Placer County Rescinds All Approvals for Massive Development at Palisades Tahoe, CA

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olympic valley,
Pictured: Tahoe’s Olympic Valley

The Placer County Board of Supervisors rescinded its approval of a massive development proposed for Tahoe’s Olympic Valley at a public hearing yesterday.

The vote was unanimous, and the action was compulsory. Conservation non-profit Sierra Watch had secured a court order commanding the County to “vacate and set aside its approval” of Alterra Mountain Company’s proposal to remake Tahoe with development on a scale the region has never seen.

“Today’s action is a milestone event in Tahoe conservation. Like generations before, we are showing how we can work together to defend our mountain values.”

– Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch

Would-be developers Alterra Mountain Company, then acting as KSL Capital Partners, purchased the Tahoe ski resort formerly known as Squaw Valley in 2010. Within a year, they applied to Placer County for development entitlements for a series of high-rise condo hotels, a rollercoaster, and a 90,000-square-foot indoor waterpark – as wide as a Walmart and nearly three times as tall.

olympic valley development
Pictured: 2013 Scale Model of Proposed Development in Tahoe’s Olympic Valley

Sierra Watch responded by building a grassroots movement under the banner of Keep Squaw True. Thousands of volunteers got involved. Hundreds spoke up at public hearings.

Pictured: Sierra Watch Volunteers at a 2016 Public Hearing

In November 2016, in the face of overwhelming opposition, the Placer County Board of Supervisors nevertheless voted 4-1 to approve the project. Sierra Watch challenged those approvals in court, arguing that Placer County violated state planning laws.

In August of last year, the Third District Court of Appeals agreed with Sierra Watch that Placer County ignored the proposed development’s impacts on Lake Tahoe, fire danger, noise, and traffic.

“Judgment in this case is therefore entered in favor of Petitioner Sierra Watch,” the court declared in its unanimous decision. “The County shall vacate and set aside its approval of the Project, including the Specific Plan, the Development Agreement, the Large-Lot Vesting Tentative Subdivision Map, amendments to the Squaw Valley General Plan and Land Use Ordinance, zoning change, development standards, and related resolutions and ordinances… adoption of related findings of fact, statement of overriding considerations, and mitigation monitoring reporting program; and certification of the EIR.”

Earlier this year, however, would-be developers Alterra Mountain Company announced they were committed to reviving their failed proposal and trying again for a new round of approvals.

At a Town Hall meeting in Olympic Valley in May, Dee Byrne, Alterra’s President of Palisades Tahoe, claimed there is “not enough to do” in Tahoe and said Alterra would apply for a new set of entitlements “sometime next year.”

At today’s hearing, County Planner Patrick Dobbs affirmed Alterra’s commitment, stating, “The applicant wants to move forward with the project;” as did Alterra’s representative, attorney Whit Manley, “My client remains committed to this project.”

Pictured: Developer Alterra’s attorney Whit Manley addresses the Board of Supervisors

Alterra’s attempt at new entitlements for an old project, however, faces a steep climb. 

Tahoe’s problems – loss of lake clarity, too much traffic, not enough workforce housing, increasing fire danger, and limited water supplies – have gotten worse. And each would be further exacerbated by Alterra’s proposed development.

Sierra Watch advocated a different path forward.

“Now that the approvals are gone we’ve got a clean slate and an opportunity to bring people together – the property owner, local residents, County planners, regional stakeholders – to work on a collaborative plan for Olympic Valley. Tahoe deserves no less.”

– Tom Mooers

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