Posted on 29 July 2011.
With resignation of HSEF Board, Phelps stands alone
The High Sierra Energy Foundation Board of Directors appointed HSEF’s Executive Director, Rick Phelps, to the Board on July 21. In a highly unusual move, each of the five Directors, Sam Walker, Charles Eddy, Chris Thompson, Dan Lyster and Paul Dostie, then subsequently resigned, leaving Phelps the Board member and the sole boss of … Phelps the Executive Director.
Board members past and present said this week that what HSEF has become, an organization devoted to energy efficiency as well as outreach and education, has strayed from its original mission – that of promoting renewable energy projects.
But Board members also acknowledged that there really is no money available at this juncture to move ahead with ambitious renewable projects, so as a matter of self-preservation, Phelps has steered the organization toward a relatively stable funding source – Southern California Edison.
Phelps formerly worked for SCE and took early retirement back in ‘96.
As Dostie said via telephone this week, “Everyone [on the Board] had a passion for renewables, but these are tough economic times. We’re not interested in being a management organization. It’s time to get a new board in place more aligned to the current [economic] environment and [organizational] direction.”
As Sam Walker added, “There is no great dirt here, only a decision that new blood is needed to move the mission of HSEF forward.”
Privately, however, some Board members past and present said Phelps’ decision to go after the bid to administer a contract for the Great Basin Air Pollution Control District just wandered too far afield.
“What does air quality have to do with energy?” one asked.
“Will the mission change every few years to follow the money?” asked another rhetorically. The original idea was that the SCE partnership would help pay the bills while the original mission of exploring renewable energy was pursued. Instead, the SCE partnership became the mission.
The management contract in question would involve disbursing money Great Basin received as mitigation from the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power. The $6 million paid to Great Basin by LADWP was to compensate for delays in implementation of dust mitigation measures for Owens Lake.
A management contract can typically run as much as 15% of the total sum administered. In this case, that sum would be nearly $1 million.
Great Basin Pollution Control Officer Ted Schade said the deadline to submit bids for the management contract is Aug. 5. “I don’t expect too many bids. Perhaps 3,” he said. When asked if HSEF’s Board resignations would affect his thought process in choosing a contractor, Schade said he was aware of the resignations and would look into it. “I’m not sure how I feel,” he said. “It depends on the bid. We’re not hiring an organization so much as a capability.”
We then posed the question to Southern California Edison. Would mass Board resignations affect HSEF’s contract to manage the Eastern Sierra Energy Initiative for SCE?
“This doesn’t alter the contract SCE has with HSEF,” replied SCE Project Manager Jesse Langley.
It does appear that Phelps has more than satisfactorily fulfilled the obligations of the SCE contract. As Mono County Public Works’ Kelly Garcia said, “Rick’s pretty good at following through and doing what he says he’ll do.”
The Town of Mammoth Lakes has traditionally funded HSEF to the tune of $25,000/year. Councilman John Eastman speculated that such upheaval within the HSEF Board may prompt him to request an audit.
As for Phelps himself, a press release he issued this week touted many of his accomplishments, including his assertion that HSEF has helped the community realize some $900,000 in cumulative energy savings.
He said of his recently departed Board, “Their time and interest weren’t there.”
Sheet: Were they satisfied with your performance?
Phelps: There were never any performance issues.
Sheet: They never said you weren’t doing a good job?
By California law, Phelps said he can exist as a one-man board for at least a few months.
At least one Board member said he had been willing to stay on for a period of weeks or months until the bid process for the Great Basin contract was complete. The Board member also said he wasn’t alone, but that Phelps suggested a clean break might be better for everyone.
None of this is welcome news to Elizabeth Tenney, one of the original founders of HSEF. “All those Board members quitting speaks for itself,” she said. “I was troubled with the lack of follow through [for the original mission].”
“This isn’t personal. I’m merely disappointed by a lost opportunity.”
And from Vane’s desk …
Drafting the Obvious
A quorum of commissions met for an afternoon of generalities this Wednesday in Suite Z. On the table: a draft of the General Plan Resort Investment Element. In attendance: the Planning, Public Arts, Mobility, and Recreation commissions. The consensus: in the words of audience member and MLTPA Treasurer Bill Taylor, the draft is a “good first step.”
But a good first step toward what? The General Plan Resort Investment Element is, more or less, a piece of paperwork designed to get in print the Town’s goal to attract and make “wise” investments. As Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw said, the draft aims to “set a policy framework for future decisions.” As Public Works Director Ray Jarvis added, the draft will act as a “parking lot for all planning documents on the master facility list.”
On hand to state the obvious during the discussion was Planning Commissioner Jay Deinken, who pointed out that any new development that makes it to that “parking lot” “needs to increase and enhance visitation, but should also benefit the local.”
But how to resolve the tension between these two aims, considering the Town’s predilection for cutting funding for local amenities to allow funding for tourist amenities? Given the general nature of the meeting, no one offered a specific response to this issue.
The only person in attendance with specifics in mind was Bill Taylor. Although Taylor gave the draft his support, he pointed out a couple of problematic—you guessed it—generalities. “My concern is that this draft is a little generic,” he said. “‘Mammoth Lakes’ only shows up on the first page and the footer. If you didn’t know we’re a recreation based economy, you couldn’t tell it from this document.”
Taylor also noted that one of the draft’s stated goals, to “increase visitation,” was too simplistic. “I think you could change that to an increase in overall visitation,” he said, “with an emphasis on length of say, and mid-week and shoulder periods.” Commissioners dutifully nodded their heads.
What could the commission members take away from this meeting and start implementing right away? Again, no answer was supplied. One audience member’s suggestion: “let’s get this paperwork done prior to coming out of the recession.”
And from Geisel’s desk …
Bridgeport nabs Main Street grant
This in from Mono County Associate Planner Tony Dublino: a major planning grant has been awarded and will help spruce up Main Street in Bridgeport.
“This project will create a Main Street Revitalization Plan for U.S. 395 through Bridgeport that advances existing General Plan policies for the community,” said language excerpted from the grant application.
In a brief emailed statement, Dublino credited numerous letters of support, saying he had no doubt “they went a long way to convince reviewers that this is a valuable project.”
He called the project “an exciting opportunity for people to get involved and put down on paper what they want the downtown corridor to look like.” Features will include traffic calming islands, a reduction of lanes through town, increased parking, wider sidewalks and landscaped areas. “The sky’s the limit.”
Work is expected to begin this coming winter.
The postman will still ring twice … except in Topaz
It was inevitable. The United States Postal Service (USPS) was going to have to make changes. There was talk of canceling Saturday delivery, which had the potential to save $2 billion, as well as other cost-saving measures, but earlier this year, the Post Office decided instead that it would examine closing up to 3,653 locations. Postmaster General Patrick Donohue published the list earlier this week as part of an “expanded access” program, which (curiously) is designed to add more locations in businesses, town halls, grocery stores and community centers.
No actual post office locations will be closed, just “branches” and “stations,” which are supposedly smaller and have no mail processing facilities (and sometimes no carriers). So far, that list doesn’t include any locations in Inyo counties, though in Mono County it might mean the loss of the Topaz station. The only other nearby potential closing so far would be the Yosemite Lodge location in Yosemite National Park.