Imagine you are Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmember Jo Bacon. Now, imagine you are Bacon looking up and finding yourself under a political bus, asking yourself, “How in the heck did I get here?” Good question. The answer: former Town Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw.
Well, not Wardlaw himself, but rather local developer and entrepreneur Jim Demetriades. It seems that recently the development-conservative Bacon was mentioned in a “Comments” exchange on The Sheet’s website between Demetriades and local Ken Warner over an item The Sheet published regarding Wardlaw’s resignation from the Town to take a new post with the County of San Diego. (He finished his tenure with the Town on Thursday.)
What seems to have triggered the exchange was a note by Sheet Publisher Lunch that read, “Editors Note: On the downside, it took about 60 public meetings to shepherd through the Old Mammoth Place project, which never got built — a fair microcosm of Wardlaw’s tenure.”
Old Mammoth Place developer Demetriades took issue with that point, and championed Wardlaw in a reply, saying in part, “Mark Wardlaw did a great job on Old Mammoth Place. And as the owner I was very happy with his work. The issue is with those that call themselves the Advocates (I call them the UNadvocates), including people like Jo Bacon and that destroyed Mammoth. They tried to shut down every project they could and chased away all the possible revenue there was. Hence, nothing got done nor will it, until people appreciate development. More June Lake, anyone?”
Warner chimed in, supporting Bacon, writing, “And thank God for people like Bacon and the UNAdvocates who see through the lies and empty promises, and do what they can to protect us from big money, special interest carpetbaggers … It’s not development that is bad. It’s bad development that is bad, and your Old Mammoth Place was B. A. D. and was a great example of how to destroy a neighborhood.”
Dating back almost three years prior to Bacon’s election to Council in 2008 (after serving on Mammoth’s Planning Commission), OMP first debuted as The Clearwater, but subsequently went through the hands of different architects, partner changes (former partner Rick Rosenberg was ousted) and a name change to Old Mammoth Place. Almost from the outset, the project drew a raft of criticism, not only with regards to zoning, but also height (and its potential viewshed impacts on the nearby mountains and other scenery) and density.
How did Bacon end up in the line of fire? She has no idea. “I don’t know where this is coming from,” she said. “I voted on the Neighborhood District Plan for that area, but that was more community centric. I recused myself on any voting on his specific project, since I have property close to it, well within the margin establishing conflict of interest.”
In June 2009, when Council initially approved a maximum height for the site of 55 feet, site considerations and an architectural “oversight” prompted Demetriades to request an additional 9.5 feet of height for some proposed buildings.
Late Councilmember Skip Harvey didn’t care for the rationalizations. “This is about a manmade structure dominating the landscape,” he said. “This project will be 30 to 40 feet higher than surrounding properties … I need to show the people of this community I take our General Plan seriously.”
In April 2010, Demetriades weathered a major hurricane, when he and attorney Mark Carney, the project’s legal counsel, persuaded Town Council to reject an appeal of the use-permit and tentative tract map during a contentious four-hour meeting that involved lots of heated public comment. Bacon abstained. In December 2010, after numerous appearances before Planning Commissioners and Council for a variety of issues, Council voted 3-1 to uphold a 4-1 Planning Commission decision to grant a District Zoning Amendment. The most controversial part of the DZA was the part about measurement of height. Bacon again abstained.
Cut to present day and in the current economic environment, any such major development as OMP is completely at a standstill. That, however, doesn’t mean that as a conversation piece development is a totally dead issue, just dormant. After all, once the MLLA settlement is put to bed, development will almost certainly be revived as topic of conversation again.
“We all want Mammoth to succeed,” Demetriades noted, but added that there is a difference between grand ideas [i.e. year round Olympic class ice rinks, Olympic aquatic training facilities, etc., as suggested by Warner] and reality.” Individual big name donors build those types of multi-million dollar amenities in resort locations that can sustain them, Demetriades indicated. “There’s no money for those,” he went on to say. “Do you think the Town has the money? Do you think June Lake has the money? And if you do have that kind of big money, why would you go to Mammoth first? We have to grab the bull by the horns and quit living in fantasy land.”
The crux of the issue is development and its future, as well as what that means to the next generation of job seekers. “My big concern: all those college kids with four-year degrees, none of whom can make a mortgage payment,” he stated.
He’s bearish on development scene, calling for a flat market at best for the next few years, barring some significant changes. “If Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is sold in the next 12 to 24 months, and there’s say $100 million in improvements put into the Main Lodge and so on, then all bets are off,” he opined. Failing that, if President Obama is re-elected, he’s not optimistic about anything happening until the administration after that. And if Mitt Romney is elected, he says only, “We’ll see.”
As for Bacon, she said she welcomes any new discussion, and in fact agrees with Demetriades on at least one point. “It has to sustainable, and in keeping with the reality of the market today, as opposed to what it was five or six years ago,” she told The Sheet. If some of that involves taking another look at entitlements for stalled hotel/condo projects, so be it. “Look at the Altis project, as an example. They came to the Town and said we can’t build it and get it to pencil without adding single-family homes. Great, go for it,” she added.