Recessions hit Mammoth a little later than the rest of the country. Recessions also tend to hit the public sector last of all. Perhaps this is why Mammoth finally made some serious staffing cuts (as opposed to early retirements, furloughs, et. al.) 15 months after the recession was supposed to have ended. Ah well. In Mammoth, things take time. After all, it only took 57 public meetings to approve Old Mammoth Place.
In the end, it appears Mammoth Lakes Town Council lost faith in the Town’s administrative leadership.
At its regular meeting Wednesday, Council unanimously approved $902,146 in job cuts, much of this excised from upper management.
This new round of layoffs was made before Council adopted its 2010-11 budget.
The job eliminations will be staggered over the next several months.
The positions chopped, with the major, senior staff names in parentheses, were a Principal Planner (Steve Spiedel) at $156,251, an Engineering Assistant at $107,543, a Building Official (Alex Ramos) at $155,875, the Assistant Town Manager (Karen Johnston) at $218,381, a Police Officer position that is currently vacant at $139,121, an Accounting Assistant II at $81,565, the Human Resources Director (Michael Grossblatt) at $181,005, and the Finance Director (Brad Koehn) at $198,863.
These figures are what the above employees would cost in wages and benefits if employed for a full year.
The contract with the Town Attorney was also chopped by $50,000, but Town Attorney Peter Tracy is set to retire in December, anyway.
The Town will balance some of these layoffs by adding a new position, that of Administrative Services Director. This position will ultimately combine the duties of the Human Resources Director and Finance Director.
$94,967. The delayed implementation of these layoffs has already cost the Town $281,491 and the consolidation study that was outsourced to help come to this conclusion cost $10,000. These costs bring the total savings to the $902,146, nearly $200,000 more than Council actually needed to save. The overage will be put into the Council’s discretionary “wait and see” fund for future use with any unforeseen expenses in the Town’s future.
Prior to taking its vote the Council opened the podium to members of the public. Former Town Clerk Anita Hatter explained that she was disturbed by the thought of these drastic cuts not because she was worried about her friends who were on the list but because she was worried about what it would do to the Town and its services.
“You have stopped cutting the fat and are cutting into the muscle and bone now,” she said. “An action like this will have consequences that will last for years.” Hattar added that the last time Council made rash decisions the interim Town Manager ended up granting the largest pensions plans available for employees, which is why she was able to retire at 53.
/from The Sheet Sept. 4/
Not from Melmac
We are not alone. Felisa Wolfe-Simon from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration may not have found ALF or E.T., but believes a small, gnocchi-shaped microbe found in local Mono Lake waters is just as important. She announced her discovery on Thursday during a NASA press conference.
Bacterium GFAJ-1 was pulled from the bottom of Mono Lake and taken to Wolfe-Simon’s lab. The microbes were transported from the lake along with some mud and placed into artificial water that simulated the water of Mono. They were not given any phosphorous, an essential building block of life, but instead were doused with arsenic.
“Something grew where it should not have,” Wolfe-Simon explained during the press conference. “The fact that this microbe did something different than what we expected cracks open the door to life elsewhere.”
Why? According to Wolfe-Simon, the thought that an organism can survive without phosphorous opens the doors to exploration that life forms may be able to survive in completely different forms than were previously believed. Until now, it has been thought that every life form must contain phosphorous.
“We don’t know what makes a habitable environment on other planets,” said Pam Conrad, an astrobiologist for NASA. “Knowing that organisms can tolerate arsenic means that they might be able to tolerate other things as well. Things we may not have thought of yet.”
/from The Sheet Dec. 4/
During his first term as a Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmember, I gave Skip Harvey the nickname ‘41.’ It wasn’t a reference to any similarities Skip may have to our nation’s 41st President George H.W. Bush. Rather, it was because Skip often found himself on the wrong side of every Council decision made by a 4-1 vote.
On Wednesday night, Harvey returned to his roots. This time, however, he only lost 3-1 because Jo Bacon couldn’t participate due to a conflict of interest.
Does that make him Herbert Hoover?
The vote in question was over a district zoning amendment (DZA) for Old Mammoth Place.
Council voted to uphold a 4-1 Planning Commission decision to grant the DZA.
The most controversial part of the DZA was the part about measurement of height.
Though Council had initially approved (in June of last year) a maximum height for the site of 55’, site considerations and an architectural “oversight” prompted the developer, Jim Demetriades, to request an additional 9.5’ of height for some proposed buildings.
