"Skiing has a soul. This is where it lives." That's Squaw Valley resort's slogan, and it's a fitting one for a place that has been the epicenter of so much in the North American ski scene over the last half century. Now, that very asset is becoming a thorn in the resort's side. Faced with a development proposal by Squaw Valley owners KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in Denver and New York, several long-time locals banded together in an effort to incorporate the Town of Olympic Valley. The movement is led by an eight-person board of directors comprised of Dr. Fred Ilfeld, Vito Palermo, Tom Day, Lizzie Day, Glenn Spiller, Nancy Elrod, Bev Wilson, and Jamie Schectman, and has the support of many high-profile locals, including Dr. Robb Gaffney, who recently stepped down as a Squaw Valley ambassador as a result of the conflict.
We caught up with Jamie Schectman from the IOV board of directors to discuss Olympic Valley's quest to incorporate, and why now.
What's going on in Olympic Valley, and why are the residents looking to incorporate?
The Incorporation of Olympic Valley was started by a group of long-time residents that were concerned that the decision-making was made by a board of supervisors that live in Auburn, 70 miles away. And when the KSL proposal [to further develop the Squaw Valley Resort village] was put out there, we started talking and evaluating options that would assure we have more local control.
That really started a series of conversations, and we quickly learned that you need at least 500 registered voters to become a town. I think we had 538 at the time. Obviously the town needs to be viable. So we began to raise money and paid for an initial fiscal analysis that showed the town would be viable.
We have continued fundraising efforts from both private donors and through grant money, including from the Rose Foundation. We then submitted a formal application to become a town, and paid a $25,000 deposit to LAFCO, which is the Local Agency Formation Committee. Shortly we will begin the comprehensive fiscal analysis and revenue negotiations. If LAFCO judges the town to be viable, then there's a good chance the application will be approved and the measure will go to the ballot for a vote of the people. It really comes down to finances: can Olympic Valley work as a stand-alone town.
What is the current governmental situation in Olympic Valley? Is it just unincorporated Placer County?
Olympic Valley is unincorporated in Eastern Placer County. On average, there is an incorporation approximately every 18 months in the State of California. Nearby Truckee was incorporated 20 years ago. The purpose of incorporation is to have democracy on a more local level. Some towns and communities actually incorporate to develop—for development. That's why I go on record as saying we're not anti-development. We just want to have development that's smart and sustainable and that has community input. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something truly extraordinary in the Sierra.
So the recent fiscal analysis that you just mentioned, that says that the town not only would be viable, but would operate at almost a half-million dollar annual surplus. When you guys did that, did you take into account poor snow years, and bad economy years? Did you look at, say 2008, when the economy hit the tank, or I guess this year would be an example of a snow year that's really down?
That initial fiscal analysis was done last summer. Since then, we've continued to analyze the revenues of the new community. We've analyzed property taxes going back 10 years and transient occupancy taxes back five years. This way our analysis took into consideration the worst recession and the worst drought in our lifetimes, as well as a couple of good years. For reference, the assessed value of the all of the property within the proposed town boundaries is currently over $1.1 Billion. The property taxes and the transient occupancy taxes generated in the valley generate more than $15 Million per year. The majority of that revenue will rightly continue to go to Placer County and the North Lake region to support vital community services such as regional transportation, hospitals, schools, public utilities and the regional resort association. The remaining money can be used to support the town government and the required support services.
That's money that's already being generated now, right? You're not talking about you coming in and putting new taxes on property. This is all current property taxes that are already coming in?
That's correct, this is revenue currently being generated. One of the fear-mongering techniques currently being applied by the opposition is to state that taxes will be raised in the new town. That is not accurate. The only way taxes are raised in a new town is if the residents voted it, and very few people are going to vote to raise their own taxes.
Would the Town of Olympic Valley be just where Olympic Valley is now, or will this include Alpine Meadows or other adjacent areas?
It's the same boundaries the Squaw Valley Public Service District uses. I believe it actually goes north up the highway 89 corridor a couple miles along the Truckee River.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort has come out and said that if you guys do incorporate, they want to be outside of the municipality. Would the town of Olympic Valley still be sustainable without the resort being a part of it?
No, of course not. But towns are created by geographic boundaries. There's not an option to create a little island within the town boundary. Instead of coming out and threatening to annex themselves from our proposed town, we'd really like to see Andy Wirth accept one of our numerous invitations to meet and talk about how we can do this together, and do something really amazing. The reality is that KSL could actually greatly benefit by Squaw Valley being part of a new town. Together we can invest some of the revenues generated in Olympic Valley on Olympic Valley in a manner to benefits the residents and the resort. A new, vibrant town would raise all ships.
To that extent, the Cushings ran a very successful resort for decades. Why all of a sudden now is this becoming an us-against-them with the community and the resort?
This is not an all of a sudden issue. The Squaw Valley community has always had a sense of reverence for the mountains and their natural beauty. To some extent there has always been a healthy tension with the resort. The fact is that the both the valley and the region in general benefit from a vibrant and growing resort and a strong sense of community.
So what remains? What are the final hurdles you have to clear before you have the Town of Olympic Valley?
We need to continue our fundraising efforts, and it's very likely our fundraising efforts are going to be even more expensive than we thought, because we're very aware that KSL has a deep war chest. We recently launched "Squaw Valley: Help Decide Its Future," the first time a crowd funding campaign has been used to create a town. LAFCO has circulated a RFP [Request for Proposal] for a comprehensive fiscal analysis, which is done by an independent financial firm, and is very thorough, running up to 100 pages long.. As well, we need to enter into revenue negotiations. Once all that is complete, there will be a public comment period. After that, LAFCO will either approve or reject the application to become a town. If they approve it, it would go on the ballot, and then on the ballot, the majority of the registered voters would have to vote on it.
Is that just the voters of Olympic Valley, or would it go to all of Placer County?
No, it's just the registered Squaw Valley voters. And we feel confident that if we get to the ballot, we have a good chance of winning. This is about self-determination, building a strong community and a greater say about our future in valley.