Dear Town Council,
I am writing this letter as a concerned citizen, Council candidate and the President of Mammoth Lakes Housing. The full Board of Mammoth Lakes Housing has not reviewed the following observation and comments.
On May 5, the Town Council held a study session titled “Progress Report and Negotiation Terms for the Snowcreek Development Agreement Application.” After reviewing the Town Council’s video feed several times, I have taken the liberty to transcribe Council’s requested clarifications and questions of Town staff: What are the greater community benefits in respect to the triple bottom line? How has the MLTPA letter of June 5 been addressed? Mayor McCarroll requested an analysis of why a 20-year DA, why the non-phasing, and that a fiscal analysis be provided. Clarify how the fees over 20-years will be provided. Provide an analysis of what was required in the Master Plan versus what is being provided in the DA? Provide a clearer statement as to how the $10 million will be provided. Provide flexible phasing schedules options. How will the Town enforce the conditions and terms in the DA? Clarify the conservation easement agreements. Clarify the language of what and where various Town projects will be provided by the $10 million. I apologize if I have misstated the Council’s questions and directions to staff, but this was how the Council came across on the meeting broadcast.
During the study session, Mr. Wardlaw [Community Development Director] stated that a Snowcreek Alternate Housing Mitigation Plan (AHMP) is allowed under existing Municipal Code.
On May 11, Mr. Wardlaw emailed MLH “Snowcreek Master Plan Affordable Housing Mitigation Plan” and requested that MLH provide comments within 24 hours. Because final approvals of AHMPs require a Board action, MLH’s Executive Director requested that Mr. Wardlaw provide additional time for MLH’s Board to review and provide comments.
Mr. Wardlaw denied MLH’s request for additional time, stating that the Town is not processing an AHMP at this time, but that they “are setting the framework of salient financial terms for the Development Agreement.” How Mr. Wardlaw’s response informs the public process is perplexing.
In an effort to accommodate the Development Agreement Schedule, MLH is attempting to schedule a special meeting of the MLH Borad of Directors to review the “Snowcreek Master Plan Affordable Housing Mitigation Plan” in time for the Planning Commission hearing on May 26.
To justify the rush to process the Snowcreek DA, Mr. Wardlaw communicated that the schedule for processing the DA was agreed to by the Town Council, the DA Ad Hoc Committee and then reviewed by the Town Council at the May 5 study session. According to Mr. Wardlaw, Community Development does not have the authority to delay the schedule to accommodate a MLH Board review of the Snowcreek AHMP. Mr. Wardlaw announced that the DA does not propose an AHMP for evaluation, only the salient financial terms that will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and Town Council. Mr. Wardlaw further stated that if MLH is unable to review the materials that have been provided to MLH, before the publication date of 5/17 of Snowcreek’s draft DA, then MLH could weigh in at the PC hearing or the TC hearing. It is not clear how the “salient financial terms” are different from or do not constrain a future Snowcreek AHMP.
As President of MLH, I need to point out to Council, Planning Commission and Mr. Wardlaw that the Town contract with MLH requires MLH to review “proposed Housing Mitigation Development Plans” and that “MLH shall (emphasis added) review all proposed Housing Mitigation Development Plans and proposed Alternate Mitigation Plans submitted to the Town in accordance with Municipal Code Chapter 17.36 and make recommendations regarding approval, denial, or modification of such Plans to the Town’s Director of Community Development and/or the Planning Commission.”
Mr. Wardlaw has made it impossible for MLH to meet its contractual obligations. In respect to working with MLH, Mr. Wardlaw has changed the “target” dates outlined in Council’s May 5 study session agenda bill to drop-dead dates. If Mr. Wardlaw continues with his “drop-dead” interpretation of the “target DA schedule,” the Planning Commission will be provided ONE public hearing on May 26. The Town Council will also be allocated a single public hearing on June 16 to deliberate the Planning Commission’s recommendations and adopt the first reading of the ordinance approving the DA. It also needs to be pointed out that the Town may not schedule a Town Council hearing until after the Planning Commission concludes its deliberations; otherwise the Council is pressuring the Planning Commission for a decision and eliminating its ability to question, seek additional information, deliberate, and advise in accordance with its statutory role.
Before MLH can respond to the materials and mixed directions provided by Mr. Wardlaw, I need to ask Council what it is they want MLH to respond too: the materials as an AHMP or as a “salient financial” term in the Snowcreek DA? This question is especially germane given the fact that Affordable Housing fees are directly tied to the potential reduction of the $10 million being offered by Snowcreek as a greater community benefit.
In response to the above mixed communications and rush, I request that the Town Council direct Town staff: first, to continue the Planning Commission’s Snowcreek DA hearing(s) until after the MLH Board can provide comments and adopt recommendations in regards to the materials provided by Mr. Wardlaw. Secondly, I request that Council clarify the meaning of “target DA schedule” to avoid confusion in the future. Thirdly, I request that Council clarify what it is Council wants: 1) recommendations of Snowcreek’s AHMP or 2) recommendations as to affordable housing being a “salient financial” term in the Snowcreek DA and how those two items are different. We have recently seen how “nonbinding Council direction” became the functional equivalent of a Council resolution on Old Mammoth Place. Will “salient financial terms” also become formal Council policy constraining further community debate and deliberations?
Finally, as President of MLH, it is beyond me why Mr. Wardlaw is treating MLH as a non-partner. Over the past four years, MLH has garnered $21,620,000 in grants, constructed 78 rental units and 54 for sale units, provided 55 down payment assistance loans to first time home buyers in Mammoth Lakes and Mono County, recently received a $1.5 million grant for the acquisition/rehabilitation of an existing Tri-plex, completed the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, the list goes on. In short, MLH is the most successful partner the Town has and continues to provide the Town with expertise that reaches far beyond what staff can provide on its own to Town Council.
As a citizen and Council Candidate, I must admit I am frustrated and confused by the behavior of Mr. Wardlaw. During the Council’s May 5 study session, the “target DA schedule” was never discussed, which makes Mr. Wardlaw’s drop-dead schedule presented to MLH all the more puzzling. The obvious question is: why didn’t Mr. Wardlaw bring forward to Town Council any potential scheduling conflicts during the study session before compromising MLH? What is the source of the direction to hold and presumably complete the Planning Commission hearing on the 26th? Staff’s behavior is even more incomprehensible, given that a major campaign criticism of the Town Council is that they are being manipulated by Town staff. I am further dumbfounded by staff’s behavior given the fact that the Town Manager and Mayor McCarroll are sitting MLH Board members; not to mention that John Eastman, a sitting Council member, and Tony Barrett, a Planning Commissioner, are candidates for Town Council.