Mayor McCarroll and Councilmembers Sugimura and Eastman accepted the oversight. “The applicant’s already made plenty of sacrifices,” said Eastman.
MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory added that the plan is and has always been for five stories and a parking structure. Without a change in the height calculation, you’d have a project whose first floor would literally be underground.
Harvey didn’t care for the rationalizations. “This is about a manmade structure dominating the landscape,” he said. “This project will be 30 to 40 feet higher than surrounding properties … I need to show the people of this community I take our General Plan seriously.”
/from The Sheet April 10/
Mammoth moves in doobie-ous direction
Scott Calvert got the year rolling (ha ha!) by opening up his 420 Medicard Mammoth Lakes office on the 2nd floor of the Mammoth Luxury Outlet Mall (next to Body Works and down the hall from The Sheet) in January, even though the medical marijuana co-operative situation in Mammoth was on hold. That meant Mammothites could go through the process of obtaining their medical marijuana cards, but didn’t have anywhere to legally buy marijuana in Mammoth. Yet.
At the continued urging of Steve Klassen and other supporters of co-ops, Mammoth’s Town Council put Measure M on the June ballot. Measure M was a zoning code amendment that would, according to Town staff, “allow medical marijuana cooperatives within the Commercial General and Industrial zoning.” The measure calls for a maximum of two cooperatives in town, and requires a distance between them of not less than 500 feet.
Applying for a use permit involved first passing a Mammoth Lakes Police Department background check. If MLPD approved, the application went to the Community Development Department for use permit processing.
Measure M was approved by Mono County voters, 861 yes votes to 683 no votes. Those interested in running a co-op began filling out their applications. In October, Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission heard from three applicants vying for two available co-op spots. Robert Calvert and Steve Klassen ultimately walked away with the goods. Calvert’s co-op will be called Mammoth Lakes Wellness and Klassen’s is Green Mammoth.
Calvert opened his co-op in the Luxury Outlet Mall on Nov. 27, just a few short weeks after California voters voted down Proposition 19, which would have legalized pot in California and potentially disposed of the need for co-ops.
Klassen opened his doors in early December.
Deficits dizzy ESUSD
It started with an announcement from Eastern Sierra Unified School District (ESUSD) Superintendent Don Clark in March that called for the closure of 30 percent of schools in the Mono County’s rural school district due to a $2.2 million deficit in the District’s budget that staff had not anticipated. By the end of the month, 17 teachers had been notified that they may receive pink slips and the community was at each other’s throats.
Mono County Deputy Superintendent Colleen Wright warned the ESUSD Board in January that “because of the large deficit spending projected by the District along with the projected reduction in local property taxes, the county office encourages the district to carefully review property tax revenue projections to ensure future interim and budget reports are fiscally credible and able to be certified as positive.”
Another big factor in the deficit was the District’s disqualification from receiving a $301,500 class size reduction grant because of missing the Jan. 31, 2009 deadline. Former ESUSD Fiscal Director Jessica Denison took the blame for this mistake.
At first it seemed this grant was lost to the District for good since a statute had been added to the grant language stating that those schools which failed to meet the 2009 deadline were locked out of the program indefinitely. However, Mono County Superintendent of Schools Catherine Hiatt stepped in and convinced the State of the dire straits the District was in. The State eventually allowed ESUSD to fill out the grant form and the money was reinstated retroactively and was to be received for the 2010/11 school year as well.
The reinstatement of the grant, however, was not enough to save jobs and 15 teachers, plus 21 classified positions were officially let go in May even after the community had come together to try to find alternative ways of saving money. The loss of 15 teachers was the largest layoff the Board had ever initiated in its history.
By June, however, ESUSD was able to reinstate 3 of the teaching positions that had been pink slipped, plus it took action to consolidate fiscal management responsibilities with the Mono County Office of Education in order to save several hundred thousand dollars for 2010/11. On the down side, the Eastern Sierra Academy was forced to close its doors.
By the end of July, the community and the Board seemed ready to begin healing. Colleen Wright, Mono County Office of Education’s Deputy Superintendent started the meeting with a report on the 09/10 property tax receipts. In essence, the receipts had come in approximately $324,000 above what had been budgeted. When broken down, secure taxes were $203,000 over budget, prior year taxes were $83,000 higher, supplemental taxes were $56,000, and unsecured taxes were $18,000 under what had been budgeted. Wright recommended the District put the spare money in a contingency rather than spend it on bringing staff back that still may not be maintainable.
