Squaw Valley Expansion Conflict Reflects Larger Identity Issue For Tahoe

Nov 23, 2016

Sierra Watch supporters dressed in purple waved their “Deny This Project” signs on one side of the room for a meeting of the Placer County Board of Supervisors. On the other side, supporters of the project and Squaw employees wore white Squawtomorrow.com attire.
Credit Julie Stanley / Moonshine Ink

Squaw Valley has finally received the green light to undergo a major expansion project despite vocal opposition. To learn more, our News Director Michelle Billman spoke to Melissa Siig. She’s a reporter for Moonshine Ink, an independent newspaper in Truckee and North Lake Tahoe.

KUNR: We’ve learned that the Placer County Board of Supervisors has approved Squaw Valley’s controversial expansion plan. What exactly does that plan entail?

Melissa Siig: That plan, which will be built out over 30 years, includes 850 units with almost 1,500 bedrooms and more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space, along with a 90,000-square-foot mountain adventure camp, which might have a water park in it. What will go in there is not exactly sure yet.

KUNR: And you attended the county board of supervisors meeting where this was approved.  Tell me what the scene was like there.

MS: Yeah, it was interesting because it was kind of like a wedding; the room was divided into the two sides. On the left side were the supporters of the project wearing white T-shirts saying Squawtomorrow.com, which is the project’s website, and white hats. They were primarily Squaw employees. And on the right side were the opponents of the project who were dressed in purple T-shirts from Sierra Watch’s Keep Squaw True campaign and they were waving signs that said, “Deny This Project.” And I would call it a pretty emotional meeting.

KUNR: How many opponents were there?

MS: I would say the public comment occurred over about eight hours. More than 100 people stood up to speak and I would say roughly 80 percent of that were opposed to the project.

KUNR: And what were some of their key arguments?

MS: The majority of people who are opposed to this project say they are not against development as a whole and they realize that Squaw Valley does need to expand and update their village. They’re just asking for a smaller project on a smaller scale and less density.

KUNR: The project did pass 4-1. Did board members speak out about why they were in favor of this project?

MS: The only vote against it was from the supervisor that represents Tahoe; that’s Jennifer Montgomery. Other supervisors, they note that the 1983 Squaw Valley General Plan approved about 3,000 units, so they were saying this is downsized. Squaw was not asking for as many units as allowed to be built in Squaw Valley.

And I think they heard the applicant’s point that Squaw Valley needs to be more competitive in a highly competitive industry, they need to update the resort, and they need more lodging. That’s a big point of the supporters and the ski area is that there’s just not enough bed-base in the area and they need to increase that.

KUNR: This is one major development project being discussed around Lake Tahoe, but there are some other similar projects that are being explored as well. Does this disagreement, the concern over the Squaw Valley expansion, reflect a larger identity issue for Tahoe?

MS: I think so. I think there’s a real concern. Martis Valley West was approved just a few months earlier and it was a similar vote, 4-1, with only the Tahoe supervisor voting against it. That is over 700 homes to be built in Martis Valley West, kind of near Northstar, and there’s other big projects proposed in Truckee, so I think there’s a real fear that Tahoe could be urbanized. There are real fears about traffic. Traffic is already getting really bad on peak days in the winter and summer here. Also, there’s a concern about evacuation in the case of a disaster, like wildfire in the summer or major snowstorms in the winter because we have faced some serious gridlock.

You know, between Martis Valley West and the Squaw Valley project getting approved, a lot of residents are feeling disenfranchised and not properly represented, and they do fear for a loss of lifestyle in the future.

KUNR: Melissa Siig, thanks for your insights.

MS: Oh, thank you so much for having me.