OPINION: The Rebels’ Attempt in Squaw

A hearing yesterday resulted in an affirmative vote in favor of Squaw Valley's controversial development plan. This is an opinion from the other side.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Editor’s Note: KSL Capital Partners, the owners of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, California, have proposed a development project at the base of Squaw that includes construction of 850 lodging units, 1,493 bedrooms, nearly 300,000 square feet of commercial space, and a 90,000-square-foot adventure center. Yesterday, at a 10-hour-long hearing, the Placer County Planning Commission voted 4-2 in favor of the development, which means they will recommend the project to the county’s Board of Supervisors, which holds the final vote on the development. (A date has not been set for the Supervisors’ vote.) The local newspaper reported that 100 people—both in favor and opposed—signed up to speak during the hearing’s four-hour-long public comment session.

It felt slightly ironic that the first thing to pop up on my phone Thursday night just moments after the Placer County Planning Commission handed over its split decision to allow Squaw Valley Ski Corporation to begin construction on the second Death Star in the Valley (this is the first one) was the extended trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Not to cross genres or geek out too much on the Star Wars canon, but Rogue One is the sidebar story of how Rebel spies went through the air ducts of Darth Vader’s big-ass ship to steal the plans for the second Death Star. (Real quick: When are the architects of these things ever going to put the core reactor somewhere not in the very middle where you most expect it?)

You know the rest. Billy Dee grabbed a Colt 45 and the keys to the Falcon and, with his copilot (who looked like a Muppet Mr. Miyagi), blew up the damn thing. The Ewoks cheered from the ground because even nomadic woodland creatures who live in one giant furry convention treehouse know the universe doesn’t need any more Death Stars.

All the furry creatures showed up to a hearing on Thursday to give their say on Squaw Valley's controversial development project. PHOTO: Courtesy of Andrew Pridgen
All the furry creatures showed up to a hearing on Thursday to give their say on Squaw Valley’s controversial development project. PHOTO: Courtesy of Andrew Pridgen

More than 100 concerned Ewoks Tahoe residents and skiers showed up as their own rogue squadron in Kings Beach, California, Thursday afternoon to speak up against the project that would basically build out the regretfully paved-over wetlands of Olympic Valley, at the base of the ski area, into a mall that looks like a place anchored by an IKEA in Emeryville…plus a waterslide.

Unfortunately, there was no Billy Dee and those voices—backed by Kamela Harris and the California Attorney General’s office, the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, the Town of Truckee, California Highway Patrol, Tahoe Regional Planning Authority, Lahontan Regional Water Resources Control Board, Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council, and more than 3,000 petition signers as well as dozens of local businesses—fell on deaf, or at least distracted, ears.

(As a side note, the last time 3,000 people in the Tahoe Basin agreed on anything was in 2007 with the grassroots effort to get Jonny Moseley to stop wearing his sunglasses extending behind his ears and around the back of his neck Guy Fieri-style. The movement worked.)

To wit: There was a contingent of Squaw Tomorrow shirt-wearers speaking in favor of the project, but they were outnumbered by the rebels by about 3:1. Most of them are either employed by Colorado-based private equity firm owners KSL, have direct financial ties, or could conceivably benefit fiscally from the project.

The most notable civilian from the pro-development group Thursday was Tahoe Legend and longtime thorn in Squaw OG/founder Alex Cushing’s side, Troy Caldwell. Caldwell was a kind of folk hero in the Sierra before he went to the Dark Side. He made his name quietly buying giant tracts of land between Alpine and Squaw from Southern Pacific in the late-’80s. The land would eventually become Caldwell’s own 460-acre ski area. His property starts near the parking lot at Alpine and includes the 70-plus acres of the legendary KT-22 (his purchase price: around $400k), which Squaw leases back from the world’s wealthiest (on paper) ski shuttle driver.

Now, the meeting went long enough to basically watch all seven Star Wars films in preparation for Rogue One, which is what many of the disinterested-looking planning commissioners appeared to be doing. Prior to the 4-2 vote to scoot the plans on through, one on the panel looked up long enough from his device to comment that the development seemed “reasonable.”

If only the ghosts of Jerry Waldie and Coe Swobe (legendary ahead-of-their-time eco-warriors/conservationists and former members of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) had shown up and given the commission a good tongue lashing.

“Across the West, through a myriad of failed and even somewhat successful base area build outs, the local community has always lost,” said Justin Broglio, POWDER contributor and Truckee resident post-meeting. “The local skier doesn’t count in these meetings because the local skier isn’t going to buy a condo—although who really is these days? The local skier doesn’t spend enough money ‘locally’ to matter. The local skier doesn’t understand ‘business’ and ‘international destination marketing.’”

Broglio’s sentiments were echoed by nearly every actual resident both at the meeting and waiting in line at Truckee coffee shop Wild Cherries Friday morning.

But it’s not just about the money game or the fact that Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth has gotten all Trumpian of late in his press soundbites: “Squaw Valley Ski Holdings is prepared to significantly invest in the offering at Squaw Valley to position the resort as a true four-season destination, provide more year-round jobs, on-site affordable workforce housing, tens of millions of dollars in other benefits to our local community, and assist in stabilizing the North Lake Tahoe economy.”

Stabilizing the economy? Whoa, talk about delusions of grandeur one sake bomb and MAMA’S BASICALLY INSANE roll at a time.

“The community is pandered to with grand visions of foundation donations and revitalization projects to support ‘the next generation’—but you know what? Climate change and Mother Nature don’t give a shit about the next generation,” Broglio said Friday morning, at which point I stopped doing everything and started making these shirts:

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Because KSL wants to at least have the plans for the second Death Star in hand to show to Emperor Vail Resorts from their knees, Thursday’s meeting was an important next step. The vote now goes to county supervisors (Squaw is outside the footprint of the TRPA, which is why there is no environmental review from the Basin’s bi-state governing body and mostly explains the existence of Gallery Keoki) several of whom, including the always opinion-having Jennifer Montgomery, actually live in the Basin and not in a Sacramento-suburb behind the Bass Pro Shops. There is no date set yet for when the supervisors will review the plan.

Rogue One hits theaters December 16.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of “Burgundy Upholstery Sky,” and will probably never be offered a complimentary Gold Pass again.

PHOTO: Max Rainoldi. If approved, the development will affect historic properties in Squaw Valley, like the Stables.