The community was able to have its say in the whole fiasco during the election for new Board members in November. Gabe Segura, who had taken over for Tad Roberts when Roberts stepped down from the Board several months before his term was up, was re-elected for a full term, while the other two seats up for grabs were filled with new faces. The community was clearly ready for change.
At the end of the year, the first interim report for the new budget was delivered by MCOE, but was full of uncertainty until the property tax projections arrived in January. The openness of how the Board functioned at the end of the year versus the beginning put the community at ease.
Rich McAteer is appointed interim superintendent of the Mammoth Unified School District following the dismissal of Frank Romero. He is succeeded six months later by Rich Boccia. Boccia, a native New Yorker, came to MUSD from the Pasadena Unified School District.
Mammoth High School Principal Mike Agnitch announces he will retire effective June 30. Middle School Principal Gabe Solorio is announced as his successor in March.
The Mammoth Community Water District warns the Town of Mammoth Lakes to stop approving projects at densities greater than anticipated by the General Plan.
“The big thing,” said MCWD Board member Gordon Alper, “is that the sewer system won’t be able to handle it [the increased density] … we’ve been told that the sewer main on Main Street won’t be able to handle the volume of effluent if the Village builds out to approved density … and the Dempsey corner (at Main and Minaret) hasn’t even been added to the mix yet.”
The Sheet launches its website, www.thesheetnews.com.
Town Attorney Peter Tracy announces that the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties have submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Appeals Court on the Town’s behalf, which he believes will be a great benefit to the Town’s appeal in the Hot Creek litigation case.
Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition won a $30 million judgement against the Town in 2008 for breach of a development agreement.
By year’s end, a decision has still not been rendered by California’s 3rd Court of Appeals.
The Mammoth Value Pass broke the $600 mark. Single year passes were priced at $639.
Mono County Board of Supervisors learn that Digital 395, the Internet superhighway broadband infrastructure project designed to bring cutting edge data transmission to a large portion of U.S. 395 and surrounding communities was denied funding from part of the $787 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus package but is invited to apply.
The new application wins approval for an $81.1 million grant in August and will fund the construction of the D395 middle-mile fiberoptic network between Barstow, Calif., and Carson City, Nev.
Mammoth ties DiMaggio! At the 56th public meeting held regarding the proposed development since 2005, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission approved, with conditions, a use-permit and tentative tract map for Old Mammoth Place. The formerly named Clearwater project is planned for a six-acre site bordered by Old Mammoth Road on the east and Laurel Mountain Road on the west. It currently houses the Sierra Nevada Lodge, Rafters Restaurant and Frosty’s Mini-Golf.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appoints Robert Peters to the Mono County Board of Supervisors, representing District IV. Peters fills the seat left vacant by the death of Bill Reid in 2009 until elections allow the spot to be filled by the voters. The seat ends up going to Tim Hansen, who beats Tim Fesko in a runoff election in November.
Roy Flores, the Southern California man who shot and killed a four-year old bear on the shores of Lake Mary last fall (and also winner The Sheet’s Darwin award in 2009) was sentenced by Presiding Judge Stan Eller to 100 hours of community service and a $395 fine. The 30-day jail time was suspended so long as Flores obeys the terms of his probation. Flores must also complete a hunter’s safety course.
Work continues in the Town of Mammoth to develop a Destination Marketing Organization which will ultimately come to be known as Mammoth Lakes Tourism. The arrival of MLT means that the Town drops its Tourism and Recreation Department and simply retains a Recreation Department. Measure A dollars are steered toward MLT. The organization hires John Urdi as its Executive Director in July.
Michael Harris, the local Eastern Sierra man who was convicted by a jury in December of several sexual crimes against minors, was sentenced by Judge David DeVore to 285 years to life in a state prison. The number was based on the maximum punishment of 15 years to life, consecutive, for each of the 19 counts.
Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Randy Schienle announces his retirement with an effective date of Aug. 11. Chief Schienle worked in law enforcement for 29 years, 22 of them in Mammoth Lakes. The Town appoints interim Police Chief Dan Watson in July. Watson had spent the past eight years as Pasadena’s Police Chief.
The new South County Courthouse breaks ground. Local contractors are peeved that they were not given a chance to bid on the project. Mammoth Lakes Contractors Association President Troy Rowan said that no area firms were eligible to bid for the general contract, because one of the bid requirements was a $7 million bond, a figure out of reach for locals.
The Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission votes in favor of changing the General Plan zoning designation of the so-called “Bell-Shaped Parcel” from resort to “open space.”
