Court Rejects Sierra Watch Claims
Decision marks second consecutive ruling in favor of the project, rejecting Sierra Watch’s allegations of Brown Act and California Environmental Quality Act violations
[Olympic Valley, Calif.] – Placer County Superior Court Judge Michael W. Jones has ruled in favor of Squaw Valley Real Estate and Placer County in the second of two lawsuits filed by Sierra Watch against Placer County’s approval of the Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan.
The plan, consisting of new lodging, an indoor recreation area, commercial space, leveled parking and employee housing on 93.3 acres of developed land and parking lot in Olympic Valley, was approved by the Placer County Board of Supervisors on November 15, 2016.
The court rejected Sierra Watch’s claim that the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate and violated eight areas of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The CEQA ruling follows the court’s recent ruling against Sierra Watch’s separate allegation that Placer County’s approval of the project violated the Brown Act.
“The court’s unequivocal ruling in favor of Placer County demonstrates that Sierra Watch’s claims were false – there was no CEQA violation as it relates to the approval of the Village at Squaw Valley Redevelopment Plan,” said Whit Manley, environmental attorney at Remy Moose Manley, LLP who appeared in court on behalf of Squaw Valley Real Estate, LLC and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC. “In fact, this project has been one of the most thoroughly studied projects in the County’s history and was reduced by 50 percent based on community input and feedback collected at over 400 community meetings over five years.”
- The Environmental Setting: The ruling found that the EIR adequately examined regional impacts, including traffic impacts to Lake Tahoe Basin, despite the fact that the project is not located within the Tahoe Basin.
- Emergency Evacuations: The ruling concluded that the EIR addressed the issues of evacuation and the ability of emergency personnel to respond, and pointed out that additional recommendations by the Squaw Valley Fire Department to add staff and a new fire substation were voluntarily adopted into the scope of the project.
- Traffic Impacts & Public Transit Impacts: The court upheld the EIR’s determinations on traffic impacts and public transit.
- Greenhouse Gas Impacts: The court confirmed that the EIR properly addressed measures that would help to mitigate greenhouse gas impacts and ensure compliance with emissions targets in effect at the time of subdivision map submittal.
- Noise Impacts: Noise impacts were also found to have been properly analyzed, taking into account a “worst case scenario” of construction activity at 19 different locations.
- Water Impacts: The court found Sierra Watch’s claims about water impacts to be speculative and determined that the County’s conclusion that the anticipated future water supply for the project is realistic and reasonably certain to be available.
- Rejection of Alternatives: The court concluded that there is substantial evidence to support the County’s finding of economic infeasibility of the “reduced density alternative,” which would reduce the indoor recreation area and subsequently not attract enough guests during shoulder seasons to make the project costs feasible.
In a separate ruling issued in late July, the same court rejected Sierra Watch’s allegation that the Brown Act was violated by Placer County’s approval of the project.
“The court’s ruling in favor of Placer County demonstrates that despite Sierra Watch’s claim, there was in fact no Brown Act violation as it relates to the approval of the Village at Squaw Valley Redevelopment Plan,” continued Manley. “With this piece of litigation out of the way, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings is one step closer to bringing the benefits associated with this project to the community. This includes an air quality donation of over $440,000 to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the governmental agency tasked with protecting Lake Tahoe. Other project benefits include the restoration of Squaw Creek, millions of dollars in park and recreation improvements, the creation of new on-site workforce housing, and over $22 million in annual tax revenue to help fund public services including schools, road improvements, transit services and public safety.”
“Together, these two rulings effectively put an end to Sierra Watch’s strong arm campaign to force Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows to abandon our plans to renew and expand The Village at Squaw Valley,” said Ron Cohen, president and COO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC. “Sierra Watch employed false and inflated claims to divide and damage the broader Squaw Alpine community. While it was ultimately unsuccessful in both of its lawsuits, Sierra Watch left broken relationships and community division in their tracks. As we move forward, we are committed not just to building a renewed and vibrant Village, but also to building it upon a new foundation of trust and community inclusion. We look forward to this exciting future.”