The first half of 2009 seemingly presented one abysmal news story after another, as a weak business climate led to a wave of layoffs in all sectors. The second half of the year, however, produced optimism as the airport added commercial flights and the Village at Mammoth added tenants.
THE NUMBERS ARE IN
MMSA lays off 101
On Tuesday, as advertised, the ax fell at Mammoth Mountain, claiming the jobs of 101 employees (35 year-round positions). Remaining seasonal employees will experience a significant reduction in hours.
Despite recent snow, MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory said skier visitation trends continue to lag about 17% behind company projections.
Gregory said the company’s overriding consideration when considering job/benefit reductions was “anything non-essential to the guest experience.
We looked at the jobs which were nice to have when we were prosperous.”
One of those positions was the Director of Environmental Programs.
MMSA employs approximately 450 people year-round, so 35 layoffs represents an 8% reduction.
Eight of those layoffs were culinary and management positions within food and beverage.
Benefits reduced incl. maximum PTO (paid time off) accrual. Employees could formerly accrue up to six weeks per year. That has been reduced to four weeks.
Last week, The Sheet announced that all senior managers had taken a 5% pay cut. -The Sheet, Jan. 31
JUNK IN THE TRUNK
Standard and Poor’s reduces Mammoth’s bond rating to “junk” status
Standard and Poor’s investment rating service has lowered its long-term rating and underlying rating on Mammoth Lakes COPs (Certificates of Participation) by five notches from A- to BB.
Anything rated lower than BBB- is considered “junk.” According to Standard and Poor’s own definition, anything rated BB and below is “regarded as having significant speculative characteristics.”
According to the S&P report penned on June 8 by credit analyst Sussan Corson, “The downgrades reflect our view of the signifcant exposure the Town of Mammoth Lakes is facing as a result of litigation between the town and a developer [Hot Creek, aka Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition], as well as Town documents that discuss bankruptcy as an important strategy in case of an adverse decision by the court.”
The reason this particularly matters in the short term is because the Town needs to issue $2 million in COPs to pay for the ongoing financing of the commercial airport terminal completed last year. -The Sheet, June 27
AIR SERVICE EXPANSION
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA)Marketing Director Howard Pickett said this week that it’s all but a certainty that Mammoth will expand its commercial air service this winter from one to three flights a day.
Though the contracts haven’t been finalized, Pickett said he anticipates one morning and one afternoon flight daily from Los Angeles and another daily flight from San Jose.
All these flights will be provided by Horizon Airlines.
In addition, there are two more flights which may happen. United is considering a flight from San Francisco, and Horizon is considering a Mammoth-Reno-Seattle route.
Pickett said the increase in the number of flights will better accomodate those traveling from the east coast
The flight to Reno-Portland-Seattle did ultimately happen. The Town is conducting an environmental analysis this winter to pave the way for jet service out of San Francisco in 2010. -The Sheet, July 4
VILLAGE ADDS NEW TENANTS
They said it couldn’t be done.
They, in part, being skeptics here at The Sheet.
They said there was no way Matthew Lehman of Trademark Properties could come close to his goal of getting 85% of the Village at Mammoth’s commercial space leased by this winter.
They may very well be proven wrong.
Two commercial leases were signed this week by Michael Ledesma (Gomez’s) and Warren McGill (Mammoth Gallery). Meanwhile, Mammoth Mountain is deep in negotiations to lease three more spots.
Gomez’s will lease the former Hennessey’s location and Mammoth Gallery will return to its old spot. MMSA is looking at the never-occupied Station 9 location, the former McCoy Sports spot and the former Starbucks location.
Gomez’s owner Michael Ledesma, is particularly fired up about the whole thing.
“I’m so excited. We’ve been the in the A-Frame (on Mountain Blvd.) for 16 going on 17 seasons, but in the Village, we think the former Hennessey’s spot is possibly the single best location there, maybe even in Mammoth, especially due to the proximity to the Gondola,”
“I guess [property owner] CNL finally woke up and smelled the coffee. They came up with a lease that made sense,” he added. -The Sheet, Oct. 3
And month-by-month …
Bishop’s Cottonwood Plaza owner Chuck Caldwell boots out the last of his tenants and puts some chain-link fencing around the entire site. A year later, the fencing (and empty commercial space) remains.
Yet another unintended consequence of the Great Recession: prices for “affordable housing” surge higher than market rate, the result being that several local affordable housing units have their “deed restrictions” peeled off them. The upshot? Critics foresee future demand for affordable housing construction.
JANUARY 7: Mammoth Town Council approves General Plan Amendment for Clearwater project approving 55’ maximum building height.
