With the Placer County Board of Supervisors set to hear the Squaw Valley Specific Plan — and the proposal to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley — likely on Nov. 15, organizers on both sides of the issue have been hard at work preparing.
“We’ve made multiple attempts to reach the (California) Attorney General’s office and have not had any success in doing so,” Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, said in a recent interview.
Wirth told the Sierra Sun that ever since a letter opposing the redevelopment arrived from the state Attorney General’s office two days before the plan went before the Placer County Planning Commission, he’s been eager to meet with AG staff to address concerns.
But so far, no one has responded to the requests.
“I’m still holding out hope that we can set up a time to sit down with her,” said Wirth.
The letter, dated Aug. 9, arrived shortly before the planning commission voted 4-2 Aug. 11 to recommend the plan and project approval to the board of supervisors.
Deputy Attorneys General Nicole Rinke and Elizabeth Rumsey signed it on behalf of Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Prior to joining the Attorney General’s office, Rinke worked as general counsel for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
The Sun reached out to the Attorney General’s office to ask about the staff’s interest in the Squaw Valley redevelopment, but a spokesperson said they would not do an interview.
“This is a plan that has been in the environment for years and years,” said Wirth. “… Everybody should be concerned that an Attorney General allows itself to be manipulated by a small local group at the last minute.”
A spokesperson from the AG’s office, who identified herself only as Brenda, wrote in an email to the Sun, “Attorney General Harris, as part of her statutory and constitutional environmental enforcement responsibilities, has a role in ensuring that the California Environmental Quality Act is properly enforced. We routinely review Environmental Impact Reports on matters of statewide/regional importance.”
Despite concerns that it is uncommon for the California Attorney General’s office to comment on development proposals near Lake Tahoe, it has happened before.
In 2010, then-AG Jerry Brown, who is now the state’s governor, penned a letter to the TRPA questioning the traffic statistics provided in the environmental impact report on the Boulder Bay project at the CA/NV state line in Crystal Bay on the lake’s North Shore.
The AG’s office feels “that what’s really important is the clarity of Lake Tahoe itself, and these two developments (Squaw Valley and Martis Valley West) greatly jeopardize Lake Tahoe,” said Sierra Watch Field Representative Chase Schweitzer.
Sierra Watch, the environmental organization behind the campaign “Keep Squaw True,” is one of the groups leading opposition to the proposed plan to redevelop the Village at Squaw Valley.
It’s also one of the leading groups opposed to the Martis Valley West development, which was approved by the Placer County Board of Supervisors last month.
The Attorney General’s office also submitted a letter opposing Martis Valley West on Sept. 6, days before the plan was set to be heard by the board at its Sept. 13 meeting.
Rinke and Supervising Attorney General David Zonana signed that letter, again on behalf of Harris.
“It is rare for the Attorney General to submit comments on proposals, but when the health of Lake Tahoe is so greatly endangered, this is when they would do so,” said Schweitzer, adding that Sierra Watch has been busy since the Aug. 11 planning commission hearing raising awareness. “Currently, we are making out voice heard in multiple ways, whether it be through writing to the board of supervisors and gathering more petition signatures.”
Interestingly, both Sierra Watch and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings each say the community is on their side.
Schweitzer told the Sun, “The important thing is that the community is against this development in its current form.”
But Wirth also told the Sun the redevelopment plan has community support.
“We’re an operating company and we have a ski area to open pretty soon here,” he said. “We have a plan with community support.”
Wirth added that while the Attorney General’s concerns with the redevelopment’s environmental impacts is of interest to him, he does have other things to tend to if the state office doesn’t want to arrange a meeting.
Schweitzer said that regardless of the outcome of the looming board of supervisors meeting, Sierra Watch will continue to advocate for responsible community planning.
“We’re determined to make sure we get the best possible outcome for Squaw no matter what,” he said. “What’s important is that the community speaks their mind on this issue and lets the board of supervisors know exactly what they think about this proposal.”