When Squaw Valley Resort CEO Andy Wirth announced in an April op-ed piece that a community advisory council had been formed to give the resort feedback on its proposed village expansion development, it left many people scratching their heads. Who was on this council and what was its true purpose? Would the council’s input be seriously considered, or would it exist merely to rubber-stamp the corporation’s plans for expansion?

The public affairs consulting firm hired by Squaw to facilitate the meetings, as well as advise on environmental and resource issues, said the council is intended to be an informal venue where the resort can gather both positive and negative input on the project. Members of the council say while the council’s mission is not entirely clear to them yet, they are cautiously pleased to have an opportunity to directly voice their concerns to Squaw. Whether that input will be seriously considered remains to be seen.

According to Jason Kinney, principal with California Strategies, which was hired by Squaw in January, Squaw CEO Wirth had always wanted to create a far-reaching community input process around the proposed development, but due to the required legal process, “Squaw was forced to put the cart before the horse initially and was not able to do the community outreach and input the way they wanted to.”

Advertisement

Squaw also did not anticipate the level of community interest the project has generated, explained California Strategies’ Tony Brunello, with sometimes more than 300 people attending community and public meetings on the issue.

“At this stage of the entitlement process, this much stakeholder engagement is kind of unprecedented,” he said.

So Squaw sought to create a smaller, more manageable forum that brought together a cross-section of the community to provide candid feedback on the project and help overcome what California Strategies called “the trust deficit,” which was caused by not eliciting it sooner. The Squaw Valley Community Advisory Council currently has around 30 members. Some of them represent homeowner associations that will be directly impacted by village developments like Squaw Valley Lodge, Olympic Village Inn, Red Wolf Lodge, and the Village at Squaw Valley. There are also business owners, athletes like Jonny Mosley and Tamara McKinney (who are also valley homeowners), and outspoken critics like Ed Heneveld and David Stepner, Squaw residents who are members of the Friends of Squaw Valley, which was formed in response to the proposed village development.

Although Heneveld and Stepner don’t represent the Friends on the council, Sally Brew, who is one of the Friends founders, was happy they were selected.

“I appreciate the fact that Chevis [Hosea, vice president of development for Squaw Real Estate] did put them on, both are very strong in Friends,” she said.

Heneveld, who is also on the Squaw Valley Municipal Advisory Council, which advises Placer County, said he understands the need for a dedicated group to serve as a sounding board for the Squaw project. While the SVMAC has public comment periods and Hosea has made several presentations to the MAC, the MAC’s agenda covers much more than just the village development.

“The community advisory council goes into more detail than allowed at the MAC,” said Heneveld. “Chevis has been frustrated a few times when he has been cut off from questions.”

Very little happened at the Squaw Valley Community Advisory Council’s first meeting in early March, said members. They got a first look at the project’s architectural model, heard a presentation by Hosea, introduced themselves, and stated their concerns. The council is supposed to meet again in the next few weeks, when Heneveld is hoping that Squaw will explain the economics of the project and why the plan is so big.

Kinney said the first meeting was intended to figure out the breadth of the concerns and how to organize future meetings around different topics.

There still remains a lot of uncertainty surrounding the council, but Heneveld said he appreciates the chance to shape the development.

“I don’t feel bad about being on the council. The more outreach and the more conversations with the community the better,” he said, noting that Squaw has already reduced the heights of a few buildings in response to public criticism. “If it ends up a ghost village and we haven’t done our due diligence, I will feel bad about it. I am trying to make it a better project.”

At the end of the day, however, the council will only be effective if Squaw listens and incorporates some of their suggestions.

“A lot depends on what they do with what we said,” Stepner said.

Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

Advertisement
Previous articleSuspected Suicide Near Truckee Pines
Next articleOnly You Can Prevent Forest Fires This Summer