JANUARY 14: Town Staff floats idea of forming a special taxation district, a BID (Business Improvement District), to help subsidize air service. Local business owners are not amused. The general sentiment: We pay enough taxes as it is. Make room for this in your existing budget.
JANUARY 21: “Not one major stick has gone into the ground since the introduction of DIF [Development Impact Fees] in Mammoth in 2006,” says Councilman Neil McCarroll. Fellow Councilmembers, however, put off a downward adjustment in the fees, saying they need more time to study.
By its next meeting, Council slashes building fees for single-family home construction by 55% to stimulate business.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council appoints Sharon Clark to Planning Commission by a 3-2 vote, with Harvey, Bacon and Sugimura carrying the day.
Council approves a $55,000 wildlife management contract for Steve Searles.
County Assessor Jody Henning announces a 25% year-over-year drop in property transfers from 2007 to 2008.
Sue Ebersold at the Breakfast Club unveils her new “Lunch” special: Velveeta, bacon and tomato on toasted white bread with a side of deficit (red) jello.
Oops! Councilmember Skip Harvey gets into a slew of trouble for referring to the Village at Mammoth as a “tumor.”
Pianist Wen-Ting resigns from the Felici Trio due to health issues. She is replaced by Steven Vanhauwaert.
MARCH 4: Councilmember Jo Bacon announces the Town has put the kibosh on a proposed “hookah” lounge.
Matthew Lehman derides the move as “sales prevention … which seems to be the Town motto.”
Town Manager Robert Clark defends the move as being in the best interests of public health.
MARCH 4: In a story entitled “The Dam Has Broken,” several members of the lodging community speak about the proliferation of “owner-guest” rentals, which they say have tripled this year. Owner-guest nights used to comprise 10-15% of all booked room nights. Now they comprise 50% or higher, is the consensus.
“This isn’t about T.O.T. leakage. The dam has broken,” says Steve Schwind
Tourism and Recreation Commissioner Shields Richardson conservatively estimates that if 10% are either not reporting or under-reporting rental revenue, the Town could be losing up to $1 million annually.
MARCH 12: At a Chamber of Commerce economic forum, MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory says skier numbers are trending similarly to 2007-2008, but that overall company revenue was down 5%.
MARCH 18: Town does not resort to layoffs to close a projected $1.3 million budget shortfall, instead adding another employee furlough day and mortgaging the future by raiding reserve accounts.
MARCH 29: Mammoth hosts the International Ski History Congress.
Mammoth Mountain Development returns approximately property it bought from Intrawest to its lender, Credit Suisse. MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory said the loans on the various properties (which included the proposed site of the “1” Hotel – now used as the Village parking lot – exceeded the land’s current value by tens of millions of dollars.
MMSA opens the MVP club back up to the general populus and promptly sells out. Total passes sold: 42,000.
APRIL 15: After projecting a $1.3 budget deficit for 2008-2009 just a month earlier, the Town of Mammoth tacks on another $555,000 to that projection.
APRIL 18: Wolf’s story about the local apartment rental market shows that rental rates have tumbled 16.5% since October, 2006.
Mammoth High School is one of 59 high schools in the State to receive grants to begin a new California Partnership Academy. This allows History teacher Mike Boucher to move forward with a Health Science Academy.
MAY 6: Town unveils 2009-2010 budget which calls for 9% decrease from previous year.
MAY 12: Mono County Supervisors approve the Rock Creek Ranch project in Paradise, zoned for 60 building sites and one pool/spa/clubhouse.
MAY 20: Uh-oh. Turns out the Town had banked on selling back some land to the County to raise some cash, but the County’s not buying, and now the Town’s on the hook for its share of a public works project. More financial shell games ensue.
Brian Bethke wins MMSA’s first annual Mustache comp
Mono County reports first local case of the H1N1 “swine” influenza.
JUNE 10: Snowcreek VIII Master Plan and EIR approved. The height demonstration for a proposed 120’ hotel muffles the critics as the mountains in the backdrop dwarf the single red balloon.
Hospital CFO James Hughey resigns after just three months on the job. Before he departs, he offers a frank assessment of the Hospital’s finances, noting that 47% of the Hospital’s accounts receivables are more than 120 days old and that a full 60% of bills sent out are incorrect in some form.
Hughey quits two weeks after the Hospital lays off 20 full-time equivalent employees, or 6.2% of its workforce.
The Clearwater renames itself Old Mammoth Place, and initiates a “total reset” with new project design plans which Planning Commissioner Tony Barrett calls “brilliant.” With development anywhere between three-to-seven years off, Owner Jim Demetriades decides to set about renovating his six-acre property along Old Mammoth Road. Renovations include the Sierra Nevada Rodeway Inn (renamed the Sierra Nevada Lodge) and the old Rafters restaurant. Demetriades even builds a miniature golf course in the parking lot.
