'No More Second Homes For Rich People:' Tahoe Locals Say No To New Development

Jun 20, 2016

The Martis Valley West development plan proposes building 760 new homes on Brockway Ridge, between Kings Beach and Northstar.

A public meeting to discuss a proposed new development in Tahoe got pretty heated when hundreds of locals turned up to voice their concerns. Our Tahoe reporter Amy Westervelt was there.

The Placer County Planning Commission had to add an extra room to fit the crowd that showed up at the Granlibakken hotel last week. After several hours of public comment, local sentiments were clear:"We already have a severe housing shortage. I myself can’t find a place to live here. Stop building exclusive developments that are only accessible to the super rich and part-time home owners. We need a community for the 99 percent, for the people who work hard to live here."

That was Nicole Luftsmuller, a Tahoe-based environmental engineer and Placer County native.

Last year, after working with conservation groups for several months, developer Mountainside Partners announced major changes to the Martis Valley West plan, including moving it from an untouched piece of land to a parcel adjacent to Northstar Resort, and reducing the size of the project 40 percent, from 1,360 residential units to 760.

"It's a combination conservation and development plan with broad support for the conservation component,"says Blake Riva, with the developer. Fran Ruger presented Mountainside Partner’s final environmental impact report, or EIR. "Three resource areas the EIR identified significant and unavoidable impacts and those include visual resources, transportation and greenhouse gas emissions and climate change," she said.

The term ‘visual resources’ in this case refers to light pollution at night. To put the project’s environmental impacts in context, Ruger compared it to other potential scenarios."We looked at two no-project alternatives, so the first one is no project, no development, nothing would happen [loud applause.]"

“I should have warned you before but if this continues – we’re here to conduct some important business and I will not tolerate this kind of outburst.”

That was District 1 Placer County Planning Commissioner Richard Roccucci admonishing the crowd.

Despite the anti-development sentiment the project has sparked in the community, developer Riva maintains that Martis Valley West strikes the right balance.

"When you combine the conservation component -- 6,376 acres -- a density reduction of 600 units, and then locating new development adjacent to existing development, it's the right combination," he says.

Some environmental groups agree. The project has the backing of the Truckee Donner Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land. But other local environmental organizations are unconvinced. David Blau, a board member of The League to Save Lake Tahoe and longtime environmental resource planner, says the open-space part of the plan is great. “We applaud the preservation of the sixty-three hundred and seventy-six acres in permanent conservation as it’s intended on the east side, and we’re a hundred percent in support of that."

But he says what's happening with Martis Valley West is a good example of a pervasive issue with environmental impact reports across the region. "This is a dangerous trend – we see it with the Martis Valley EIR and with the Squaw EIR," he says. "Significant, unavoidable, adverse impacts are clearly identified and then very little is offered to try to reduce those impacts to an acceptable level.”

Traffic was the most common complaint, with commenters pointing out the impact it will have on both lake and air quality, and the fact that it already takes a long time to get from one part of Tahoe to another. Some commenters pointed out another human cost to putting more cars on the road.

"What we’re talking about with Highway 267 is one of the only two roads out of the Tahoe Basin," said Robert Heinz of Tahoe City, who brought pictures with him of recent wildfires and of traffic in Tahoe to point out the hazards of emergency evacuations. “Truly, if this project proceeds you’re creating a death zone for the North Shore. There will be no evacuation alternatives.”

As the public hearing hit the six-hour mark, the Placer County Planning Commission decided to delay its decision. The commission will reconvene in a few weeks, and a final decision on the project is expected from the County board of supervisors later this summer.