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Opinions & Comments

As of April 29. 2009, we have stopped posting opinions on this page. All opinions are now posted: THERE. You can alternatively subcribe to our RSS feed: Stay informed! rss

Below we publish opinions and commentary concerning the Royal Gorge LLC (Foster-Syme) development and this web site: YEAR 2009

  1. April 29: Potential rate increase due to new DSPUD Waste Water Treatment Permit.
  2. April 28: South Yuba River, Donner Summit, and the New NPDES Permit.
  4. February 9: Opinion: "Recession? No, It's a D-process, and It Will Be Long" - Interview in Barron's magazine.
  5. January 30: Sceptic Tanks not a Problem in Placer County? By Bernard Pech, Soda Springs home owner.
  6. January 10: Donner Summit and the South Yuba River - Stewardship or Sewership? YubaNet Regional Op-Ed.
YEAR 2008
  1. December 30: A summit home owner letter to SLCWD about DSPUD operations (pdf). (Get background).
  2. December 29: Comment on Administrative Civil Liability Complaint - R5-2008-0626. ( pdf). (Get background).
  3. December 23: Alternatives to RG XC Resort - Part 1 (web or pdf)
  4. December 21: Opinion: Where is the outrage over wastewater in the Yuba? by John Leonard, Grass Valley.
  5. Five reactions to RG LLC. communication to the Summit community:
  6. December 5. YubaNet. Will Placer County Board Of Supervisors Give Developers an Early Christmas Present?
  7. The eminent domain issue:
  8. October 31. AlterNet - Why Big Banks May Be Trying to Buy up Your Public Water System by Jo-Shing Yang.
  9. October 29. Save The Summit - Will 2008 have indeed been a "developer free" year at Royal Gorge cross country resort? by Kathryn Gray.
  10. October 20. Save Donner Summit - "Is The Economy's 'Perfect Storm' Saving Royal Gorge LLC?" by Kathryn Gray.
  11. September 27. The Union - Other Voices: Wildfires leave impact on California water source by Norman Pillsbury.
  12. August 19. Sierra Sun - Supervisor candidate Jennifer Montgomery on fire: My Turn: Wildfire - The risk and responsibility.
  13. August 6. California Progress Report - Wildland Fires And Penny Candy-- Will The California Senate Continue To Allow Lives To Be Endangered, When Safety Would Cost Less Than 5 Cents Per Person? by Kathy Gray.
  14. July 7. Save Serene Lakes - Serene Lakes: A Fire Evacuation Nightmare by Joseph Gray.
  15. May 21. Sierra Lakes County Water District (SLCWD) - Download complaint filed by Al Le Bel, an SLCWD board candidate, with the State Water Resources Control Board.
  16. May 11. The Union - Note to Royal Gorge: Quit hogging the water!.
  17. April 28. Sierra Sun - My Turn: Are supervisors seats for sale? by Ron & Sally Grassi.
  18. April 25. California Progress Report - Water Rights and Water Wrongs in the Sierra Nevada..
  19. April 20. Sierra Sun - My Turn: Stay mindful of Placer rural values by Bob Houston.
  20. February - Wilderness on Edge on Donner Summit.
  21. January 25. Save Donner Summit - Royal Gorge Sewage or "Squaring the Circle" by Bernard Pech.
  22. January 15. Save Serene Lakes - Joseph Gray's analysis of the Royal Gorge water supply alternatives submitted to the County on Nov 21, 2007 - The Royal Gorge Water Study: A Hodge-Podge of Fragile Sources.

YEAR 2007

All the comments below relate to the reactions of the Summit community to presentations made by Royal Gorge on their development plans.
To the Sierra Sun    To Moonshine Ink    To The Union    Sacramento Bee

Published in Sierra Sun (a local Truckee paper)

Sprawl on the Summit, Nancy Latimer, March 21, 2007 Shame on Foster/Syme, Jennifer Montgomery, March 26, 2007 Save Donner Summit, John Palmer, March 28, 2007
Nothing More Than Forest Sprawl, Emily Wexler, April 6, 2007 Fighting Needs Funding, John Palmer, May 4, 2007 Dark Clouds Over Donner Summit, Sid Cronin, May 7, 2007
Real Questions Deserve Real Answers, Kathryn Gray, May 14, 2007 Green-washing Royal Gorge Development,Rod Day, May 16, 2007 Senseless Development, Michael Douglas, May 25, 2007
It Is What It Is, Randy Diaz, May 28, 2007 Mirage on Donner Summit, Joe Gray, May 30, 2007 Summit Savings, Kristy Champagne, June 1, 2007

