Press Release

Morrison & Foerster Files Suit to Protect Public Safety and Uphold Environmental Laws at Northstar Property

31 Jan 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – January 31, 2013 – Representing citizens group Tahoe Residents United for Safe Transit (TRUST), Morrison & Foerster has filed suit to overturn a Nov. 2012 decision by Placer County and its Community Development Resource Agency. In violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and planning and land use laws, Placer County is attempting to convert an Emergency Vehicle Access (EVA)-only road to one for non-emergency use by any vehicle traveling to and from one of Lake Tahoe’s largest subdivisions, Martis Camp, and Northstar California ski resort. This EVA road slices through a much smaller development, The Retreat-at-Northstar, and, if used for non-emergency private traffic, would create 30 times the originally approved traffic for the steep and narrow roadway that was designed for the 18 homes in the small subdivision.

“The approvals and environmental reviews for both the 650-lot Martis Camp and the 18-lot Retreat projects provide solely for an EVA connection between the two subdivisions. No one has submitted a plan to open the road connection for non-emergency vehicles,” partner Chris Carr, Chair of Morrison & Foerster's Environment and Energy Group, said. “In contrast to the very public, collaborative and time-consuming process to develop, review and approve the Martis Camp and The Retreat projects, the county’s attempt to change the status of the road had no public input or environmental analysis, violating the public trust and flouting CEQA and California’s planning and land use laws.”

The Martis Camp and The Retreat are two very different developments. The 2,000-acre Martis Camp subdivision is a large-scale, gated community with an extensive road network and golf course, lodges and other amenities. The Retreat is a much smaller 31-acre subdivision designed as a secluded and quiet collection of a few homes with only two short streets; it is located between Martis Camp and the Northstar California ski resort. Per the planning documents that govern both subdivisions, there is an EVA-only road between the end of Shaffer Mill Road from Martis Camp and Mill Site Road from The Retreat. Opening this road to non-emergency use by Martis Camp residents and their guests would convert the road through The Retreat into a thoroughfare carrying a level of traffic for which is was not designed, create an additional, unapproved entrance/exit for the Martis Camp development, and cause significant environmental, traffic and public safety impacts.

By its Nov. 2012 closed doors decision, the county is attempting to make this emergency-only road into a non-emergency thoroughfare, violating numerous laws and legal requirements, and trampling several clear commitments it had previously made to the public: 

  • The Martis Valley Community Plan (MVCP), adopted by Placer County to ensure the public safety as well as orderly and careful development of the area, specifically designates this road for emergency access only, thus prohibiting private, non-emergency traffic. 
  • The Retreat and Martis Camp Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), certified by the county considered the public safety and other impacts solely of emergency-only and potential future public transit. The Retreat EIR also concluded that lot and road layout was safe only because the road through The Retreat was not to be approved as a thoroughfare. 
  • County officials promised that, should opening this EVA-only road to non-emergency traffic ever be considered, the county would first commence CEQA review and provide an open, public process and discussion before any decision was made.

Members of the community, including representatives of Northstar Property Owners Association with over 1,400 members, have attended meetings with the county and written letters requesting the restoration of the EVA-only status of this road. When all these attempts failed, TRUST was formed and the lawsuit filed. Members of TRUST are focused on protecting the public interest through a just resolution that is based on upholding environmental laws, protecting public safety and restoring good governance in Placer County.

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