As he announced his candidacy for President this week, Republican Jon Huntsman (who?) echoed a familiar refrain. He said he was running for President because “For the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident that the one we got … we will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation.”
Hmm. Nice rhetoric, but if he’d opened his campaign in Mammoth Lakes, I wonder if the standing-room only crowd in Suite Z on Wednesday night would have believed him.
The starkness of Mammoth’s financial predicament has fully penetrated the collective consciousness, as services once considered standard and historically taken for granted (like Whitmore Pool) are threatened with closure.
Whitmore survived the first cut at Council Wednesday night, but will probably not survive the second (when an airport litigation settlement is reached) later this summer.
So what does this mean? I looked around the room and I saw a lost generation. I saw stagnation. I saw defeat. I saw disbelief. I saw a spike in real estate sales in Bishop. I saw kids who still didn’t quite understand what it meant. Yes, the adults were threatening to take their pool away, but as a kid, nothing happens until it happens.
And kids … kids are more resillient than adults. You can take away things from them, but they are eminently adaptable. They don’t need bright and shiny toys; they can make a game of anything. They can weather hardship without even knowing the degree of hardship they’re weathering. Whereas for adults … it’s harder to take. To look up and see … not even a glass ceiling, but a lowered one. We used to talk about a $50 million recreation center with an indoor aquatic facility. Now we can’t even afford to operate an aging outdoor pool.
It’s hard to think about being dynamic when all you feel is tired.
Mammoth is now a place which cannot afford to reinvest in itself, cannot afford to dream. It will be hard enough to provide basic services. As Councilman Skip Harvey lamented to me a few weeks ago, and I will paraphrase: We keep spending money on marketing to bring people here, but once they get here, what do they see? Do they see enough in our town to want to come back? Or do they see potholes and unstriped parking lots and faded signs?
I told Skip that it’s one thing when it’s wintertime. The snow serves as its own natural paint job. Summer’s another matter.
Speaking of Skip, when delivering papers in Bishop last Friday, I walked into Golden State Cycle and saw Skip wearing a t-shirt as a makeshift sling. He’d just had a motorcycle accident at the intersection of Red Hill and West Line. He found out later he’d completely snapped a bone in his shoulder.
So I’m driving him back to Mammoth because, well, he’s a Mammoth guy and he’s going to Mammoth Hospital and that’s that. And I start talking to him about how impressed I am with what Evan Russell and the Mammoth Lakes Foundation have done in creating “Blue Sky Bowl.”
So Skip, despite being in intense pain, makes me take a detour to show him the Blue Sky Bowl before I drop him at the hospital. Whatever you may think of Skip, he loves Mammoth, and even when I looked at the Council dais and tried to be angry on Wednesday night, I couldn’t really sustain it.
We are not Bell, Calif. Our leaders are not crooks.
I looked at Rick Wood and John Eastman – they raised their kids in a healthy, solvent community and in striving to help create a “better” community, they (and many fellow Councilmembers through the years) had a hand in destroying the existing one.
So what’s the penalty, you might ask. Their kids are gone. They are in the autumn of their careers. What did they really lose? Well, both have children who wish to move back to Mammoth. If there is not enough opportunity, their children will not survive here and will have to leave.
That is penalty aplenty.
Yes, many chefs had a hand in the stew we’re in. And for the most part, the fingers have been pointed at the elected officials who’ve made the votes, and at the staff members and consultants and attorneys who’ve served them poorly.
But whither Mammoth Mountain? This is a company town, and the company certainly exerted large influence on Councilmembers to do its bidding, especially in regard to Mammoth/Yosemite Airport.
I’m not saying Mammoth Mountain should be responsible for any part of the litigation judgment, however … it is time for the company to step forward and assume most if not all of certain shared burdens, particuarly when it comes to airport operations.
The Town cannot afford to take responsibility for air service subsidies, nor should it entertain assuming any financial obligation for the expansion of the airport terminal. Nor should it continue to spend money on ever more employees to service added flights. We’ve spent enough on this. It’s the Mountain’s turn.
And from Kirkner’s desk … At the June 15 Mammoth Town Council meeting, Councilman John Eastman made mention of an $8 million vehicle replacement fund in the Town’s possession. Eastman had hoped at that time to pull $200,000 from that fund to finish off budget balancing measures that the Council had been working on that evening.
“Dave [Wilbrecht] did the right thing by calling a time out,” Eastman told The Sheet this week, referring to the Town Manager’s decision to call it a night and let staff come up with the remaining $200,000 in cuts. “I was just trying to wrap things up.”
Since then, staff has made it clear to Eastman that pulling money from the vehicle replacement fund is just kicking the can down the road. “We wouldn’t be addressing the structural problems,” Eastman said. Cyndi Myrold of the Town’s Finance Department also reminded Eastman after that meeting that the Town has already borrowed more than $1 million from this fund that it will eventually need to pay back. Pulling more money from it to balance the General Fund would just increase that debt.
“We don’t need the money today, but we will need it at some point,” Eastman said.
At this week’s Council meeting, Eastman ran into some hot water when he got up and left the room as Mammoth local Leigh Gaasch made her way to the podium for public comment. Gaasch took offense at Eastman’s disappearance during her comments and came forward later to ask if he found her thoughts to be unimportant. Before Eastman could fully respond Gaasch became agitated and raised her voice. Mayor Jo Bacon told Gaasch her comments were inappropriate and that she would have Gaasch removed from the room if she did not simmer down.
Eastman later told The Sheet he had been trying to catch Olympic skier Stacey Cook before she left the room. Eastman had some personal business he needed to discuss with her.
How much money does housing really need right now?
As part of the budget balancing options that the Town Council has been dealing with for the past weeks, Mammoth Lakes Housing will receive a 10 percent cut in its budget. The cut, totaling $38,500 will instead be moved to fund Town staff time spent on housing. The $38,500, according to MLH’s Executive Director Pam Hennarty, will be added to the budget request of $75,000 already attributed to this purpose for a total just under $114,000. The 2010-11 estimated budget for Town staff time spent on housing was $15,000.
Hennarty asked the Council to make sure the money was used for work on housing. She requested they create a detailed workplan to track the money. At press time neither the Community Development Department nor Wilbrecht had returned calls to explain what the plans are for this budget increase.