Posted on 03 August 2012.
No, really, June Mountain is not opening this winter, so what’s next?
At Tuesday’s Special Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, there were still some non-believers; a chosen few, including Supervisor Vikki Bauer, who wouldn’t or couldn’t accept that June Mountain would indeed NOT be opening this winter.
Bauer threw the idea of a subsidy deal on the table where the County would invest $200,000 from its contingency fund in airport subsidy and June Mountain marketing if MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory would respond within two weeks in the affirmative of opening June Mountain.
“I want to cross the ‘t’ one more time and make sure we can’t keep June open this year,” Bauer said. “I don’t want to not have it open if it could. We need to take care of the requested items to take the responsibility off our backs and put it all on Rusty.”
Her idea fell flat among her fellow supervisors, and June Mountain General Manager Carl Williams, who had stated twice the week before that the Mountain would not open, repeated himself for a third time.
“It’s not going to open this season,” Williams said in reference to June Mountain. “I, personally, appreciate the idea of a subsidy, but the Board shouldn’t spin its wheels trying to do that.”
Connie Black, owner of the Double Eagle and leading member of the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition, agreed.
“It’s not going to open, don’t waste more time,” Black said.
Black reviewed the timeline that had gotten them to this week’s meeting, beginning with the initial announcement of closure in June, all the way through the meetings the KJMOC have had with Rusty in the past few weeks.
“We had a meeting with Rusty on July 16 [following the somewhat volatile July 10 public meeting] and he said
the bottom line was that he needed to lose about $500,000 less than he had been,” Black said. The group was given two weeks to come up with some solutions.
“We met with all the supervisors, the planning commission, the public, etc. and came up with a plan that would eventually get us to $500,000,” she said. “We were ready to go back to him, so I called and left messages, but received no response. We did our work but they didn’t want to listen.”
And then Williams dropped the bomb at the July 25 KJMOC community meeting (see last week’s story in The Sheet, “No love in this elevator”).
“After last Wednesday’s meeting I got a call from Rusty saying, ‘Let’s have another meeting’ and I thought, ‘Why?’” Black said. But she and the other leading Coalition members went ahead and met with Gregory on Sunday, July 29.
“We were told that June would not open,” she said. “It was pretty much what Carl had said last Wednesday.”
The issue on the table now is how to move forward and whether or not Rusty Gregory and MMSA should be part of June Lake’s rebirth.
It was clear that the County Supervisors were interested in helping, but just how wasn’t quite nailed down and will continue to be discussed at future meetings. In fact, Bauer requested that it be put on the agenda for all three of the Board’s August meetings in one form or another.
The KJMOC, however, did present the Board with a list of five items they had mulled over with Gregory to help guide discussions at the County level.
1. A transient occupancy overlay district where single-family homes could be opened up to nightly rentals, allowing for a larger bed base and the collection of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). According to Community Development Director Scott Burns, this topic will move forward regardless of the June Mountain situation. The Mono County Planning Commission will take it up in depth during a public hearing at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Some, including Supervisors Hap Hazard and Tim Hansen, were skeptical of this type of overlay.
“TOT is dependent on tourists,” Hazard said. “What will attract tourists here this winter without the mountain?”
Supervisor Byng Hunt suggested June Lake market everything from sledding to ice skating, but in a conversation on Wednesday, Supervisor Hansen admitted that it was naïve to think that tourists would come in just for these activities.
“It would be one thing if they were here skiing, but they’re not going to come in just to ice skate,” he said.
2. Further review grant funding that might be available to the County, which could then be passed on to the community of June Lake or for future use at June Mountain. (See page 2 for more on this.)
3. Clarification of entitlements for the Rodeo Grounds. It was suggested that the County review the zoning plan as well as June Lake’s area plan to determine how zoning and developer entitlements could go hand in hand. This, however, did not go over well with several supervisors.
“What do entitlements have to do with keeping June Mountain open?” asked Supervisor Larry Johnston. “If a project was shovel-ready people still wouldn’t pull a permit. No developer is going to want to build when the Mountain is closed.”
Johnston thought that the entitlement discussion was purely speculative and could even be deemed extortion since the Mountain will close anyway.
“I don’t like the word entitlement,” said Supervisor Hansen. “It implies special treatment for the developer. Everyone in the county should receive special treatment.”
“Why lay out a development plan when we don’t know who the developer will be?” Hunt asked. “It takes away flexibility during a time when June needs to redefine its image.”
“No other community has done more planning or visioning than June Lake,” Bauer chimed in. “We are prepared for a developer.”
Black agreed. “What we are asking of the Board is that it stay neutral on entitlements but help us attract developers. We don’t want to give gifts, but we want to entice them.”
Her fellow KJMOC member Patti Heinrich said she was opposed to entitlements. “That’s one carrot we should hold back.”
4. A TOT rebate. The idea was suggested to return a portion of the TOT generated in June Lake directly back to the community to use for marketing. The supervisors seemed divided on this issue and will take it up further at future meetings.
5. The ever-controversial airport subsidy.
“I support air service, but I don’t see it connected to [June] mountain’s closure,” Supervisor Johnston said.
“We already fund air service,” said Supervisor Hansen of the County’s past contributions. “It’s like a cocaine habit; they want more every year.”
Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s Executive Director John Urdi is expected to give a full air service presentation to the Board on Aug. 21.
June Lake resident Dean Rosnau foretold what he believed was Gregory’s ultimate goal.
“Intrawest isn’t going to get $2.9 million for the Rodeo Grounds,” Rosnau said. “Rusty is going to wait until next year and then lowball Intrawest and get the Rodeo Grounds for a cheap price.”
Failed businesses would just make it easier for Gregory to come in next year, buy the Rodeo Grounds and replace everything in town with his own vision.
“He threw this community under the bus and we don’t need to work with him anymore,” Rosnau said.
District 3 Supervisor Elect Tim Alpers, however, opined that Gregory genuinely did want to continue to operate June Mountain.
“I really finally believed Rusty’s financial situation on Sunday,” Alpers said. “We need to work on trust with verification with Rusty.”
Alpers added that Gregory was “livid” when he heard that Alpers had contacted U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office to discuss how MMSA’s land trade could be, if at all, tied to June Mountain’s closure.
“It’s not legally connected, but morally so,” Alpers said.
Mammoth District Ranger Jon Regelbrugge did not comment on the land swap, but did reiterate that if MMSA continues to violate its permit by not operating June Mountain, the permit would be revoked.
Supervisor Johnston suggested that the County purchase the Rodeo Grounds and use it for a land swap at the base of June Mountain, where he believed the additional bed base actually belonged.
Johnston also suggested that the County nail down the value of June Mountain by authorizing an appraisal. Gregory recently threw out a value of $14 million, but many seemed to conclude that number was just a starting point for discussions.
Lastly, Johnston suggested that County Finance Director Brian Muir be directed to analyze the true economic impact of the mountain’s closure.
The Board will take up the June Mountain closure topic again on Aug. 7.