Activist filmmakers to screen flick in June Lake
The Keep Squaw True movement has decided to take on resort owners KSL Capital Partners and Alterra Mountain Company.
The battle plan includes a movie, titled “The Movie to Keep Squaw True.” Brothers Robb and Scott Gaffney wrote and directed.
They hardly need introduction.
Robb wrote “Squallywood”, the guide to Squaw Valley Resort. Both directed and starred in the ski cult classic “G.N.A.R. the Movie.”
Scott writes, directs, films and edits ski movies for Matchstick Productions.
At the beginning of the movie, the narrator, in a deep voice, asks, “What type of movie is this?… comedy?, drama?, horror?, mystery?…”
He answers ‘yes’ to every question. Then, he says, “But above all this is a romance. A love story.”
The story is a love triangle. Ugly and beautiful. Keep Squaw True and Alterra are fighting over the same lover, Squaw Valley.
The Keep Squaw True movement loves Squaw’s history and culture, its mountains and streams, Lake Tahoe, the sky and their children’s futures.
Private equity firm KSL Capital Partners, which was acquired by Alterra, also says it’s fighting for the community. It loves the mountain, too. It also loves the snow, the lift ticket sales and the potential for retail and hospitality expansion at the base of the resort.
The community and the owners seemed to get along until 2014, when KSL released plans to overhaul the resort base: 1,493 new bedrooms, luxury homes, expanded retail space, an indoor waterpark, and an on-mountain roller coaster.
Estimated time to complete this wish list: 25 years.
Sierra Watch, a Tahoe-based conservation organization, then started the Keep Squaw True movement to stop the development.
The film balances shots of skiers, mountain bikers, anglers, hikers and nature with interviews of Squaw Valley residents, naturalists, attorneys, scientists and Keep Squaw True activists.
The Gaffneys’ inflect the story with their self-aware, absurdist humor. Alterra’s development is represented by a construction worker who throws water in the faces of tailgaters, bangs a trash can lid during a conversation with residents, and blocks views with cardboard cutouts made to look like buildings. In one scene, KSL and Alterra are portrayed as Darth Vader.
*KInda derivative, since Mammoth has already been introduced to Darth Rusty t-shirts.
The film attacks the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) performed to merely comply with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)and not much more. 97% percent of the comment letters to the EIR were against the development. Public opposition didn’t influence local government to vote against the proposal. Keep Squaw True pressed Placer County’s Planning Commission, but the Planning Commission approved Alterra’s plans. Keep Squaw True pressed Placer County Supervisors, but the supervisors similarly approved the plans. Now, Sierra Watch is challenging the decision in court.
The Sheet interviewed Sierra Watch’s Executive Director Tom Mooers and “The Movie to Keep Squaw True” director Robb Gaffney.
Mooers’ favorite part of the movie is seeing his kids. He admitted his bias, shamelessly, but played fair and gave another answer:
“There’s something about the scenery, the landscape footage and some of the action shots. That have nothing to do with people like me talking. They’re just reminders of what an awesome place Squaw Valley is, how beautiful Tahoe is, and the incredible experiences people have in the great outdoors. I could probably watch the movie without sound and like it just as much because the images are amazing.”
Mooers called Alterra/KSL Capital Partners “a distant private equity Goliath.” Alterra says that it will maintain the uniqueness of each mountain town it acquires. They call them “Ikon” passes for a reason. Mooers is cautious. Gaffney compared Alterra’s resort strategy to McDonald’s burgers, “Like every Big Mac tastes the same in every McDonald’s.”
The change in ownership of the resort hasn’t changed much.
Mooers said that Alterra has maintained the same “steamroller approach in litigation” that KSL had formerly applied
The reason the Keep Squaw True logo is purple is because Alex Kushing, who founded of Squaw Valley Resort in 1949, used the color. Mooers called it “Squaw purple” and if The Sheet wanted more explanation it would have to “exhume Alex Kushing.” Mooers recalled being told by a KSL employee that the original color was mauve. Mooers didn’t balk and Keep Squaw True’s true colors remain.
Mooers gets pessimistic when “people think bad development is inevitable” and “when people elected to make decisions, make decisions not in the public’s interest but in private developers interests.”
He couldn’t explain Alterra’s plans to build a water park or roller coaster. The only reason he could think of was that KSL did market research and found that it could make money. The people did not demand a water park or a roller coaster.
Mooers offered a picture of Placer County politics. The county seat isn’t in the High Sierra, it’s in Auburn, in the foothills. The different geographies breed different cultures, separate societies. It limits the decision-makers’ understanding of the High Sierra, he said.
Robb Gaffney said of the county meetings, “It was like being in an SNL skit and watching democracy fail … It was almost like a joke.”
Gaffney emphasized the disconnect between representatives and constituents. Alterra’s proposal would add 3,000 car trips per day going to and from Squaw Valley. Squaw Valley Road is the only way into Olympic Valley (name of the unincorporated community at the base of the resort) and the only way out.
“When you bring it up in the meetings,” he said referring to fire danger, “They don’t acknowledge or understand it.”
The Sheet asked Gaffney what the ‘True’ in Keep Squaw True means.
“It’s the connection they [the people] have that they know intuitively is right. And they know when it’s wrong. When you hear the clacking of the roller coaster, you know it’s wrong.”
“Everyone wants to get away from the stink,” Gaffney said.
Sierra Watch’s goal isn’t to eviscerate Alterra. “Our goal isn’t to win a lawsuit; our goal is to get Alterra to the table,” Mooers said.
He hopes the movement has “increased awareness and inspired people to get involved.”
The movie premiered in Truckee on September 18. The screening tour starts this weekend at the Truckee Art Haus and comes to June Lake’s T-Bar Social Club on Tuesday, December 11. The doors open at 6 p.m. The screening starts at 7 p.m. and is followed by a Q&A with Tom Mooers and Robb Gaffney. Tickets cost $7 and can be purchased at the door.