…But the best part is Tahoe only gets its nonprofit AFTER the reason for NEEDING a nonprofit is built.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Here comes the supposed nonprofit arm of the private equity firm hellbent on turning Olympic Valley into the Four Points Sheraton near the MacArthur Maze.

Squaw announced Tuesday that they’ve launched a boy band version of a 501(c)(3) called the Squaw Valley Foundation, “a non-profit [sic] organization that will be responsible for the management and distribution of millions of dollars generated from the project transfer fee” (corporate press release speak for: ancillary fees paid to various public entities to grease the wheels of development) if The Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan is approved.”

Keyword: If.

OK, so it’s actually a contingent nonprofit.

In other words if you, the community, approve the construction of our indoor water theme park and a bunch of outbuildings for people who live on Chestnut, then we, the private equity firm, will put purported millions toward — something — that may begin to offset the two decades of proposed construction and mountain-themed blight for generations to come.

Before we get to the Andy Wirth (CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings) quote, which actually wasn’t that bad other than the fact that someone on the in-house PR team felt the need to hyphenate “decision-makers” (hint: if you’re not sure, it’s always safe to go with “deciders”) it’s important that the why of this nonprofit is discussed.

…Doubly important because that seems to have been left out of the press materials thus far.

The Real Why: A nonprofit arm of a corporate overlord is important to get controversial projects slammed through community vetting for three reasons:

  1. It gives dissenters a sense of agency. Nothing placates the angry masses like meeting coffee and plastic box cookies and giant white Post-Its and magic markers. When people who are used to spending their time complaining on Facebook posts, in private list serves and in line at Wild Cherries are all of a sudden brought together there, especially (frankly) in a place that’s geographically conducive and transient enough to not know a good percent your neighbors, it’s an empowering thing. Big corporations like Squaw owners KSL Capital Partners bank on this coming-togetherness to galvanize, or at least quiet down by making busy, some of the more vocal critics.
  2. It actually potentially EMPLOYS people. No activist in the Basin ever turned down an opportunity to do a little grunt work or grant writing in the name of, well, preserving something (even if it means OK’ing the building of something worse than whatever it is that’s left to be able to preserve. <–this theory, in itself, is the environmentalist’s ultimate conundrum when living in the mountains…that and the fact you can’t grow food.) Oftentimes, the squeaky wheels mentioned above are the most over-educated baristas/doggie daycares/snow movers you’ll ever meet. A steady paycheck from a private equity firm doesn’t feel really good; one from a nonprofit is like a hit of Nytol and five minutes of James Cordon monologue.
  3. It’s the ultimate distraction technique. The aforementioned two groups are now working together and some of them are getting paid so they’ve 100 percent channeled their energies into something they now deem positive. The problem is, no matter how successful the group is in theory and charter — they’re still not the ones holding the strings.

Which brings us back to the big question: Why?

The key theme to note is this nonprofit (which is — in perhaps overly simplified terms — just mitigation funding propping up a not-for-profit arm of the parent for-profit organization shell game) gets off the ground to, in the words of Wirth: “empower local advocates to address issues and fund environmental, transit and recreational initiatives and further land conservation and cultural preservation within Olympic Valley” which is all fine and good IF those problems can be addressed prior to the rubber-stamping of the new behemoth project…not as a reactionary gathering to mitigate the fallout from the project itself.

See what they did there? The nonprofit, which really needs to be a separate entity from the project itself/grassroots to fulfill its mission, is also intrinsically tied to the notion that if you LET us build it, then we’ll give you your reparations.

That’s not how it works.

That’s not how it works because the very problems NOT being addressed with the new expansion plans will manifest through the building cycle and be much much …much worse than a $1 million annual fee given to the foundation via developer sales can offset.

The two major problems with the proposed development are:

  1. There is no acknowledgement that the environment is changing so rapidly in the region that by the time the last granite countertop is set in the model home condo, the project itself will be seen as a monolith sent to the future from the late-’80s and plunked down on a sensitive spit of land that should be a public-private example of how ecotourism can work when land is restored. Yes, FOR profit…not another Intrawest-inspired DOA faux Alpine village with a hollowed out Jelly Belly shop that started to march out of lockstep with the times almost three decades prior.
  2. …If it’s not about the environment (it’s not) then it should be about the economics. Imagine instead of building monuments to the ghost of white people’s winter break past, the investment would be in wrangling Elon Musk and Mars-based space pirate Matt Damon to somehow create both energy and condensation from photovoltaic cells to convert into, um, weather. Because, guess what? Nature is saying no to snow from pretty much now on. And if there isn’t a way to leverage technology to fabricate a winter, then there surely needs to be some focus on how to restore the wetlands in Olympic Valley with the smallest human footprint possible and still be profitable. Realistically, the only thing dying in the West faster than actual winter is the family of four who can afford an actual ski week. Sure, there will always be the Sean Parkers and their surrogates who come in, act like assholes on Insta for four days, and leave in a haze of filters, smoke and regret, but like the disappeared Middle Class, skiing is no longer an activity for anyone but tomorrow’s ladder puller-uppers.

In that respect, and as much as the notion may stir ire from locals and visitors who make up the community, the future of private holdings in Olympic Valley should be discussed in the same breath as Leo DiCaprio’s private island resort, with a concession that the public will have immediate and unfettered access to this rarified and restored playground for the rich.

But to pretend this is a plan for the many to benefit the region — corporate-backed nonprofit placeholder or no — is not only off-key, it’s a wondrous lie.

To make your voice heard about Squaw’s future, please plan to attend the following:

Placer County Planning Commission Meeting

10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016

North Tahoe Events Center, Kings Beach

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


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