Perhaps Mammoth Town Council Candidate Matthew Lehman was onto something when he stated earlier in this election season that “Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed regularly and often for the same reasons.”
Lo and behold, it smelled like dirty diapers Tuesday evening when Town Council candidates gathered at the Community Center for another forum, this time put on by the Mammoth Lakes Lodging Association. Walking into the venue, an overwhelming stench filled one’s nostrils and all of the windows and doors were wide open, airing the place out.
“I’ve been here since 2 p.m., and all of sudden, right before the forum was going to begin [5 p.m.] this smell just hit us,” said Lodging Association member Teri Stehlik.
No one knew where the odor was coming from, but some speculated that perhaps a line had been hit during the road construction taking place on Forest Trail just outside the Community Center. Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis clarified later by phone that the road construction was actually a water line replacement project being done by Mammoth Community Water District, and that he had not heard of any pipes being broken.
MCWD District Engineer John Pedersen said that he did not know of any lines being broken either. His best guess was that a drain trap, which usually fills with water when sinks or showers are used in order to trap smells, had probably dried out because the Community Center is an infrequently used building. A dry drain trap allows smells to permeate the air, he said.
So enough about the stink.
The purpose of the latest forum was for the Lodging Association to ask specific questions on issues that directly affect businesses. According to moderator John Morris, “The current Council is getting too much direction from staff on tourism issues.”
Of the eight candidates running, six attended. Candidate Rick Wood was on a family vacation and listened in via conference call. He supplied written answers to the questions following the forum, which can be found at www.thesheetnews.com. Candidate Allen Blumer was a no-show. Stehlik claimed he had been notified just as everyone else had. The Sheet called Blumer on Wednesday morning and discovered his absence had been an oversight.
“I went to the Tourism and Recreation Commission meeting [for reviewing Measure R applications] and then to the library,” he said. “I should have had it on my schedule.”
Morris got things rolling [sans Blumer] with the first question regarding Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) collection and compliance, specifically on legal rentals, and whether or not the candidates felt enough time was being dedicated by Town staff to TOT since it makes up more than 65 percent of the Town’s operating funds.
Candidates Tony Barrett, Matthew Lehman and Dawn Vereuck were on the same page, agreeing that a Town code enforcement officer needed to be reinstated in order to make enforcement proactive rather than reactive. Currently there is the equivalent of a part-time position in the Town’s Finance Department following up on collection and compliance two days per week. Lehman and Vereuck also agreed that stiff penalties needed to be given to those who are not compliant.
John Eastman pointed out that he was the Council member who had originally put the item on an agenda to be looked into, but that it had fallen off the table because of other Council issues.
Sharon Clark put the responsibility of compliance back onto the lodging community.
“The lodging community will bring us into compliance with one voice,” she said. Clark also added that she really hoped the police weren’t involved in the sting operations to find out about TOT compliance because “we need to be nice to our guests.”
Kirk Stapp began responding regarding illegal nightly rentals but was stopped mid-answer by Morris who explained that was actually the topic of the next question, which asked what each candidate’s stance was on changing the Town’s ordinance to allow nightly rentals in single family homes and what their strategy would be for curbing illegal activity.
The only two candidates who went out on a ledge and actually took a position were Lehman and Barrett. Lehman claimed he was not for a change in the ordinance right now.
“There are benefits to it, but we need to address our collection issues first before we provide a larger supply [of rentals],” he explained.
Barrett on the other hand was for a change in the ordinance on the premise that it would not be a cannibalization of other rentals in town as some have suggested.
“This is a market we are missing out on,” he claimed. “People are willing to pay $25,000 per week for homes and are doing it now.”
Candidates were then asked how they would stimulate economic growth in the community. All agreed that successful events, as well as the success of the DMO or Mammoth Lakes Tourism, were extremely important. Consensus was that the Town should not be in charge of running events but should provide assistance to event organizers either with seed money or in kind services. Lastly, Lehman pointed out and that the Town should support the assets it already has such as its Olympic athletes and Steve Searles.
The topic of the DMO continued when Morris asked whether or not the candidates supported all of Measure A money going to the new organization, and if they did, what strings would be attached to the money?
The candidates agreed that all of the Measure A dollars should go to the new DMO, or Mammoth Lakes Tourism. Stapp pointed out that the only strings attached would be administrative fees, and that actually Mammoth’s DMO would need even more funding to be successful. Research Stapp had done showed that the other lowest funded DMO that he could find had a budget of $4.5 million, he said. If all Measure A dollars end up going to Mammoth Lakes Tourism it will have a budget of approximately $1.8 million.
The last question of the evening asked the candidates to explain their priorities for improving mobility, transit and access in town.
Consensus among the candidates was that transit had come a long way and was steadily improving.
Vereuck added that she would keep all transit free and have late night service. Clark said that there needs to be more sidewalks in town and that they should be cleared in the winter. Barrett pointed out that the town should look toward renewable and geothermal energy for ways to keep the sidewalks cleared during winter. Lehman said that the trail systems should be better connected, and Stapp said that just filling the gaps in the current system would help the town make huge progress.