Tahoe Conservationists Challenge Martis Valley West Proposal In Court

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV…Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation and the League to Save Lake Tahoe took legal action today against the proposed Martis Valley West Project, a massive and controversial development proposal that threatens Lake Tahoe. “The Martis Valley West proposal poses a direct threat to Lake Tahoe and its famous clarity. For years, our groups have attempted to collaborate with the developers and Placer County to find a solution that protects the Lake,” said Darcie Goodman Collins, PhD, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “Asking the courts to enforce the law is a last resort, but the developers have done nothing to address their project’s threats to Tahoe.”
Earlier this fall, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved the Martis Valley West proposal, a 760-unit residential and 6.6-acre commercial project to be located on a ridge overlooking Lake Tahoe and Martis Valley, immediately adjacent to the boundary of the Tahoe Basin. Placer County records show the project is expected to draw thousands of people — and associated traffic — to Tahoe.

Tahoe’s famed clarity — and deep blue color — is arguably the region’s most fundamental asset. Public agencies and state regulators, charged with protecting the Lake’s clarity, point to pollution and sediment caused by traffic in the Tahoe Basin as the chief culprit in degrading the Lake.

According to Placer County’s environmental review of the Martis Valley West project, the new development would add up to 1,394 daily car trips to Lake Tahoe’s existing traffic, and, conservationists argue, jeopardize ongoing efforts to Keep Tahoe Blue.

“So many members of the community have spoken out against this proposal,” said Alexis Ollar, executive director of Truckee-based Mountain Area Preservation. “They object to the project’s pollution from increased traffic that hurts air quality and worsens climate change, the prospect of ridgeline high-rise buildings visible from Lake Tahoe, and light pollution, washing out the stars in in our night sky.”

The Placer County supervisors’ four-to-one approval of the project — Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, who represents the Tahoe Basin, cast the lone opposing vote — stood in contrast to the positions taken by the North Tahoe Regional Advisory Council, the California Attorney General’s office and even the county’s own Planning Commission, not to mention the hundreds of community members who have spoken out against the project.

“There’s a reason why everyone from local residents to the Attorney General opposes this project,” said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch. “It’s a nightmare project and Tahoe deserves better.”

Because the Martis Project would be located just outside the Lake Tahoe Basin, it does not fall under the direct oversight of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which the U.S. Congress created 47 years ago to protect Lake Tahoe. In 2012, TRPA enacted a Regional Plan Update designed to provide safeguards for the Lake, while ensuring that any new redevelopment is concentrated in town centers where impacts can be better managed and leads to environmental restoration of sensitive lands.

“The League decided to support TRPA’s 2012 Regional Plan Update because we saw an opportunity to ensure that development projects within the Basin contribute to efforts to protect the Lake,” said Dr. Collins with the League. “The Martis proposal goes against all of the plan’s protections. If this project was proposed within the Tahoe Basin, the developers would not only have to resolve threats to the Lake, but would have to provide associated environmental benefits for Tahoe.”

“By developing the project just outside the Tahoe Basin, the project proponents are attempting to take advantage of the beauty and attraction of Lake Tahoe without committing to any protections to ensure the Lake is preserved for future generations to enjoy,” said Ollar of Mountain Area Preservation. “Allowing this project to proceed would set a terrible precedent that a developer may simply ignore their project’s significant threats to the Lake.”

Community members have also raised objections to the project’s risks to public safety in the event of a major fire, noting the likelihood of gridlock on Highway 267 in an evacuation.

Together, the groups are seeking action by Placer County Superior Court to overturn Placer County’s approvals.

“Ultimately, our goal is not to win a lawsuit,” said Mooers of Sierra Watch. “Our goal is to get people to the table to work together on a collaborative outcome that respects the timeless values of the Tahoe Sierra.”