Placer County supervisors approved a major expansion at Squaw Valley ski resort despite widespread opposition from residents during an all-day hearing Tuesday in Kings Beach.
Approximately 100 people spoke during the hearing, with a large majority of them in opposition to the project that anticipates construction of hotels, condos and housing of up to 1,500 rooms, up to 300,000 square feet of commercial space and a “mountain adventure center” of 90,000 square feet.
Many said they moved to the Lake Tahoe area because they wanted a close connection to nature, and the expansion threatens that connection. Some questioned whether a majority of supervisors would listen fairly to their concerns, noting the board’s 4-1 vote last month in favor of a project in nearby Martis Valley that includes construction of 760 homes, despite widespread opposition.
“People feel a sense of powerlessness,” Robb Gaffney, an area resident and author of a noted Squaw Valley guidebook, said at the hearing.
Backers said it will take 25 years to complete construction at the iconic resort near Truckee that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.
An investment firm in Denver, KSL Capital Partners, introduced the expansion plan about five years ago when it was the relatively new owner of Squaw. The proposal spurred a bitter battle, including an incorporation effort by residents of the Olympic Valley surrounding Squaw. The plan was eventually reduced by more than half.
Even so, many people objected to the size of the project during the 10-hour hearing Tuesday, saying it would create unmanageable traffic, distract from the area’s beauty and contribute to pollution in nearby Lake Tahoe.
They wore purple shirts exhorting supervisors to “Keep Squaw True.”
A much smaller group at the meeting spoke in support of the project, most of them employees of Squaw or its sister resort, Alpine Meadows, or people who have business ties to the resorts. Among the supporters were the son of Squaw Valley founder Wayne Poulsen and Olympic gold-medal winner Jonny Moseley.
The resort’s CEO, Andy Wirth, cast the proposal as a necessary upgrade to return the resort to its past glory days and provide amenities found at other mountain resorts.
“The approval of this project will allow us to compete in an industry that is hypercompetitive,” Wirth said.
County supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of the project. Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, who represents the North Tahoe area including Squaw, pointed to resident opposition as the reason she voted against it.
Supervisors backing the project said its benefits outweighed its negative effects.
“We’re getting dangerously close to the point of not meeting the goal of making Squaw a destination resort,” said Supervisor Kirk Uhler, who represents Granite Bay and parts of Roseville.
County staff recommended approval of the project, following a similar endorsement by the county’s planning commissioners. That support echoed Squaw Valley’s argument that the project would mostly be built on the resort’s existing parking lot and wouldn’t disturb large tracts of undeveloped land.
The investment firm agreed to provide a number of public amenities contingent upon the project’s approval, including utility upgrades, land for a fire station and a transit center.
County officials said a key hurdle was cleared Monday, with Squaw Valley’s willingness to forgo credits it was legally entitled to by paying $2.5 million to a regional planning effort.
That compromise led the state attorney general’s office to withdraw its opposition to the project, based on what it had said was a faulty environmental analysis, and avoid potential legal action over greenhouse gas emissions, according to Squaw representatives and county lawyer Karin Schwab.