Beals told the large audience in attendance that the meeting was to informally discuss the project, to have an open dialog and be transparent. He said they were not there to advocate for the project, adding they were objective and there to serve the direction of the county general plan, respect the rights of the property owner and respect the needs of the community. Beals stated the evolution of the project had been somewhat invisible and looking back he wished they had had a meeting like this months ago and this was their chance to rewind a little so everyone got a feel for the project.
Kristin York asked how many people were there because they loved Sierra Valley. With all hands raised, she told the audience to remember that throughout the meeting, adding it was important to listen and learn.
Beals talked about the County General Plan that was adopted in 1996. He said the Board of Supervisors looked at the plan that hadn’t been updated since 1970 and turned it over to the Planning Commission, who conducted over 50 public meetings in the course of two years and the result was a general plan developed by the community. The General Plan has been touted as a unique document and is still functional and very viable today. Beals stated there are five basic fundamental goals of the plan: 1. To maintain its culture, heritage, rural character and preserve its rural quality of life. 2. To defend its important natural features and functions. 3. To foster compatible and historical land uses which are rural and which contribute to a stable economy. 4. To direct development toward the areas already developed. 5. To provide and plan for all land and uses regardless of ownership or governmental jurisdiction. Beals said the concept of a project at SHS is consistent with the General Plan.
Brandon Pangman talked about land use regulations and the process of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as a lot of comments have been about the environmental process. He gave the timeline in which had been completed up to this point. SHS sent an application to the County in February 2015. The County deemed the application complete in April of 2015. Pangman stated in the CEQA process, the bulk of the time is the environmental review, which looks at a broad range of impacts with the environment. SHS completed over three years of background studies. He said SHS worked for years with an eye toward Sierra County’s general plan to help mitigate environmental impacts, and willingly amended their application to achieve this. Pangman stated the draft document was circulated in November 2018, and solicited comments, adding all the documents are publically available. From the audience, it was asked where SHS project was in the CEQA circulation and process. Pangman stated the Mitigated Negative Declaration Draft Document had been completed and the next step was to develop responses to all the comments. He said the document could be modified based on those comments.
Kaisa McDonald, is the general manager at SHS and has worked there 19 years and prior to that, she grew up there. She stated in 2005, SHS looked at building some resident housing but were told they had to have a master plan. In 2012, she joined with Andy Cassano and worked on it for about 3 years. She is hoping to find something that would work well with the community. She said SHS was one of the few areas in the General Plan that is zoned visitor commercial so it gives a good opportunity for tourism. McDonald stated since 2003, there’s been a 319% increase in business and has been turning people away for lack of room. She stated since they are a non-profit they don’t pay Federal income taxes, but pay Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) and felt SHS was the largest contributor in the County, paying $80,000 last year. SHS pays property taxes and paid $44,000 last year and employs 32, paying about $783,000 in payroll. McDonald thought about 26 of those employees were local hires. Andy Cassano, a land surveyor and planner who grewup in Camptonville, reminisced about the prosperity the area used to have due to the timber industry. He stated the Sierraville School closed due to the loss of economic opportunities. Cassano said he wouldn’t have taken the job if the 384-acre property wasn’t zoned visitor commercial. He stated he and Kaisa looked to develop a menu of items SHS can choose from over the next 20, 30 and 40 years, and worked to come up with a project in areas that were already being used, consistent with the General Plan, and something that “would not ruin your lives.” He said he’s worked with McDonald the last seven years, and stated she is a smart businesswoman and very community oriented. He concluded that they would like nothing better than to find jobs for people who live here and maybe have a school here again.
York asked the audience if there were any clarifying questions. One audience member stated he felt the project was being pushed through. He felt any project of this size, should have automatically had an Environmental Impact Review (EIR), adding it doubled the size of the community of Sierraville and asked how this keeps with the rural quality of life. Pangman stated they looked at the situation and there wasn’t a huge increase. A designated campground will actually decrease the numbers.
Another comment asked why Sierra County felt it followed the General Plan when a legal opinion did not? Beals stated, “You can hire ten attorneys and get ten different answers.” He said they were still in the process of evaluating on whether they want to move forward or step back and reconsider some things that have been presented.
Fire danger was a concern with the audience, and was stated SHS is in a high grass area and borders the Tahoe National Forest. It was asked what Sierra County was doing to follow the recommendations of Cal Fire. Beals said the comments received from Cal Fire would be entered into the project approval process.
Traffic was a big stumbling block for the audience and it was stated the study cited was out of date. Pangman said he found some errors, and an old traffic study was entered. He stated the correct traffic study was done in 2016 for this project in August after Burning Man. Another question asked if there could be anything in this project to help with the volume and speed of traffic going through Sierraville. Beals understood that needed to be evaluated, adding they have tried to slow people down with speed back signs and enforcement.
One audience member stated this was a major application that would affect this valley and asked why they are six months into the project and just now having public input. Beals said when the document concluded in January, he misjudged the time and needed to hit rewind and start over so everyone was on the same page.
One audience member stated they are blessed to have SHS here, but would like to see a balance struck, and felt more workshops could fill in key pieces. She added, she wants a good project. Beals agreed that more discussion had to be done to address the concerns of the community, and added nobody was suggesting this would be shoved
down your throat. He stated the County will evaluate the input closely and will meet with the applicant to see where they want to go. Beals concluded by stating, they want to hear the concerns and take it back to a productive environment.
Other concerns brought about after the audience was separated into groups, were social impacts to the community, noise pollution, dust pollution, and public safety. Some suggestions consisted of cutting the project in half, downsizing the market so people will do more shopping in local towns, and have a second access road for fire. People felt the project was positive in tax revenue, economy, employment, and improvement to the facilities.
Beals appreciated the comments and would be having a constructive meeting with the property owner to address these concerns. He felt the meeting was very constructive and hoped to have a solution people can get behind.
From the audience, Rick Maddalena thanked McDonald for
her open-mindedness and stated they have the right person to make the right project happen.