Readers Write- Sprawl on the Summit

March 21, 2007
I attended the Thursday night unveiling of the new Royal Gorge development. It's true that the audience applauded when Foster said "no golf course," "no gated community."
He also said they listened to us when we said "no development in Van Norden Meadow." But their map clearly shows a lot of development there. A new day lodge, maintenance building, employee housing (apartments), a new road, and "separate plans" for 18 homesites. Also a park "Interpretive Center," and picnic grounds. This is not keeping Van Norden Meadow a "natural open space" as they are claiming.
The article did not describe how most of the audience sat in silent "shock and awe" when they actually showed us what they were planning. The map shows Serene Lakes surrounded by four "camps," (villages?), a new downhill ski area two new lodges, two man made lakes, hundreds of co-ownership condos, and low-density building, sites filling in the gaps. Also "meadow houses and a cookhouse" in a very sensitive wetlands meadow near Pt. Mariah.
This is not high-density housing, it is sprawl.
Trying to cover this up as a "conservation community" and "camps" is an insult to our intelligence. Thank you Foster/Syme.

Nancy Latimer
Soda Springs

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Readers Write- Shame on Foster-Syme

March 26, 2007
Kudos to Nancy Latimer for making clear what the Sierra Sun article on the Foster-Syme (Royal Gorge) development did not. The silence at the first meeting was (I am told, since I attended the third meeting) the sound of shock. Total unadulterated shock. I spoke with dozens of folks who attended that first meeting and they almost uniformly said words to the effect of "I just couldn't believe what I was hearing and seeing. I was stunned."
Perhaps the Sierra Sun could have followed up and attended the third meeting as I did. That meeting can only be described as raucous. Many, many people who had the chance to review the project online came and spoke out against the project, all or in part. A number of people have said "Oh it's not as bad as I expected", but it is worse. The project as planned will more than double the housing in the Serene Lakes area and the 950 planned "homes" do not include hotel beds or employee housing. "Just" second homes, condos and time shares. Exactly what the Summit doesn't need, more seasonal homes with low-paying, seasonal jobs attached to them.
Shame on Foster-Syme for presenting this so called "Conservation Community" as some sort of boon to our local community. It is only a boon to the developers of the project and to those few Realtors in the area who value money over quality of life.

Jennifer Montgomery
Soda Springs

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March 28, 2007
I am a full-time resident of Serene Lakes. I read the "Sierra Sun" article regarding the first Foster-Syme public meeting where they presented their "conceptual" plan for development of the Serene Lakes area. I also attended that meeting. We saw it quite differently. The "Sierra Sun" article made the Foster-Syme plan the greatest thing since sliced bread; I see it as the rape of Serene Lakes.

They attempted to appease the local residents by reassuring them that what they were building would be a "conservation community", with "green buildings", "no golf course", and "land put into a land trust for perpetuity". Let's look at those points in detail:

In Serene Lakes a golf course is unusable for eight months of the year and therefore not economically viable. So, they "gave" us something they didn't even want.

According to their map, they have earmarked about 60 acres to high-density condos of three and four stories, plus a ski lodge (hotel), parking lots and employee housing. Sixty acres is a lot of trees, habitat and natural beauty to be destroyed in the name of "conservation". Condos that cover sixty acres and are fifty or sixty feet tall will never be "green" even if they build them out of tofu.

They want to put in three ski lifts, totaling about ten thousand feet in length; assuming they'll have to cut a swath perhaps thirty feet wide for them, that totals another eight acres destroyed. The ski trails that go with those lifts total about 30,000 feet in length. Assuming they are fifty feet wide, there goes another eight acres. Between the condos, lodge, employee housing, ski lifts and ski runs (not counting the single family homesites and the roads to them), they would be cutting down about 40,000 trees of 20 to 200 years of age (assuming one grows in every 100 square feet, which I think is a conservative estimate). In my book that's not "green".

As for the "land trust": I believe that in order to desecrate one part of the forest (Ski Camp), they have to replace it with another. For Foster-Syme that is simple since some of the land they bought is worthless; it is either inaccessible or unbuildable, so that is the land they donate, and then they are "golden". It's kind of like going to church on Sunday to make up for beating your wife all week.

Serene Lakes is a quiet, "bedroom community" to the nearby resorts. My wife and I moved here because of its natural beauty and for the quality of life. Now, two guys from Foster City think a ski village plopped down in the middle of Serene Lakes will improve the quality of life. It won't. If their proposal goes through, we'll eventually be living in an over-crowded, congested, polluted, noisy, crime-ridden ghetto. They must be stopped! SAVE DONNER SUMMIT!

