This week, we take a look at four of the eight candidates for Mammoth Lakes Town Council (the remaining four profiles will appear next week). The next Town Council candidate forum is scheduled for May 6 at Cerro Coso College in Mammoth.
As Cleland Hoff says, “It’s time for some estrogen on Town Council.”
Hoff, 47, a full-time resident of Mammoth Lakes since 1992, adds, “Women can get together and mother a community … I do believe women are better at playing as a team and being collaborative.”
When I asked why Cleland was running for office, she paused thoughtfully (Cleland did not jump at the questions and tended to be deliberate in her responses) and said, “Everybody has things going on [in their lives] that other people don’t know about …. when Brian [her husband of 15 years] got sick … it really narrowed my focus. But as I’ve reengaged, I’ve found that nothing [politically] has really changed.”
“I think there’s a real sense of unity required [on a community level]. People have been so wonderful to us [during Brian’s illness]. It may be a cliche, but I do want to give back. And I’m also concerned that we could be headed for tough times.”
Hoff is especially concerned about environmental issues relating to water [drought] and waste management [planning ahead for future disposal/recycling requirements].
Borrowing from a friend, she used the following analogy to describe Mammoth politics: “This is a town that thinks the castaways are gonna get off the island [Gilligan’s Island] every episode. I would like to actually see some things happen.”
Sheet: Single-family home rentals?
Hoff: I’m not supportive. Not on a short-term basis.
Hoff: While I am astounded they’ve accomplished as much as they have, financially speaking, it will always be subsidized. So long as we’re paying, locals should see more direct local benefit, including highly-reduced fares for residents.
Sheet: Do you support the TBID?
Hoff: I was appalled … the whole process [where votes were weighted based upon business size so that Mammoth Mountain had 40 percent of the vote] reminded me of the 1790s when only white landowners could vote.
Hoff grew up in North Carolina and moved to L.A. to pursue a film career in her early 20s.
In L.A., she landed a job with Alpha Air, which is how she discovered Mammoth.
She moved to Mammoth full-time in 1992 and married “Flyin’” Brian Jones in 1998. She has a son, Blaise, who is 14.
While she has worked at many places over the years (Matterhorn, Breakfast Club, Snowcreek Athletic Club, various media firms), Hoff currently taps her film roots by owning her own business, Film Mammoth, which helps production companies locally with casting and locations.
Her media experience, she says, has proven helpful in politics just because she’s been to so many public meetings over the years. “I have a very good overview of the town,” she says.
By comparison, she observes, “More than half the people sitting on the Mammoth Lakes Recreation Formation Committee weren’t even here when we passed Measure R.”
Other issues beyond those mentioned above that Hoff cited as being important to her include; faithfulness to the intent behind Measures R and U, a ban on plastic bags and addressing the parking issue in the Village at Mammoth.
“Talk about treating locals like s&*t,” Hoff remarked in an unguarded moment. “You don’t make a lot to begin with, and then they charge you to park up there? … People want a nice life. They want to be treated with respect. The current Council doesn’t invite the public to be honest with it because the public doesn’t feel like it’s going to be heard.”
In a play on the saying, “Happy wife, happy life,” Hoff edits it as follows: “Happy locals, happy life.”
Elena Blomgren, 45, is a self-described “A-type” who grew up in Los Angeles.
A single mother of a now grown 24-year old son who works in the music industry in L.A., Blomgren made her name professionally within the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) circuit.
Her “Come to Mammoth” story is as follows. While she has owned a home in Mammoth for 18 years, she didn’t consider living here until she retired from motorsports in 2007. Soon thereafter, she came up to Mammoth on a girls’ weekend. By the end of the weekend, her friends left and she stayed.
Blomgren has been wintering here ever since, and moved here full-time in 2012.
She initially took a job with the Town of Mammoth Lakes in 2012, a temporary position in the Building Department.
“She was great. She was very well-qualified,” said former Building Official Johnny Goetz, who moved to Truckee last year.
“If she were applying for any position within Town government or otherwise, I’d say ‘Hire her now,’” he added.
This past summer, she also did an in-house project regarding Measures R and U.
“I’m financially secure,” she said. “I work because I enjoy it.”
The Blomgren family history appears on the Arizona Legands RV resort website. Father Bill, a colorful character who has dabbled in all sorts of enterprises during a long and successful business career, “purchased a Top Fuel Funny Car (Team Geronimo) and plunged into drag racing,” in the mid-1990s, according to the history. “Our first race out was Pomona, Calif. in February, 1996. Daughter, Elena, was hands on and involved in managing the race team and took care of all travel and lodging arrangements, advertising/marketing, and all hospitality functions at various track venues on the race tours.”