During the final debate over the change in zoning designation for the Bell Parcel on June 2, Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmember John Eastman insinuated that outgoing Councilmember Wendy Sugimura and Mayor Neil McCarroll wanted to change the designation for reasons of legacy as opposed to logic. Council voted 4-1 to change the Bell’s zoning from “resort” to “open space.” Eastman was the lone dissenter.
Mammoth Town Council approves recommendations for a revised Development Impact Fee schedule. Modest hikes still leave fees about half of what they were in 2008-2009.
Mammoth’s Wildlife Specialist and acclaimed “Bear Whisperer” Steve Searles told The Sheet contracts with LMNO and Discovery Channel, which owns Animal Planet, were officially signed, meaning the Bear Whisperer had an encore this summer. There will be at least three more one-hour episodes of the show with the possibility of six if the ratings are good.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council votes 4-0 to end staff furloughs for FY 2010-2011, effectively approving approximately $1 million in new spending on staff salaries. Councilmember John Eastman realized the next day that he had not been fully aware of what he had voted on and tried to re-agendize the item, telling The Sheet, “We can’t afford a million bucks.” He was then informed by Town Attorney Peter Tracy that an item cannot be re-agendized if there has been no dissent. As the vote was 4-0, well, game over … for Staff. Eastman was reelected the next month and pushed for deep staff cuts.
Early reports saying that Mono County Public Works Director Evan Nikirk was “dismissed” from his position by Mono County officials are disputed. Sources tell The Sheet that the decision was due to differing opinions in management styles and called the move a “mutual” separation.
Nikirk had been with Mono County for roughly 10 years, first brought on as Solid Waste Director.
Measures M and U pass while Matthew Lehman, Rick Wood and John Eastman win Mammoth Town Council seats. Larry Johnston barely squeezes out the win for Mono County District 1 Supervisor. Sheriff Rick Scholl retains his position by a landslide.
The District 4 Supervisor’s race and the tightly contested Mono County Superior Court judicial race are thrown into December runoffs. Mark Magit ultimately bests Randy Gephart to replace the retiring Judge Ed Forstenzer.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council approves the Snowcreek Development Agreement despite Councilmember Jo Bacon’s futile attempt to filibuster the whole decision clear into the next millennium.
The Mammoth Scenic Loop is closed to traffic through November for reconstruction. The reconstruction project includes plans for road-widening and bike lanes.
Locals rejoiced as Sierra Sundance Whole Foods expanded its store. Owners and sisters, Tanya and Silena Mandich wanted to satisfy the local market yearning for greater health and organic food selection. As Silena puts it, “the community has really been begging for a change. Not only to expand what we were carrying, but people just wanted another option than Vons.”
Mammoth Town Attorney Peter Tracy resigns from his position effective at the end of the year. Tracy’s tenure with the Town began in 1985 and has extended for 23 years. During that time he has worked for 22 council members. He is ultimately replaced by Andrew Morris of the law firm Best, Best and Krieger.
The Mammoth Lakes Ice Rink is labeled “toxic.” Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmembers, Rick Wood and Jo Bacon, made it clear at Council’s regular meeting Wednesday that they were not on Council at the time and had nothing to do with the deal struck in 2007 to place the rink on property leased from the Mammoth Unified School District. The reason they are distancing themselves is simple. The Town’s spent well over $1 million on the project so far, and yet, would need to spend an additional $3 million to complete it. The estimated cost to abandon the project is over $1 million. Neither option is attractive.
While the Town determines what to do, the rink is shelved for operation this winter.
Two Turner Propane tanks were delivered to the new tank farm at the borrow pit on Sherwin Creek Road. The 30,000 gallon tanks were delivered empty, but once filled and tied into the propane line system, will double the amount of available propane in Mammoth Lakes.
The Hilton Creek Community Services District raises its fees 15% annually for the next three years. That adds up to roughly an extra $5 per month for Hilton Creek customers.
Mono County’s Board of Supervisors scuttle a move to enact rent controls in the Crowley Lake Mobile Home Park.
Inyo National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch, Mammoth Lakes Mayor Skip Harvey and Town Recreation Manager Stu Brown cut the ribbon to officially open the lower section of the Lake Mary Bike Path.
It was like something out of an Irwin Allen disaster movie. Heavy rains hammering the canyon area near Dunmovin’, a small, unincorporated community just north of Coso Junction, sent a wall of mud and debris estimated to be some 200 yards wide and four feet deep oozing over a sizable section of U.S. 395 just south of Olancha on Thursday.