John Palmer is a homeowner in Serene Lakes

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My Turn: Royal Gorge proposal is nothing more than 'forest sprawl'

By Emily Wexler
April 6, 2007

Who would have thought that our serene mountain neighborhood would become the darling of a development company? When we purchased our house in 2001, our Realtor warned us of the maladies that awaited us on Donner Summit; more snow than anyone can imagine, the shortest gardening season in California and a mosquito season of biblical proportions. She showed us many lovely properties in Tahoe Donner, with less snow, less hassle and more facilities.

"They have a golf course, Trout Creek Recreation Center, horseback riding, downhill and cross country skiing, what more could a young couple want?"

I wasn't clear about why we chose instead to live on Donner Summit until the discussions about massive development began.

The Foster/Syme Royal Gorge Expansion plan comes complete with similar resort amenities to Tahoe Donner, a small, hardly challenging, downhill area, beautiful cross country skiing, a commercial center, shuttle service, man-made lake front property and a few new ideas, a park, a history and nature interpretive center and even a fishing cabin in the heart of the mosquito zone.

What the plan lacks entirely is an appreciation of why people who choose to live here do so: Serenity, and enough obstacles to keep the rest of the world at bay.

I am not a no-growth extremist, and I do believe that the government should allow private property owners to develop their land if they are so inclined. Obviously, Foster/Syme is in the business of land development and would like to make a profit on their investment. It is clear from the alleged "conservation" plan that they believe they need ski lifts in order to make a profit. This is the way that modern ski resorts continue grow. They purchase an adjoining parcel, place a lift to it and voila, hundreds of million dollar housing units are sold. Man-made lake front property has a similar appeal.

The current plan's centerpiece is an area called "Ski Camp", 600-plus units with the money making lifts placed in virgin forest. "Lake Camp" has two man-made lakes with high density at the profit making shorelines and what can only be termed "forest sprawl:" forest dappled with home sites in densities that increase as you approach the man-made lake shores. The remainder of the plan includes more home sites littering the forest. These also have a predicted high return on investment because even though there are only a few of them they have either fabulous views of the Royal Gorge or the almighty money-maker, ski lifts associated with them.

Let me suggest a strategy that will allow the developers their rightfully due profit and "conserve" the serene atmosphere that attracted the original 800 or so residents to this underdeveloped area: Contain the sprawl and develop in already developed areas.

Emily Wexler is a homeowner in Serene Lakes.

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My Turn: Fighting Foster-Syme needs funding

By John Palmer
May 4, 2007

On Saturday, April 28, the Serene Lakes Property Owner's Association, or SLPOA, held a special meeting to discuss the proposed development of the Serene Lakes area. Approximately 200 residents attended.

Cliff Busby, the chairman, gave a brief explanation of the meeting: That it was to bring the community up to date on the proposed development, get consensus from its members, and put together a plan to move forward.

Board members Julie Africa and Sharon Ruffner gave a brief presentation on the results of a recent survey sent out to the property owners of Serene Lakes in regards to the proposed Foster-Syme development plans. The two most important items that tied for first place with 92 percent of the respondents saying they were issues of importance were: The impact of the development on the lakes, and the problem of increased traffic. Coming in at a close second (85 percent) was concern about the water supply for the new development.

Of least importance were: a portal to Sugar Bowl, need for shopping and the profitability of Royal Gorge. Of the hundreds of responses, only two were in favor of the proposed development.

A local resident familiar with environmental planning gave a presentation on the California Environmental Quality Act process. The resident, who gave a first name of Mike, explained that after the EIR was completed there would be a 30-day public-input period and that would be the property owners' chance to voice their concerns.

He also said any concerns voiced would, by law, have to be addressed by the developers. And, whatever was to be approved would have to be built to the standards laid out.

But, they do not necessarily have to do everything they said they were going to do. Various improvements could be omitted once they have gotten approval, so don't let them snow you with fluff.

After that, the podium was open to questions and comments by the residents. Some of those comments were:

"I have been on the development side. What we need to do as residents to fight this thing is throw money at it. If our attorneys and consultants are better or equal to theirs, we have a chance, and that takes money. Otherwise, they'll roll right over us".

"When John Slouber tried to develop the 'Olympic Village' in the same spot Foster-Syme wants to develop Ski Camp, I talked to the hydrological engineer. He said there was no way they could put a village there because of the pollution it would cause both in the Serene Lakes and in the North Fork of the American River."

"Their proposed Ski Camp will no doubt cause flooding around the lake."