JULY 14: Larry Payne’s appeal regarding the placement and size of a water tank in Crowley Lake is denied by Mono County Supervisiors.
JULY 15: Developer Chuck Lande successfully wins a $138,662 rebate from the Mammoth Lakes Town Council regarding a public art fee he was assessed. The appeal sets off a debate as to what exactly should qualify as public art.
The Eastern Sierra Hatchery Foundation is disbanded by a 7-2 vote of its Board.
MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory and wife Bonnie pull their Diamond Partnership dollars with the Mammoth Lakes Foundation in order to donate $250,000 to the local school district. As Gregory says, “From Mammoth Mountain’s standpoint, we are committed to the community, especially to education, and the children of this community have been a primary focus of ours over the years … it’s clear that the K-12 programs [thanks to the State budget crisis] are under siege. That is the acute need right now. We’re in an emergency situation.”
West Nile Virus found in Crowley Lake.
Mono County’s Narcotic Enforcement Team (MONET), assisted by an alphabet soup of other orgs, seize 26,300 marijuana plants with a street value of nearly $80 million.
The California Golden State Mountain Bike Championships draw 500 riders over Labor Day weekend.
LADWP proposes a 600% sewer rate increase for single-family residence users of the Independence Wastewater system. It would be the first increase for Independence residents in 34 years. LADWP representative Gene Coufal describes the 34-year lull in rate increases as “just an oversight.”
SEPT. 4: A USDA Wildlife Supervisor Wade Carlson carries out order to shoot and kill a Mama bear and two cubs responsible for a rash of home and campsite break-ins over the past two years.
SEPT. 16: Mammoth’s Town Council approves amendments to the North Village Specific Plan and General Plan allowing for increased height (up to 83’) and density at the “three corners” at the intersection of Minaret Rd. and Hwy. 203.
OCT. 7: Council votes 3-2 not to open bear subcommittee meetings to public. Public views this is as a reaffirmation of lack of trust in Council. They also see it as illegal. Which it is. By December, the first public bear subcommittee meeting is held. We all wish we had chosen to hibernate instead of attend.
OCT. 7: Council votes to keep ice rink open one more year, though T&R Chair Bill Sauser says $200,000 annual subsidy for 5,000 skaters not sustainable.
OCT. 13: Early storm floods Mono County Jail and forces relocation of inmates to Inyo County. Tough luck, as the County had just begun work on a long-overdue roofing project.
OCT. 16: MMSA opens, the Mountain’s 2nd earliest opening on record. False alarm. Mountain closes three days later due to warm temperatures.
OCT. 26: Kevin Green, one-time hotshot developer who paid top dollar for several Mammoth restaurants before the real estate bust, pleads no contest to a felony charge of writing checks with insufficient funds with intent to defraud. The charge stems from a bad check Green wrote to former employee Ed Hurley. Judge Ed Forstenzer agrees to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
Medical Marijuana dispensaries spark up controversy in local governments across the country and Mammoth Lakes takes a hit of its own as Council deliberated whether (and if so how) such dispensaries could be set up within the town limits. Council bogarts the doobie and enacts a 45-day moratorium to study further. Then chooses to study for another 10.5 months after that. Which is roughly the same amount of time, according to various university studies, that it takes a potsmoker to finish a term paper.
Finance Director Brad Koehn puts forth an airport terminal financing deal, essentially taking out a loan against General Fund cash reserves and carrying the note until Fed. Aviation Authority grants can kick in and the Town can pay itself back. The Town’s junk-level bond rating put the best interest rate available at more than 8% and estimates indicated that, apart from annual debt service of $220,000, once the loan was paid off, the Town would still be out $750,000 in closing costs and other interest charges. Council doesn’t like the math and rejects the deal 5-0.
Hilton Creek Sewer District users manage to put off a fee increase for the whole year, but their New Year may not be so happy, as the increase is all but a foregone conclusion for sometime early in 2010. Expect a 45% hike over three years.
Larry Johnston is the first candidate to announce he’ll run in the next local election, seeking the District 1 seat on Mono County’s Board of Supervisors. Bill Sauser later announces he’s running too.
Byng Hunt (District 5) and Sheriff Rick Scholl announce plans to run for reelection.
DEC. 12: Judge Ed Forstenzer grants The Sheet’s petition to become a “newspaper of general circulation,” meaning it has “paper of record” status and can now run legal notices and related classified advertising.
DEC. 18: Michael Harris is found guilty on 19 out of 25 counts … convicted of 18 counts of lewd and lascivious acts and one count of forcible rape. Sentencing is set for January. The guilty verdict caps a five-week trial.