The slide was strong enough to push a semi-tractor trailer off the highway, trap other large trucks and vehicles in the mud and snarl the traffic flow in both directions for hours.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area officially announced that United Airlines will be offering a non-stop, daily flight from San Francisco International Airport to the Mammoth Yosemite Airport this winter. The flight will be operated by United Express carrier, SkyWest Airlines using 66-seat CRJ700 regional jets. The first flight landed Dec. 16.
In the Mammoth Lakes Basin, a female bear (later identified as the infamous Blondie) broke into at least seven homes within 48 hours. The bear was eventually shot and killed by Sergeant Karen Smart under a homeowner’s depredation permit.
After seven years of housing the Beekley International Collection of Skiing Art and Literature, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation decided to remodel Edison Hall, ditch the Mammoth Ski Museum and relinquish the art collection.
Edison Hall will now be devoted to culinary arts and theatre.
Mono County’s Board of Supervisors voted to take “no action” on a resolution to support HR 6129, the “Mono County Economic Development Act of 2010,” legislation authored and introduced in Washington D.C. by U.S. Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-25th District). The bill essentially calls for release of the Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which surrounds Bodie State Historic Park.
The contentious agenda item packed the Bridgeport Boardroom with both supporters for and opposition of the release, and drew fire from both sides.
Lupe Almaguer of Mammoth Lakes is arrested on the night of Oct. 5 pursuant to an arrest warrant. Almaguer, a daycare provider, was arrested for crimes of sexual abuse against two children who had previously been under his care but are now adults.
Two more victims came forward and Almaguer pled guilty in December to all counts.
Integration is the key in a draft plan called RECSTRATS that was introduced to the Mammoth Lakes Recreation Commission. RECSTRATS is a vision for recreation in Mammoth and a strategic plan for its implementation. The plan was created by a local steering committee and facilitated by Carl Ribaudo of Strategic Marketing Group based in South Lake Tahoe and Danna Stroud. The Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation helped fund the process.
U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Randy Moore announces that Kit Mullen will take over as Interim/Acting Forest Supervisor for the Inyo National Forest, in light of the scheduled departure of INF’s previous supervisor, Jim Upchurch.
Amy Cutter asks for an explanation as to why there is no longer a bus stop at Lupin Street.
Cutter, a Lupin Street resident for more than 10 years, pointed to what she said has become a problem since the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA) took over the local transit system. “The appearance is that ESTA could easily add the stop back in without much trouble,” Cutter wrote. “For the businesses along the frontage road and homeowners on Mono and Lupin Street this is a hardship.” Apart from other concerns she voiced about the rehabilitation of Frontage Road, and the infrastructure that went into the walkways and related bus stops, she also griped about the unceremonious change in routes, which Cutter said she learned about while on her way home from a Village event.
ESTA Director John Helm said it was determined “unsafe to have that many stops that close together.”
Mono County is one weird place when it comes to politics. As Tom Cage said in June, “We’re a pot-smoking, tax-charging group of conservatives,” he said.
This was proven out in the November election. While the state turned down the pot initiative by a 54-46% margin, in Mono County, the electorate favored the measure by 13 percentage points
In top office races, Mono County also went for Republicans Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in the Governor’s and Senate races, respectively. Each candidate lost handily statewide.
With the defeat of Democratic Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, U.S. Congressman Buck McKeon (R-25th District), Mono County’s representative, took over as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Brent Peterson nabbed nearly half of the votes for a Mammoth Lakes Fire Commissioner seat. Incumbent Richard Good held on to the other.
And clearly, campaigning from Mexico seems to work around here, at least if you’re Dr. Dennis Crunk, who won a seat on the Southern Mono Healthcare District (SMHD) by a landslide, despite zero advertising of any sort and a pre-election vacation.
Shortly after the election for the, SMHD Board Chairman Dr. Donald Sage abruptly resigned.
Part of the reason for his resignation is that he “did not want to see Lynda [Salcido] lost from the Board.” Salcido had finished 3rd behind Crunk and Jack Copeland.
Mammoth Mountain opened from head to toe on Nov. 11 with approximately 1-3 feet of natural and manmade snow, access to the Cornice Bowl, new park features and a brand new type of pass for individuals in the higher tax brackets.
The Mammoth Black Pass is a premium product that has been under development for several years, according to MMSA Senior Vice President Pam Murphy. The “cheapest” Black Pass costs a cool ten grand.
You know it’s been a big storm when you can call yourself a world champion when it’s over. Mammoth has defied the odds and not only topped the charts for the snowiest December on record (155 inches with still more than one week to go!), but it also made headlines by having the most snow of any ski resort in the world.