"There will be erosion, pollution and sedimentation in the lakes from Ski Camp. In time the lakes will fill up with sediment. Since Foster-Syme owns the lake bottoms, at that point they can plant grass and have their golf course."

"I retired here for the peace and quiet. I don't want traffic and condos."

"Heaven forbid there's ever a firestorm here like the one in the Oakland hills; but if there were and in a forest area like this it's very possible, there'd be no easy way out with only one egress."

"Remember, timeshares, which is what Foster-Syme is planning, not condos, are a hotel community. People with no real ties here will be visiting every weekend. I hate to say this, but there's a good possibility of increased crime. Correction, there's no crime here now; it will bring in crime, period."

"Remember this: Foster-Syme wants to put in a Ski Camp but currently, they do not have any development rights to do so."

John with the Mountain Area Preservation Fund gave a short talk on their strategy, which is to negotiate with Foster-Syme to reduce the scope of the project. The general opinion of that from the audience was that was exactly what Foster-Syme wanted. No doubt they'd built in a "fudge factor" so when the scope's reduced by negotiation, they would be exactly where they wanted to be.

Tom at Sierra Watch gave a short talk, indicating that the entire project needed to be stopped. Again, he brought up the importance of money and people. And, he reminded everyone, "Just because Foster-Syme proposes something doesn't mean its going to happen."

Bill Oudegeest, the president of the owners association, finished up by saying that development was inevitable but that what Foster-Syme proposed was way too much. "There should be no condos, no hotel and no ski lifts. Foster touts itself as being 'green', but they're really 'brown'." He went on and asked for donations to fight the development, explaining that one Serene Lakes couple had promised to match any donations received.

It was obviously a successful grassroots meeting of the local property owners. There was a lot of energy against the development and lots of good ideas exchanged. If I was Foster or Syme, I'd be worried about my investment.

John Palmer is a full-time Serene Lakes resident.

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Guest Column- Dark clouds over Donner Summit

May 7, 2007
Donner Summit, the archetypal mountain passage to California's past, present and future, is under siege. The same development dynasty that is responsible for the concrete embarrassment known as Foster City has presented plans for massive development on the Summit.

In the area where the Donner Party struggled so tragically in search of California's eternal promise of a better life, developers plan yet another ski resort with more condominium tower units than are currently found at Squaw Valley and Northstar ski resorts combined.

To maximize profit from ski-in/ ski-out lot sales, they plan to clear-cut an estimated 40,000 trees to make room for the lift corridors, ski runs and a huge base area. That area will consist of the typical lodges, commercial centers, high-rise condo units, employee housing, maintenance facilities, roads and parking lots all too common in today's corporate template of a modern ski resort. All of this for admittedly pathetic downhill ski runs? And this is only phase one.

The developers' new property contains the true headwaters of the South Yuba River and a primary tributary of the North Fork of the American River. California's right, indeed all people's right, to clean water surely must supersede the developers and acquiescent politician's desire to become ever more wealthy.

The developers had listened to their publicists well; their public presentation was slick and replete with green catch-words of the day. They certainly dressed the part in their blue jeans, "ranger set" belt buckles and plaid work shirts. The only thing that belied their plebeian status were those odd Gucci sunglasses.

In quintessential Orwellian double-speak the developers presented their vision of clear-cuts, concrete and high altitude urban sprawl as a "Conservation Community", and the commercial ski area buildings and multi-story condominium structures as "Eco-villages". Not one word was uttered concerning the use of alternative energies that one would expect in a real "eco-village". At the end of their duplicitous presentation they proclaimed their "love of the Sierra".

We live in a new paradigm on this planet. The weather is changing, whole species are disappearing and our brothers in far places live increasingly desperate lives.

We have been challenged in the first pages of the Bible to: " Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth".

As humans we have been fruitful, we certainly have multiplied and we have achieved dominion over every living thing. But the commandment remains unfulfilled. It is now time to replenish the earth, and common wisdom dictates that in order to get it together, sometimes you've got to leave it alone.

The developers have plenty of money, much of it inherited, and their families are now safe. They are now, blessing or curse, the stewards of 3,000 acres of painfully beautiful, delicately fragile and extremely vulnerable land at the pinnacle of our public watersheds and at the nexus of California history.

If they truly "love the Sierra" as much as they claim, Donner Summit lands will be transferred into parks or conservation trusts, for the enrichment of all Californians. It would be an act that would bring them honor for generations yet to come.

Sid Cronin is a Soda Springs resident.

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GUEST COLUMN- Real questions deserve real answers on the Summit

May 14, 2007
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Mark Twain, and others.
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." Artemus Ward

I could be the soul of brevity, and make one succinct comment on Royal Gorge LLC's purported survey: MARKETING TOOL.