As Blomgren says of her own experience in a male-dominated field, “I had to learn quickly how to adapt, how to work with others … I found you don’t have to threaten or be aggressive to be successful and get things done. But maybe that’s just my style.”
As a person who is a relatively new full-time resident, Blomgren offered the following observation:
“The way this town works seems to be that … decisions are made based upon whomever happens to be sitting at the table for that particular conversation. There seems to be convenient amnesia regarding the other people/interests who aren’t there.”
She used the formation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR) as an example.
“I joined in the MLR discussion when the public did. How it was explained to me is that MLR allows us [the Town] to go after corporate funding, grant funding and other events. ‘Great,’ I thought, ‘Staff may not have the time or resources to do that sort of thing.’
But at the public meeting, it became apparent that they [the proponents of MLR] want to control the dollars. It’s this [grant funding, et. al.] and everything else.
I heard the Town Attorney’s presentation on MLR … there are a lot of gray areas [that haven’t been resolved]. There is tons of accountability in the current system. So why do they want MLR? So maybe they won’t have the same accountability?
Offloading recreation to a separate organization with one Councilmember on the Board … how much oversight is that?”
TBID? “I’m not for it or against it. But it should have been executed differently. We need to look out for residents. The cost-of-living in Mammoth is already way too high and we have too many taxes.
I wouldn’t have voted for it in its current form.”
Single family home rentals? “Why implement a new system when you can’t monitor the system in place? Really, this is something that should probably go to a public vote.”
Airport? “Perhaps it needs to be reevaluated. The numbers don’t make sense.”
“At the end of the day, I want to be part of something that’s fulfilling and successful,” Blomgren said. “In my businesses … it was important to make people feel part of a larger whole. In Mammoth, residents want to be heard versus hearing how it’s gonna be. There are a lot of intelligent people around here. Maybe we should be hearing from a broader cross-section.”
Her parting words: “I’m tired of the complacency. The glass is half full. Let’s roll.”
Colin Fernie certainly appears as if he can fit the part, and a lot of the old hands around town insist that he is the first compelling voice of the next generation that’s come forward.
This election will show whether the larger community agrees.
Fernie, 30, is a co-owner of Black Tie Ski Rentals with Jeremy Goico. The company celebrates its 5th anniversary in August.
An enterprise which started with two employees and one vehicle now peaks at 26 seasonal employees and three vans. This winter, Black Tie also operated a ski rental shop out of Sierra Nevada Lodge.
Fernie describes Black Tie as “an internet business which happens to drive around town.”
Black Tie operates out of a 1,600-square foot warehouse space in the industrial park. Its price-competitiveness is derived from low overhead and not having a pricy retail storefront.
“We focus on our online presence, local referrals, and our partnerships with various properties in town,” explained Fernie. These properties include Tallus, 1849, 101 Great Escapes, 80|50, Westin Monache, Snowcreek, Mammoth Mountain Chalets and more.
Fernie and Goico both graduated from the University of Rochester (New York) and both happened to play on Rochester’s very good soccer team, a team that went undefeated during the regular season of the pair’s senior year, setting a school record for wins in the process.
Goico, FYI, was a second-team Academic All-American for the Division III powerhouse.
Post-college,. Fernie moved out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There, he hooked on at a Black Tie franchise and worked there two winters, learning the ropes.
Black Tie is a licensing company which serves 13 franchises overall. The first Black Tie was opened out of a garage in Steamboat. Fernie and Goico share the rights to the name and a common marketing fund, but own their business outright.
When I spoke to Fernie in November, he said he was not planning to run for Town Council, so the obvious question is, “What changed his mind?”
“It’s a good time for me personally [to do it]. My business is in a good place and I do have a business partner who is supportive of this decision, and a terrific staff. I view this as a pivotal election. I’m also excited about some of the other potential candidates
Despite his youth, Fernie is not a novice to Town politics. He has served as a member of the Town’s Planning and Economic Development Commission for the past two years. He has also served on the MLR (Mammoth Lakes Recreation) Formation Committee.
“I respectfully disagree with those who think this [MLR] has been rammed through without a public process. I’ve been working on this for nine months. The misconception is that it’s an either/or conversation. It’s not. The Town and MLR can handle different tasks. MLR will be focused on the enhancement of the overall recreation product.”
On other issues, he is in support of commercial air service, and supported the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District). Of the TBID, he said, “We put together an airport plan without a way to pay for it. A dedicated revenue stream was required. Besides, I feel we’ve been underfunded up to this point from a marketing standpoint.”
While he would lean toward some sort of single family home rental program, he said “it’s not prudent to take a side at this point. More information and research is required on potential rules, regulations and restrictions. Ultimately, do we have the capacity to regulate [this]?”
Fernie did say that this is not an issue that should be put off indefinitely. “It will be a decision in the next four years,” he said.
