Council approves open space designation for Bell parcel over Eastman’s objections
It’s really a question of whom you wish to believe.
During the final debate over the change in zoning designation for the Bell Parcel on Wednesday night, Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmember John Eastman insinuated that outgoing Councilmember Wendy Sugimura and Mayor Neil McCarroll wanted to change the designation for nothing more than reasons of vanity. That they wanted to get the zoning change done for reasons of legacy as opposed to logic.
Post-meeting, however, Councilmember Skip Harvey speculated that Eastman’s objection has “more to do with reelection than with good long-term planning for the Town.”
Council voted 4-1 to change the Bell’s zoning from “resort” to “open space.” Eastman was the lone dissenter.
The vote represents the culmination of a process, which began in April when Council directed Staff to prepare both zoning and General Plan amendments.
The Bell parcel is an approximate 18-acre property located at the intersection of Meridian Blvd. and Minaret Rd.
During the go-go real estate era of 2005, there was routine speculation as to what the Town should do with the property, and what it might fetch on the open market.
$2 million/acre for the 11 developable acres (the property contains about seven acres of wetlands) was oft-cited.
That was then, of course.
The final hurdle to passage of the 2007 General Plan was the Bell Parcel. At that time, McCarroll, Sugimura and Harvey agreed to retain the Bell’s resort zoning only if it included a conservation easement overlay. To quote The Sheet’s front-page story from August 18, 2007, “Their intention is to maintain the Bell as a public park, and they directed Staff that this was the preferred alternative and should encompass the scope of study.”
An easement was seen as the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too option, an effort to extract money for what Council preferred to do anyway – leave the Bell as open space.
Well, a majority of Council felt that way.
At the time, Councilmembers Eastman and Stapp thought the Bell should be deemed a “Special Study Area,” resort zoning maintained, and all options studied: development, open space, et. al.
Since that time, Councilmember Jo Bacon (who voted in favor of redesignation as open space) toppled Stapp in the 2008 Council election.
At Council Wednesday, Sugimura said McCarroll, along with Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT), looked into the easement option, but given the current economic climate, an easement is not viable. Given that the “overwhelming desire of the community is [to see the Bell remain as] open space, that’s when Council initiated the zoning change proposal.
Gordon Alper, for one, appreciated the move, though he couldn’t resist a dig “I would like to extend my appreciation to Council for hearing this matter,” he said. “It’s comforting to see Council remember its commitment to the community for a change.”
District 1 Supervisor Candidate and Mammoth Lakes Tourism and Recreation Chairman Bill Sauser sided with Eastman. “I do not understand the rush to handcuff ourselves,” he said.
“If we do this, the value [of the property] will plummet. I cannot, in good conscience, reduce such a large asset to zero,” added Eastman.
His fellow Councilmembers promptly ran roughshod over his conscience.
In 2007, McCarroll said he initially thought that workforce housing would be the best use for the Bell, but soon changed his mind.
“We’re not missing an opportunity,” he said then, but “gaining an incalculable asset. Park space with recreational opportunities … is what we are about.”
Public works goes for different perk
Eastman was also the lone vote against another decision; to approve a contract amendment with the Town’s Public Works Employees Assn.
Two weeks ago, Council unanimously approved amendments to the contracts of its three other public employee unions (general employees, management employees and police officers).
In essence, these three other unions negotiated for an end to the two furlough days per month they had agreed to during the height of the recession. In exchange, they agreed to forego the 4.5% COLA (cost-of-living-adjustment) stipulated in their contracts.
The result: a net increase in employee salary obligations to the Town of about 9.2% for these three unions in FY 2010-2011.
Eastman later reneged and said he did not approve the deal after all.
This Wednesday, the Public Works union negotiated to keep their 4.5% COLA while accepting one furlough day per month. Resulting in a similar overall increase of approx. 9%.
Eastman said the Town can’t afford such an increase at this time.