Frankly, it was a waste of (recycled) paper to print Royal Gorge LLC's much massaged "Public input" piece out. It pretends to be a survey, but a real survey, even a poorly designed survey, adheres to a least a minimum of rules regarding sample groups, methodology of questions, design of questionnaire, conduct of interviews, and analysis of data gathered.

This survey was designed with an utter disregard for legitimate standards. Instead, it was designed to create and manipulate talking points for Royal Gorge LLC, in order to further their flannel-shirt masquerade as people who want to develop a "Conservation Community."

Jason Rainey of the South Yuba River Citizen's League aptly calls it "a conservation calamity."

You really needn't read beyond the first page in order to see that whatever this is, it isn't a survey. You see, of the 300 to 400 people who attended their meetings, only about 100 comment sheets were turned in. If you were in a statistics class, and your professor said, "spot the flaws," quite a few would leap out.

First, who attended the meetings? How many worked for Royal Gorge? How many people who don't live up on the Summit, but are part-timers, were able to attend?

What was the age range of respondents? The questions could go on and on.

Second, why did between two-thirds and three-quarters of the attendees not submit comments? When you have that low of a response rate to your questions, any inferences drawn from the responses you obtained are rendered meaningless. And, all those non-respondents were they bored? Were they stunned because they had believed up until that point that Todd Foster and Kirk Syme meant to continue to run a world-class cross country ski resort?

Did they resent being asked questions biased towards development, when they thought the area couldn't support any more development?

Did it dawn on them that they were merely the trial audience for the high-pressure time-share sales talks that will become a staple up at Serene Lakes if Todd Foster and Kirk Syme have their way with us?

What's important up here at the summit are the real questions. Will the proposed development adversely impact the watershed? Will the lakes be polluted? Will we have anything left to drink? Will endangered species be killed? Will the effects of large-scale development overwhelm a fragile area? What will happen to our community?

Real questions deserve real answers, not manipulated "Public Comments" aimed at selling a project. Royal Gorge LLC, let's get real and stop the window-dressing.

Kathryn Gray is a homeowner in Serene Lakes concerned about the impact of the proposed Royal Gorge LLC development.


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My Turn: 'Green-washing' Royal Gorge development

By Rod Day
May 16, 2007
In response to the guest column dated May 11, 2007 "Public input is shaping Royal Gorge plans," I take offense with the submission. First of all, let's call Royal Gorge's development plans what is; it is development and development by nature is intended to make money.

Read "Downhill Slide" by Hal Clifford, or see the video "Resorting to Madness," recently shown at the Truckee Community center. Second, to call the development a "conservation community" and "gateway to nature" is an insult to our intelligence. How can you have conservation by degrading the environment? How do you build 950 units without cutting down trees? I suppose you could build tree houses. Also, creating new roads, parking lots, driveways and other "hardscapes" causes increased runoff, which in turn increases soil erosion and pollution and increases the risk of floods.

Remember, the people downstream rely on this water for drinking. The writer says they want to create a "gateway to nature"; this is ludicrous, we already live in nature and can already access it.

Here are some specific points I'd like to address regarding the column:

  1. Public input - When you survey people, using all positives and no negatives, this produces outcomes favorable to development. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that if you look at their survey questions at, it does not allow for negative input.
  2. Three meetings held in March - When Foster-Syme spoke in grand generalizations and used the color "green" to show the proposed development area, they created a slick PR campaign that lent itself to slanted information. They would not take questions at these meetings and simply stated that they would have break-out groups to answer our questions and concerns after their presentation. It was a snow job from the beginning. The break-out groups provided little information or discussion. In fact some residents got wind of the previous two meetings, and at the third meeting people got hostile, because Foster-Syme were not answering questions nor providing pertinent information.
  3. Many people say we are headed in the right direction - I find this statement hard to believe when the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association (SLPOA) surveyed almost 1,000 people and the result was the mirror opposite of theirs. In fact, only two people were in favor of the development. Was their sample representative? They would not give us their methodology on how the surveys were conducted, citing proprietary information. So their "results" should be viewed skeptically.
  4. Ski Camp: We will not propose a downhill ski area portal at Royal Gorge resembling a corporate template of a modern ski resort - . Yes, their plan clearly indicated on their map four specific downhill trails and will have a portal to Sugar Bowl. Please, please, please let's not get into semantics. It is what it is: A portal, whether it's a template or not.
  5. 70 percent of the Royal Gorge property that will remain permanent open space - Ask the writer how he defines open space. At a recent meeting, he defined open space to include unbuildable areas e.g., Van Norden meadow, ski runs with lifts, and acreage on private properties. Therefore, if you own five acres and build a house on one, the four would be defined as open space under the Foster-Syme plan. They do have the decency not to include decks.
  6. We encourage Donner Summit residents, those with second homes, and others who care about Donner Summit to talk to us - How can you talk to a group who do not want to discuss their plans with you nor give you any straight answers, if they decide to answer at all?
Scaring us into legal submission is not going to work. We are a passionate community who want to do the right thing for the environment and its residents. We are mobilizing quickly and people are now "walking the talk". We have plans to raise awareness throughout California by e.g., eliciting help from proenvironmental politicians (NOTE: Foster Syme have contributed to many anti-environmental politicians, see and we are planning several fund-raising events for our legal defense.

