You visited in Mammoth Lakes during one of December’s epic snow events that left the town buried under 290 inches of snow. Question: did you mind it all that much?
A month later, in much calmer weather, Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission members held a discussion on that very topic Wednesday, hoping to sort out what (and more to the point if there were any) issues that needed to be addressed.
Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney, who agendized the issue, suggested the topic speaks to what make up the “visitor experience.”
“Are we covering everything in terms of planning and zoning?” she asked rhetorically. “I saw people walking on sheets of ice, listening to their iPods while walking next to banks of dirty snow.” Tenney said she and fellow Commissioner Jay Deinken, along with business owner Tom Cage, went on a recent town tour, during which they made some notes as to what was working, and also what was “legal,” yet not working.
She related some of Cage’s observations, such as hearing of visitors who reportedly were so overwhelmed by the snow events that they were “afraid to leave their condo,” as well as buses filled to the brim with passengers that were seen passing by people waiting to hop on at some stops.
“Are we providing the highest level of service? Are we going in the right direction?” Tenney asked fellow Commissioners and Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw, who also participated in the critique. “Should there be more enclosures for dumpsters? And why are parking lots permitted to dump snow on sidewalks? Visitors can’t walk the walk!” She suggested the possibility of using school buses as “reserves” when weather leads to overburdened Town- and Mammoth Mountain-run bus systems.
Wardlaw addressed at least most of Tenney’s major concerns. In terms of code compliance and other snow storage or abatement ideas, “[the Town] encourages Mr. Cage to make any improvements he wants [on his property],” Wardlaw quipped. Enclosed dumpsters, he added, have been reviewed by the Town in terms of both code and practicality, and in many cases found to be problematic, in that during periods of heavy snowfall, they are hard or impossible to open.
As to busing, Wardlaw pointed out that “operating anything costs money.” Bus services, he said, whether Eastern Sierra Transit Authority, the Town or the Mountain’s, operate within fixed budgets, adding that the Mountain has recently begun running “straggler” buses to pickup any remainders at stops along its routes.
Tenney agreed that much of what she was bringing up probably were code problems. Commissioner Sharon Clark’s main concern was a “perennial problem that guests don’t fully connect with what’s going on in town” during heavy weather. “Some know a shelter is open, some don’t,” Clark said, adding her take that there has to be a better way to give guests consolidated information on where to go and who to call.
Commission Chair Tony Barrett, however, said the visitors he talked to loved the big storms, and reveled in having lots of fresh powder. “I’m not sure they look at it as a negative,” he said. “They see buses filled with people and that only serves to reinforce that they came to the right place.” Barrett went on to say he thinks the Town has made “leaps and bounds” when it comes to dealing with major storms, such as the ones that beset Mammoth in December. “I haven’t seen anything that takes us back to the Intrawest days of snow management.” Wardlaw agreed, saying all indicators are that things were generally well handled.
Perhaps the best summary came from Commissioner Jay Deinken, who observed that visitors probably aren’t as aware [of a storm’s magnitude] as guests as much as residents. Deinken likened the situation to residents in Florida, who are more aware of hurricanes. His bottom line assessment: “You can’t make the world perfect when you get 3-4 feet of snow a day for 3-4 days straight.”