about what they thought were inadequate responses in the Draft EIR to water supplies, traffic congestion, and employee housing issues and their impact on Truckee and its residents.
Town of Truckee Vice Mayor Joan deRyk Jones called the Squaw Valley response to vastly increased employee housing requirements “laughable.” Town Manager Tony Lashbrook suggested at one point that Squaw Valley might consider vastly reducing the scope of the development project, pointing out that this would be good for the environment.
The Town of Truckee staff provided the Council members with its assessment of the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report and a draft comment letter for Mayor Alicia Barr to submit to Placer County.
“While the scale of the Specific Plan is large, it is located several miles south of the Town of Truckee so staff’s comments and concerns are focused on issues and impacts of regional concern or on potential impacts within the Town of Truckee that may result from the proposed project. Accordingly, the focus of staff’s review within the Draft EIR is on traffic and circulation impacts that are identified as significant and unavoidable, housing impacts associated with an increased workforce, and transit and traffic issues associated with a larger visitor base and workforce.”
Nothing is unavoidable. The Town of Truckee Council members added long-term water supply issues to the list of their concerns about the Squaw Valley development.