We're also a very diverse community with many talents. We have biologists, hydrologists, environmentalists, county officials, lawyers, and yes, even some developers who can't easily be snowed.

I ask this question of the writer, "How can so many people and organizations such as Sierra Watch, Sierra Club, and the South Yuba River Citizens League, to name a few, all be on the same page in opposition if this is such a great plan?"

I do give the writer credit, as a paid employee of Foster-Syme, you're very good at "greenwashing". I guess that's why developers hired you. Keep this in mind, where we differ from Squaw Valley and Northstar is that we were never defined as a ski community and we don't wish to be.

To quote Upton Sinclair, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it".

Rod Day has been a resident of Serene Lakes since 1995.

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Readers Write- Senseless Development

May 25, 2007
As a former citizen of the Town of Truckee, the proposed development on Donner Summit has just recently come to my attention, and I must say it is pretty sad. What possible benefits come to the locals of Donner Summit, Truckee and surrounding areas from any development up there? Unless increased noise, traffic, crime, trash, and irreparable damage to the environment are considered beneficial in today's society.

Just what the area needs another housing "community" aimed to accommodate large wallets for two weeks out of the year, while the remainder of the time the once pristine wilderness is now permanently scarred by vacant houses and condos.

Houses and condos which will need to repaired every summer from the extreme winter conditions that bless the Summit. What a great waste of natural resources.

And proposed lakes! Give me a break. Take a look at the Forest Service map. The large bodies of blue are lakes.

It is really saddening to see how senseless over-development is quickly eating away our natural wonders. Not only with the proposed development on Donner Summit, but cities everywhere.

Michael Douglas
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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Readers Write- It is what it is

May 28, 2007
In response to "Range of opinion on Royal Gorge" (Sierra Sun letter to the editor, May 21). For the writer to say Royal Gorge didn't conduct a "survey" is pure semantic quibbling. Royal Gorge can call it whatever they want, but when they admittedly said in their concept plan that, "meeting attendees were asked to rank their top four of a list of 12 features of the Concept Plan", to be summarized later, this is a survey. It is what it is.

I was at those meetings, and many people felt that the questions were oddly phrased. Our responses to statements were to be ranked as "Most important" or "least important". Ranking by importance is meaningless for "biased formed questions". In their scenario: Importance does not indicate whether it's positively important to you ("I really want this") or negatively important ("I really don't want this!"). "Important" does not always equate to desirable. For example, one of the questions asked us to rank the statement, "Provide a new elevated railroad crossing on Soda Springs Road". 53 percent ranked it number 1 in importance. Does importance in this scenario mean important to have the elevated railroad crossing? Or, an important issue because of the negative impact it could have. e.g. slipping or sliding on icy elevated roads?

Another interesting point is that the questions mixed conservation uses with development uses. For example, "Keep Van Norden meadow in a natural open space, trails, playground and picnic areas". If they truly want to keep it open, then why do they need to build trails, a playground and picnic area, they don't exist today, are they not "natural" by definition. Hence, the question should have excluded "trails, playground and picnic areas", then the question would be valid. I could go on, and on, but I think the readers get the point.

I support Royal Gorge's challenge to Sierra Sun readers to read their plan at and decide for themselves if it seems like a good model for decision making. Keep in mind; the people working for the developers depend on the success of this egregious build out for their livelihood. Let's stick with the facts.

Randy O. Diaz
Soda Springs

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My Turn: Mirage on Donner Summit

May 30, 2007
Lakes Serena and Dulzura, the centerpiece of the Serene Lakes community, are now the most endangered lakes in the Sierra Nevada. Royal Gorge, in order to supply water for its proposed jumbo-sized condominium development, has turned its very thirsty gaze towards our little alpine lakes.

