When Jim Ouimet’s lease ran out on the County’s Old Sheriff’s Substation not far from the power plant off of U.S. 395 last year, he faced the prospect of having to enter into bidding as just one of several entities that might want to occupy the site. Mono County Supervisors, who took into consideration his establishment of Mammoth Dog Teams’ home base there, as well as significant improvements he made to the somewhat dilapidated building, opted to extend his lease into the spring, giving him time to explore his options and staff time to pull together different leasing scenarios.
During its special meeting in Mammoth on Tuesday, the Board was presented with seven lease options, and discussed the current state of the building, the County’s needs and Ouimet’s situation.
Assistant Public Works Director Kelly Garcia told the Board that staff “worked question from several angles, reviewed several options, worked with Counsel, Public Health and CDD and examined numerous constraints.” Garcia recommeded the property go out to bid for a new lease, but seemed to give the Board enough leeway to find the right fit for both the property and Ouimet. At least three of the options could, under the right conditions, work more in Ouimet’s favor.
For example, the first lease option basically calls for a minimal external-only lease, similar to the most recent lease with Mammoth Dog Teams.
Given the unknown future of the property, and the need for County storage space, Public Works also recommended retaining a small exterior lease for itself and putting the rest out for proposal. There is no surefire guarantee Mammoth Dog Teams would win a new lease, and depending on who did and under which option, a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) analysis could be triggered.
“When we entered into this lease, why didn’t we go into this kind of detail then?” asked Supervisor Tom Farnetti. “This building had a lot of exterior and interior problems and the tenant did a lot of improvements.”
Counsel Stacey Simon reminded the Board that the crux of the issue goes to that original lease, which didn’t include interior use of the building, and was specified at the time for exterior use only with no public visitation.
Jim Ouimet was in attendance, but said he hadn’t yet seen the report. Simon added she agreed that Ouimet should have a chance to review the report and was under the impression he had already.
“I like having the dog program down there. It hasn’t had a real home since it left Mammoth. The kennels are a good use of the property,” opined Supervisor Hap Hazard. He went on to say that since Ouimet hasn’t had a chance to see the report, Hazard thought it important to let him read it and hear from him before the Board acts.
He also said he’d like to see formal power, septic and water to service any on-site RV presence, and that the Dog Teams facility should have a plotted footprint to better define what area is committed to the dog team and what area is committed to the County.
“That building had its own problems long before Ouimet got there,” observed Hazard, who first worked out of the building when he was in law enforcement back in the 1970s. Ouimet, he added, should have to ask the County for permission to use storage; however, he did not agree that the County should open up the property for storage by other outside agencies.
Hazard further suggested Ouimet partner with an agency that can help set up model or plan for a proposed museum on the site. “You could use some help out there instead of trying to muddle through it yourself. I’m backing you largely on the uniqueness of the business, the last of its kind in the area.” He pushed Ouimet to make sure the business is more self-sustaining and less of a “shoestring” operation.
“Unless someone has a better use for it, the team serves as a good on-site presence,” commented Board Chair Byng Hunt. “The operation also brings additional visitation to the area, and provides a unique benefit to the County. We have an obligation to see that continue, if not on the Sheriffs Substation site, then someplace else in the County.” Negatives, he said, include County oversight and liability, which he qualified could be addressed as separate issues. Upgrade costs, however, could be substantial, if interior use is expanded. That, Hunt posited, could be difficult to reckon during the next two or three years with some potentially lean times looming ahead. “We’ll be looking to share those costs, that’s for sure.”
Electrical repairs were put on the fast track to bring them up to current County requirements. There may also be some Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issues to work out as well. “We should at least have a building down there that meets our standards,” Hazard said. In terms of water and sewer, etc., the County ultimately said it might want a fair amount of flexibility, even if for the near term staff may not have much actual use for the site.
Ouimet said he and his crew are focused primarily on getting through the winter business season, but was appreciative of the opportunity to bring back his thoughts and an outline of a proposal he would like to see. He is expected back in front of the Board within the next 30-45 days.