New Council on the hook for old messes
How can one have any confidence that the Town of Mammoth Lakes is capable of negotiating development agreements with sophisticated property developers when it can’t even negotiate a decent deal with the local school district?
On Tuesday, the Mammoth Lakes Tourism and Recreation Commission was briefed on the financial state of the Town’s ice rink, which is, in a word, disastrous.
In essence, the Town is stuck in a miserable long-term lease subsidizing a facility it can’t afford and the cost to extricate itself from the predicament is well over $1 million.
Back in 2007, the Town signed the lease agreement with the school district to place the rink behind the library.
The 20-year lease called for $42,000 in annual payments to the district. The Town also agreed to perform snow removal for the parking lot and access road.
Town Council then approved a $3.5 million budget for the ice rink/multi-use facility.
The money was conveniently supposed to come from DIF (Development Impact Fees) generated by one of three development projects (The One Hotel, Little Eagle or Ritz Carlton) breaking ground.
As we all know, that didn’t happen.
Yet the ice rink moved forward. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area racked up $562,000 in DIF credit helping to prepare the site. The Town augmented that with a further expenditure of $254,000 in grant money.
Add those numbers up and the Town put $800,000 down.
The current, temporary facility runs an operational deficit of approximately $180,000 annually. It takes a staggering 1,200 man hours per year to set up and take down the facility. Staff estimates the temporary facility will require $100,000-$200,000 of investment in equipment just to operate going forward.
Last year, it served 8,140 users.
The immediate dilemma
The Town has a $500,000 parks grant it obtained to finance phase 2 of the project, which calls for construction of the concrete slab and permanent chiller tubing in the slab for the rink. If the grant funds are not expended by March 2012 they must be returned. So, does the Town, propelled by the carrot of this grant, opt to move forward on its $3.5 million boondoggle (investing millions of dollars in property it does not own!), or walk away? That was the question posed to the Tourism and Recreation Commission on Tuesday.
The Commission reached general consensus that the project should not move forward unless the school district lease is amended to include a lease-purchase option. “It’s not prudent to go forward with the rink if we can’t buy the property,” said Commission Chairman Bill Sauser
Deputy Town Manager Karen Johnston said the School District is open to a lease-purchase option.
If a deal cannot be struck, Sauser suggested that the Town try to move the facility to property it owns (i.e. Mammoth Creek Park).
The Sheet pointed out that the Mammoth Creek Park option was floated and torpedoed more than five years ago.
At that time, Council was contemplating a “Community Services Initiative” which included a proposed 38,000-square foot ice rink complex at Mammoth Creek Park.
The Sheet blasted the proposal. As Lunch editorialized in the April 9, 2005 issue, “Why are they so intent on shoehorning a 38,000-square foot facility into Mammoth Creek Park? Because they own the property. That’s it. ‘It’s our sandbox,’ seems to be Council’s rationale. ‘All ours. We don’t have to listen to anyone. We don’t have to negotiate with anyone. We’re gonna damn well do what we please …
… Here’s a scenario of what would happen if they built the Iced Tea facility at Mammoth Creek Park. Snowcreek builds its expansion. Mammoth Lakes Housing builds its Old Mammoth projects. The traffic, which is already backed up to Mammoth Creek Park heading into town during peak periods, now backs up past Minaret Rd. – because you’ve built a “destination” (I know how much you love that word) facility with inadequate parking on a 2-lane bottleneck.
I certainly hope someone pokes a few air holes in the box Town officials are hiding in.”
In the same issue, then-Mayor and now Councilmember-elect Rick Wood blamed the media for killing the project. “I believe our job is to be ahead of the community and to bring the community along,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are handicapped by the media – we were hindered by editorial, pure, self-interested, self-serving editorial, and it caught on.”
*Congratulations on your victory, Mr. Wood. And welcome back to the show.
Kirk Stapp also blasted The Sheet, opening a letter with this line, “Have you ever tried putting a noun in front of a verb without trying to blow something up?”
*Ah, the glory days. One of my all-time favorite lines.
In an ironic twist, Councilmember John Eastman backed The Sheet’s position, saying the reason neighbors were opposed to the project is because “they’re used to having open space and they recognize open space has intrinsic value.”
This is the same man who just voted against an open space designation for the Bell Parcel.
Anyway … I’m getting lost in the past. Back to the rink. It appeared there was Commission consensus, if the lease cannot be renegotiated, to simply terminate the project at the School District site (which would cost another $200,000-$300,000, by the way, for site-restoration).
Expect Council discussion on the ice rink as part of its budgetary discussions this coming Wednesday. One proposal on the table is to shut the rink down for this year, and use the estimated “savings” to help fund the next construction phase. The Tourism and Rec Commission does not support this plan without lease modification.
In regard to incoming Police Chief Dan Watson. He’s been described as interim, but is he really?
I was turned onto Watson stories by a few readers familiar with South Pasadena, where he previously served as Chief for eight years.
Turns out their politics are as nutty as ours, so he’ll fit right in.
Pasadena Star-News editor Larry Wilson contended in at least a few editorials that Watson was a very good Chief done in by a scheming Town Council.
Consider the following excerpt:
“South Pasadenans are keeping up the pressure on their City Council to reverse the ill-conceived, purely political putsch of police Chief Dan Watson.
Last week and this coming week as well, hundreds of them have signed a full-page ad in the local weekly, the Review, urging the council to reverse the decision to force the popular chief out.
The members of the council know he’s done an excellent job, turning around a department formerly beset by numerous problems. With eight years of service, he’s one of few longtime department heads in the city. Yet four out of five council members, the only principled exception being current Mayor Richard Schneider, were behind the wink-and-a-nod direction to Watson’s actual boss, City Manager John Davidson, to throw out Watson. Or, rather, to ‘invite him to reapply for his job.’ Word from a number of locals is some council members have another candidate for chief, a former local officer himself. The latter wanted to run for council but was convinced to drop out and wait for an opportunity to lead the department. A few in the officers’ union like that prospect, hoping for a new push for higher pay and unsustainable pensions.
As City Clerk Sally Kilby said in public comment last month, ‘You already have one quality police chief who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Pursuing a path of council-directed hiring will create unease, instability, morale problems. … It seems to me that the city would be better served if the council would continue to focus its attention on policy issues, such as repairing the infrastructure, increasing revenues, cutting costs, focusing on finances. … Let the city manager focus on the personnel matters.” That’s what we hire him for, right?’”
Quick hits … The Lakes Basin is open. Blumer update: Tap owner Steve Mueller says Blumer was drinking when he arrived to let him out last week, contradicting Blumer’s own report that he hasn’t touched anything behind the bar. Blumer did say in his defense that he’d only gotten 15 hours of sleep over the five previous days as he had been at the Sacramento Jazz Festival.
You can now access www.thesheetnews.com on your Mammoth PowderGuide phone app. It works on iPhones and Blackberrys. The cost: $1.99. And it gives you all the legal classifieds you can read for free! Go to the website to order.