This past week, Royal Gorge released an "Overview of Potential Water Supply Alternatives". A brief sum up of this study could be, "raindrops aren't falling on their heads". A hydrogeologic study of Royal Gorge's property revealed what we all know: That it's very hard to wring water from rocks, although the report said instead that groundwater supply was "infeasible". Royal Gorge estimates a demand of 235 acre-feet per year(AFY), rising to 265 AFY if snowmaking is implemented. Royal Gorge estimates this need based on a 46 percent occupancy rating.

However, it is anticipated that their occupancy rating will actually be much higher, especially with so many baby boomers retiring. It is considered both prudent, and more realistic, to gauge water needs based on 100 percent occupancy.

Royal Gorge plans to meet at least some of its water needs by dredging the perimeter of Serene Lakes at a precarious 4:1 slope. This will turn our natural alpine lakes, with naturally sloping shores, into unsightly bathtubs. Unless the lake edge is shored up, erosion will be an ongoing problem.

The greenbelt we have been so vigilant in protecting will be destroyed and lakeside property owners will suffer damage to their shoreline. In a normal snowfall year the end of the season sees around a 2-foot drop in water levels. Royal Gorge's planned draw of more than 235 AFY will drop the water level by 4 feet or more. Getting into the swimming lake will be like jumping off a pier. Fortunately, no one will want to go in swimming because of all the ugly, smelly mud.

One wonders if the water left will even approach drinkability? And what will a drought year look like?

A careful look at the map provided by Royal Gorge exposes another problem. Lakes Serena and Dulzura are joined by a very narrow channel of water, a challenge to pass through in a sailboat when the wind is from the wrong direction.

The amount of water Royal Gorge will drain from the lake will cause this passage to dry up completely, so late in the season we'll have two separate lakes. Sailing will be the last thing on our minds.

If good sense prevails and our lakes are protected from being drained away or turned into Serene Reservoir in order to support over 900 new housing units, then where will Royal Gorge LLC get the water? Are they looking at a mirage on Donner Summit?

Joseph Gray is a member of Serene Lakes Property Owners Association and a Soda Springs homeowner interested in preserving Serene Lakes.

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Readers Write- Summit Saving

June 1, 2007
While grabbing my morning cup of Joe at the local community store, I overheard a gentleman asking the store clerk about the bumper stickers that say "Save Donner Summit".

His question was this, "What is Save Donner Summit?"

What does it mean? Donner Summit has been the same forever. I wonder what hippie thought this up? Save Donner Summit, what's there to save?

Theres nothing here! In response to his question, and which I'm sure others are thinking as well, I have this to say: I am not the hippie that thought up the bumper stickers but I understand their existence. To me it means keeping our forests, meadows and water supplies healthy. It means being aware and really looking at the big picture.

Working to keep open spaces open, and keeping greed from stripping the wild that is left for our children. Wild spaces and open spaces are becoming rare in this age that we live. I feel it is important to protect and preserve what is left, not mold into lakes and condominiums. To the gentleman who brought this to my attention and to others who are confused. Come up and see why our community is coming together to Save Donner Summit. Its not just a little town with a little store and a post office. It's the open space, the crystal waters, it's the future of our children and our children's children. It deserves to be recognized and it deserves to be protected.

Kristy Champagne Soda Springs

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From Moonshine Ink (a local Truckee paper)

To The Editors,
I've always enjoyed Moonshine Ink. But I must say I was very disappointed in Tim Hauserman's article regarding the new Royal Gorge development.I feel he did not do much research on the subject, but just took some of Foster/Symes press release and a few quotes off a web site. I'm also disappointed in the quote by John Eaton of MAPF.It seems that a lot of people are buying F/S's rhetoric that this proposed development is a "conservation community", that wants to "give city and suburban dwellers a chance to experience nature at it's most wonderful" and "create a community that is about getting people into the wilderness". I find it interesting they plan on doing this by building man made lakes, tearing down trees to add ski lifts,building 3 and 4 story time share condos, and paving new roads through out. They are also claiming this to be a high density plan. All you have to do is look at their map to see that the 4 "camps" surround Serene Lakes with several "forest homesites' filling in the gaps. This is sprawl, and the whole plan is completely out of proportion to the area.
Please consider doing a follow up article telling the rest of the story. For another side check out

Thank You, Nancy Latimer

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From The Union (serves western Nevada County)

Other Voices: How to aid Donner Summit

By Nancy Minges
May 19, 2007
Dark clouds are looming over Donner Summit with the proposed plans for massive development by Foster/Syme, Royal Gorge, LLC.

