Squaw Valley incorporation effort would name new city Olympic Valley

08/13/2013 12:00 AM

08/13/2013 8:09 AM

Concerned by a major development proposal, a group of Squaw Valley activists say they have more than enough signatures needed to start the process of turning the tiny ski resort community into the new city of Olympic Valley.

Last week, cityhood proponents announced they had gathered the signatures of 276 registered voters in support of incorporation.

Given the proposed city's modest population of 538 registered voters, that's more than the 25 percent needed to move the process forward.

"I don't see big obstacles once we become a town," said Fred Ilfeld, one of the lead proponents of cityhood.

In December 2011, Squaw's owners proposed the phased development of 101.5 acres of Squaw property, adding more than 1,000 lodging units and 47,000 square feet of commercial space.

The plan – complete with an indoor water park – drew sharp criticism.

Incorporation backers initially considered including the population around Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, but quickly backed away after finding resistance from residents there.

The community would be named Olympic Valley – its current postal designation – because a Fresno County community already laid claim to the name Squaw Valley.

In terms of registered voters, the community would be the 16th-smallest city in California, according to the secretary of state.

Locally, only Isleton has fewer registered voters: 336. The next smallest city is Colfax, with more than 900 registered voters.

While Ilfeld exudes optimism, big challenges remain for the incorporation effort.

It is expected to cost in excess of $100,000 and take at least two years.

Before any vote can take place, incorporation needs the blessing of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which is made up of various Placer County elected officials.

Before the commission takes action, two major studies – one environmental, one fiscal – are required. After commission approval, the voters of the proposed city would then vote.

The proposed city would mirror the 15 square miles served by the Squaw Valley Public Service District, with the ski resort as the dominant employer and cash cow.

But the city isn't allowed to just take one of Placer County's largest revenue generators. The new city would be encumbered for years to make the county whole for lost taxes.

"You have to come to a 'revenue neutrality agreement' with the county," explains Ilfeld. "It's the equivalent of alimony."

Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose district includes eastern Placer County, said while "people totally have the right to self-determine," she was also concerned about ensuring other parts of the county would not be adversely affected.

"This has got to work for everyone. I don't want to see people in Tahoe City having a lower level of service," Montgomery said.

Montgomery expressed some concern that a city of that size would be viable.

"It's a big thing they're biting off," Montgomery said. "It's really hard to provide the level of services people expect at that size."

Olympic Valley might be a small town, but it's a community filled with people who have accomplished much in their lives, said Ilfeld. He did not foresee problems electing a capable council.

As for services, at least initially, the plan is to allow many of the existing service providers to continue to do so, according to a matrix of services on the website www.incorporateolympic valley.org.

But as Mike Geary, general manager of the Squaw Valley Public Service District, points out, having two overlapping administrations might be top-heavy for a district serving 970 full-time residents and a maximum weekend population of 6,700.

The service district currently provides water, sewer, fire protection, garbage collection and parks services.

The biggest and most pertinent service change would be the city's takeover of building inspections and land use decisions.

While Ilfeld said having a hand in shaping the plan put forth by ski resort owner KSL Resorts was the spark, he said it is not the only motivation.

"Our purpose is not to stop KSL, but to control our own destiny," Ilfeld said.

Incorporation would move forward even if interest groups such as Friends of Squaw Valley blessed a more modest proposal, he said.

He said his understanding was that if the incorporation vote happens before building permits are issued, the new city would have jurisdiction.

The answer is more complicated than that.

Squaw CEO Andy Wirth said while his organization doesn't have an official position on incorporation, he expressed some concern. He also endorsed the county's handling of the development proposal.

"We think the county has been extremely transparent and thoughtful about the way it goes about its decisions," Wirth said.

"The county goes out of its way to provide opportunities for the local community to provide input – all of which we support."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

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