Other Voices: Skating on thin ice at Donner Summit | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Skating on thin ice at Donner Summit

As the weather chills at Serene Lakes,and the clouds roll on toward winter, one’s thoughts turn to the question of ice skating – will it be cold enough to freeze the lake for safe skating, and will the snow hold off for a while, keeping the lake clear for skaters? There’s always an element of risk involved, and, for some Serene Lakes homeowners, the ice is a little thinner than for others.

You see, one homeowner, Tina Thomas, is a name partner in the well known Sacramento law firm Remy, Thomas, Moose and Manley. This firm specializes in practice involving the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In fact, Thomas and her late partner Michael Remy literally “wrote the book” on CEQA practice; their “Guide to CEQA” is cited by California courts as an authoritative source on the subject. Her firm represents developers among their clients, and is in fact advising Royal Gorge LLC on the CEQA process in Placer County.

As you may recall, Todd and Mark Foster, Kirk Syme and unknown investors in their Royal Gorge LLC, have plans to develop up to 1,000 units at Serene Lakes. Their large proposed development threatens the watersheds of the South Yuba River, the North Fork of the American River and the two small Serene Lakes that are the centerpiece of the area.

Their plans to secure water for their empire involve the possibility of draining and dredging Serene Lakes; raising the dam on Serene Lakes and taking the water that normally flows down Serena Creek, a class one trout stream, also a tributary of the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the American River; blasting two artificial storage impoundments and destroying wetlands out in the heart of the cross country ski area; and, for the piece de resistance, damming the historic Van Norden Meadow to store water to dilute and discharge yet more sewage effluent down the beleaguered South Yuba River.

Their proposed ski lifts and trails will entail massive clearcutting and subsequent erosion. The development will have looming view towers over the pristine North Fork and will destroy view lines with ridge top construction, including a restaurant on Razorback Ridge.

Well, in the legal world, even the devil and developers are entitled counsel. Putting aside any questions as to how anyone who has a cabin, and values the environment, at Serene Lakes and Donner Summit could represent developers with such potentially destructive plans, what’s the problem with Ms. Thomas’ firm representing Royal Gorge LLC? Well, a few, in fact. The Remy et al. firm represented William Hewlett and Sierra Club in a suit against Squaw Valley about ten years ago. It is hard to fathom that if this development proceeds, the Sierra Club won’t intercede to protect the iconic Donner Summit. More tellingly, Ms. Thomas represented the Serene Lakes Property Owners Association in commenting on Royal Gorge Lodge and Homesites Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (the Van Norden Meadow project) in Nevada County. This EIR is still being kept alive by the successor Royal Gorge LLC. Are we starting to see ice melting around the edge of the skating pond? How can her firm oppose Royal Gorge on one hand, while representing them with the other? Better have a long stick ready to fish folks out.

Well, the legal beagles (the ethics ones) will have their work cut out for them- and here’s more. Bill Abbott, who is married to Tina Thomas, has a law firm of his own, Abbott and Kindermann, a land use firm whose motto is, “when good planning is not enough.” Now, Mr. Abbott’s firm represents Dyer Mountain Associates (which is a tale for another day), but another client listed on his page is Placer County LAFCO, the organization in the county charged with important tasks like assessing how other agencies, such as water boards or sewage districts, are serving their customers. Placer County LAFCO will have quite a bit of input as the proposed Royal Gorge Development lurches forward – kind of scary to think the man married to the lawyer whose firm is guiding Royal Gorge LLC through Placer County’s CEQA process represents an important Placer County agency involved in that very process, no?

Well, silver lining time again. Lawyers will not be underemployed. And, if Royal Gorge LLC gets all the water they want for their development (with the help of these and other lawyers), the remaining ice on the lakes will be dirty and thin, but when it cracks and everyone falls in, there will be no possibility of drowning in the mud puddles that were once vibrant, natural lakes.


Joseph Gray is a Serene Lakes homeowner.

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