Although replete with all the politically correct "green" catchwords of the day, these plans include mowing down an estimated 40,000 trees for an inadequate new downhill area, more condominiums than North Star and Squaw Valley combined and another 350 units with more condominiums, virtually decimating the cross country ski trails of Royal Gorge.

Much of this will pollute the headwaters to the South Yuba River, as well as lakes Serena and Dulzera as the developers' new property contains the true headwaters of the South Yuba River and a primary tributary of the North Fork of the American River. For the "cross country ski experience," they've promised to lay out rubber mats for all of the new road crossings, criss-crossing their way to 350 new homes, condos, hotel, and two man-made lakes.

They claim to be doing this because of their "love" for the Sierra. Donner Summit is a place of breathtaking beauty. It is a place of historical significance to all of us and it deserves so much more than what they have in mind. In fact, it deserves to be left alone.

When Misters Foster and Syme are finished, it will be like every other "corporate template" ski area. The one exception is that Donner Summit will then be known as a "conservation community" with four distinct "eco-village camps." The massive parking lots, concrete condos, shopping and other recreational "upgrades" will remain faithful to the tried and true blueprint of "maximizing their profits." Lest you pity the folks trying to make a buck on Donner Summit, these two have holdings all over the world.

Yes, they plan to put some of it into a "land trust." This "land trust" they plan to "conserve" is land they cannot build on. It is unsuitable for anything profitable. Do not be fooled by these "conservation heroes." Donner Summit needs your help.

In order of importance, here's what you can do:
1) Letters to Ms. Crystal Jacobsen, County of Placer, Community Development Resources Agency- Planning, 3091 County Center Drive, Ste. 140, Auburn, CA, 95603, voicing your disapproval are critical. Asking to be put on their distribution for all notices of public hearings is extremely helpful. While generally a small distribution list, our right to be notified allows for this distribution to become huge. Having to send out hundreds or thousands of notices will send a strong message to Placer County. You do not need to live in Placer County to do this. Log on to for a sample letter.
2) Get 10 of your friends to write letters of objection, and ask to be notified of all hearings. Write these letters now. You have 30 days.
3) Send money to, or The Sierra Club earmarked for Donner Summit.
4) Attend as many public meetings as you can. Speak out.
5) Log onto for a complete list of things you can do to protect Donner Summit.

Nancy Minges is a resident of Soda Springs.

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Local News- Help save Donner Summit

by Amber Waddle
12:01 a.m. PT Jul 8, 2007

Help save Donner Summit

Big plans are in the works for Donner Summit. Two developers hope to turn the forest around Soda Springs into another vacation condo village, though the term they've coined is "conservation community."

This supposed conservation community will require the carving of a multitude of new roads, the damming of a creek to build two new lakes, possible dredging of Serene Lakes, and 950 new residences in this currently unscathed area. Some estimate the tree loss at 40,000.

Neighboring communities are concerned at the size of the development and that many important issues remain unresolved, such as water supply, sewer treatment and traffic solutions, required for the approximated 2,400 new residents.

The environmental impact of so much construction and additional visitors to the area is hard to calculate, but at the very least the project will result in a loss of open landscape and quiet wilderness for people and animals alike.

An increasingly vocal opposition is growing around Donner Summit, and several conservation agencies have joined in the efforts. The sheer scale of such a plan runs contrary to everything that makes the area so special.

To learn more, please visit or Stay informed and make yourself heard!

Amber Waddle

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From The Sacramento Bee

Letters: Donner Summit is under assault

June 6, 2007
Re "Placer official faces probe," May 31: It's not over yet. In fact it may only be beginning.

Placer County is heating up with an environmental stand involving historic and irreplaceable Donner Summit. The issue involves Foster Symes, a.k.a. Big Development, trying to build a destination ski resort with both high-density condo housing and sprawl.

The majority of the full- and part-time residents oppose the plan, citing issues such as total environmental degradation, traffic, fire danger, lack of water and water pollution downstream that affect us here in the Valley.

SierraWatch and the Sierra Club are involved in this battle to save historic Donner Summit for future generations, and to preserve the Ice Lakes from being literally sucked up by the developers.

Not surprisingly, Foster Symes has contributed to Rep. John Doolittle, former Rep. Richard Pombo, state Senator Dave Cox, Assemblyman Ted Gaines and last but not least Supervisor Bruce Kranz. Will these contributions be enough for our public servants to turn a blind eye to the environmental havoc and devastation about to be unleashed on Donner Summit? Will Big Development again buy its way into self-serving and permanent destruction of irreplaceable environment?

For more information on this despicable saga, visit

- Andrew Kaczynski, Sacramento

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