Regarding last week’s candidate forum, he said he was surprised that a few issues didn’t come up. One was public safety. “I agree with what John Wentworth said at the forum in that we should have our own Mammoth Lakes Police force (as opposed to contracting for public safety services
with the county). And along the lines of the question I was asked regarding employee morale, budget permitting, we could probably use a few more positions (within the MLPD).”
“I’m also surprised that the looming union contract negotiations didn’t come up.”
Fernie believes employee salaries should be competitive with our peer resorts, and cites Tahoe as a relative comparison. “The Town should be a desirable place to work,” he says.
Note: Fernie will not be present at the next candidate forum on May 6, as it conflicts with a vacation planned long before he decided to run for office.
If folks won political seats based upon organizational skills, Pierrel would win this race in a walk.
She was the first to announce, the first to send a candidate statement to the newspaper, the first to conduct her interview, the first to launch her website and certaoinly among the first to host a campaign event.
Pierrel, 51, is a co-owner of two regional hotels. She is a former Mammoth Lakes Airport Commissioner and one of the major players who participated in the Town’s Budget Restructuring Committee in 2010. She has also served on the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce Board.
Pierrel, a Mammoth Lakes resident since 2001, is married to well-known local Chef Frederic Pierrel.
A previous owner of the Mammoth Creek Inn, she currently partners with Katy Donoghue in Cle Hospitality, which owns two hotels regionally, the Avalon Lodge in South Lake Tahoe and the Historian Inn in Gardnerville.
Both hotels are rated highly and come up right at the top of any internet search. Clearly, Pierrel understands a little bit about marketing and the internet.
Here are a few of her positions on the issues.
TBID: “I do believe it is a way to bring in sorely needed funds to improve our town and work towards our year-round resort recognition, marketing and more. While it is not perfect (what undertaking like this ever is?), we should embrace it for what it is … and when it comes up for reconsideration in five years, we can fix, change, redraft or at that time, vote it down.”
Single-family home rentals in residential neighborhoods. “I have long been a supporter of single-family home rentals. I have seen the process, benefits and guest service first hand. I believe that we have much fear and incorrect information touted about it causing fear and negativity. Additionally, I am always one for smart oversight vs. a police state – which we are spending money on now.
Having said that, I am always open to listening to fact-based arguments against it. I have been asked to review information regarding some 150 homes for rent legally – and I want to personally see the what, where and of what this might mean. Are they on a rental pool market? Are guests managed and the services provided they need?
Mammoth Lakes Recreation: I am strongly worried about the oversight of our government funds being spent and recommended for spending by yet another private sector entity. I wish we (the council and involved folks) would have strived harder to fix our town government and the way it works to oversee recreation, which by the way is directly related to tourism, events, visitation and community; instead of redirecting that focus to MLR. It seems it may be a reality before the new council is even sworn in – and if so, I promise to do everything I can to ensure our public funds are disbursed transparently and with the focus on meeting our year-round and week-round sustainable midweek resort goals with fair and equitable oversight.
Airport: “I believe the airport is a worthy investment given its growth potential.”
DIF: “I believe there’s a reasonable number there.”
Sheet: Less than it is now?
Sam’s Wood Site purchase? “Not right now. “
Pierrel said she’s thought of running for Council off and on over the years, but that the timing is good now, with her hospitality business more established.
She said she also feels like the decks have been cleared a little bit – that Staff has been thinned out and the airport litigation obligation defined
Now, she says, is the time to build a foundation.
One of her disappointments in recent years has been the lack of implementation of the budget restructuring plan she crafted with Joyce Turner.
“The Town managers didn’t buy in, so the department heads didn’t buy in, and Town leadership didn’t follow through (Council wasn’t clear in its direction).”
One of the eye-opening things Pierrel found when she began digging into the Town finances was the degree to which the Town was operating on antiquated systems and software.
“How do you manage things, or set expectations if you’re working from scattered data?” she asked rhetorically.
She then used the Finance Department as a glaring example. Before, when Brad Koehn was Finance Director, she said, everything was on paper so you couldn’t actually look at the numbers in different ways. You couldn’t run different scenarios with the push of a button.
“I don’t think there’s been a shift in philosophy or leadership,” said Pierrel. Cyndi Myrold runs things the same way Koehn did.
“How we manage is almost as important as who we hire,” she continued. “If we don’t expect more than we’re getting, that’s sad.”
Finally, she touted her skill set as filling a need. There hasn’t been resort/hospitality specialization on Council, she said.
For example, she suggested taking a closer look at events like Mammoth Rocks. If you’ve got 200 coming sp[ecifically for Mammoth Rocks, but they’re displacing 200 who might have otherwise come anyway, you’re not growing anything and such an event isn’t worth the investment.
To learn more, visit her campaign website or email email@example.com.