The last cut is the deepest
By Rick Phelps
“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” -Michael Corleone, “The Godfather,” 1972
The title of this article was running through my head as I hung up the phone after being told by the Town of Mammoth Lakes that the Town would not renew the annual contract with the High Sierra Energy Foundation that had been in place since 2005 – for about $15,000.
It was not a shock and we had already assumed no support from the Town for the coming year; and the funding is less than 10% of our budget. It was also consistent with what happened last year when we took a 40% hit while other nonprofits were taking 15%. Why not follow with 100%?
The funny thing is I agree with this decision. The Town is facing a crisis of crippling proportions. There will be pain on everyone’s part and the well-meaning, but perhaps not well-thought-out, delays of the last year only added to that pain.
We face a financial crisis and we must confront it by reducing costs so we can restore some economic health to our community and government — work out a payment plan and move on — quickly.
And I really wish the funding cut were personal and the Town Council didn’t like my Aloha shirts, my speech mannerisms or the articles I write.
Instead, I ask: Was an analysis done of all the recipients comparing their respective costs and benefits? It would seem that would be a first step in making any business decision. Or instead, the $15,000 to the High Sierra Energy Foundation, or $25,000 before last year’s cuts, is a pretty small amount and the Town Council might justly consider whether it’s worth the trouble to fund and administer; the Foundation has a small political base, its work is not visible and is certainly not critical for the survival of the Town.
But, if the decision were “strictly business,” I can’t help but wonder how the Council values our work over just the last 24 months, including:
• Participating with Southern California Edison in the Small Business Direct Install Program, which is saving 234 Mammoth Lakes businesses about $82,000 annually — the equivalent of about 50 solar homes in town
• Working, and data sharing with the Mammoth View development on Alpine Circle, that helped lead to the first entitled development in Mammoth Lakes that will be heated by geothermal fluids. The Foundation introduced the developer to the consultant that conducted the initial feasibility study and we also provided access to our geothermal database, but received no compensation.
• Facilitating and sponsoring with Mono County and Southern California Edison workshops on the California Green Building Code and California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards
• Completing the sixth year of the LivingWise© program for 6th grade earth science students at Mammoth Middle School – co-sponsored by Mammoth Community Water District.
These accomplishments directly support the Town’s endorsement of the “U.S. Mayors Climate Control Agreement” (2007), a Council Resolution endorsing a “Renewable Energy Policy” (2004), as well as many energy references in the General Plan (2007).
In the absence of the High Sierra Energy Foundation, the Town, frankly, would have no energy-related achievements.
Despite the funding cut, Town government and the residents and businesses of Mammoth Lakes will still receive the benefit of our efforts and Southern California Edison will likely remain an enthusiastic partner. However, the question the Town Council will have to answer is that if this cut is “strictly business,” it doesn’t seem like very good business.
But then isn’t that how we got into this position to begin with?
Rick Phelps is Executive Director of the High Sierra Energy Foundation. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of his employer.