The Mammoth Lakes Town Council passed its 2011-12 budget last week, closing an anticipated $2.7 million deficit by cutting expenses in every single category, including public safety, public works, community development, recreation, finance and administration. No department was spared.
At last week’s budget meeting, many people showed up to protest against a proposed cut to the Whitmore swimming pool operating expenses, which if adopted, would have resulted in a closure of Whitmore pool. Councilmembers received e-mails in protest as well, many of which chastised us for proposing a pool closure. The true facts are that no Councilmember has ever made such a proposal. Town staff developed dozens of cost-cutting options to close the budget deficit. Cutting recreation expenditures was only one. The Council actually rejected the proposal even before the public meeting last week, at which so many citizens spoke.
For the benefit of those who doubt this Council’s commitment to recreation, here are some more facts: in 1994, when I served on the Parks & Recreation Commission, the total parks and recreation budget was $232,000. In 2011-12, this Council will spend more than $2.5 million on recreation, in large part because of the generosity of voters who passed Measures R and U.
In 1994, Shady Rest Park had just opened. Whitmore ballfields were poorly-maintained. Whitmore pool was aging and dilapidated. Tennis courts were in disrepair. The Town had limited recreation programs.
Since then, we have witnessed the construction of miles of bike paths, increased funding for youth sports, expansion of Town-operated programs, renovation of Whitmore pool, construction of the Regan Greene baseball field at Whitmore and two skateparks, development of Mammoth Creek Park, renovation of tennis courts, and construction and operation of an ice rink, among other things. The quality of all of our lives is better for it.
These are hard times. More are to come. However, the Town Council has demonstrated its commitment to parks and recreation, and will continue to do so. In fact, the parks and recreation expenditures total more than those of any other department except for public safety in the 2011-12 budget. To those who have written and spoken about this, continue to participate. To those who have not, stay informed.
Mammoth Lakes Town Council
OHV program trumps trails
Thinking about hiking or back country camping this year? Think again! The Inyo National Forest’s Off Highway Vehicles Program (OHV) is flush this year – but at what cost? Our trails, that’s what! California felt that the Inyo was worthy of state grant money for OHV and the Inyo Forest Leadership Team jumped to get about $2 million of those dollars for OHV over the next three years. Great news, right?
It could be a boon for the Eastern Sierra if not for one little catch – like many state grants the money that the Leadership Team receives requires matching funds from the Inyo itself. The OHV program can’t spend a dollar of state cash without ponying up a federal dollar to meet it. With things tight at the federal level, the Inyo Leadership Team had to look to it’s own budget to meet California’s $2 million with $2 million of it’s own.
So where did the Forest Supervisor’s Office come up with the money? From the Wilderness and Trails programs. The Inyo has diverted virtually all $350,000 of its regular Wilderness and Trails budget into OHV. And as this is a three-year grant program this could continue. What does this actually mean for us here in the Eastern Sierra?
The Inyo National Forest is the 7th most visited recreation forest in the country. It has over 300 miles of trails on the northern half alone. Every day, these trails are used by locals and visitors alike, as well as the heavily traveled John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails that run the full length of the Inyo. Over 50% of the land the Inyo National Forest administers is Wilderness! But this year (and perhaps for the next two years), because of the Inyo Leadership Team’s “priorities” and short-sightedness, there will be no wilderness rangers protecting our resources and no Forest Service employees keeping our trails clear. It’s been a monster winter – think about all that runoff; all those downed trees!
Some volunteer organizations, Friends of the Inyo for example, are gallantly trying to step in and help with some of the work that needs to be done in the backcountry every year. Friends of the Inyo has hired a ranger themselves to fill the void. But, their
lone ranger can only be in one place at a time and cannot perform the same duties as a government ranger who is trained as a Forest Protection Officer. Volunteer trail workers are wonderful, and there are several groups planning to work on specific projects throughout the season. But there are no professionals being hired to cover the trails of the Forest and keep them up to the standards which we and our visitors have come to expect in this beautiful area.
So if you see hikers feeding the bears or camped too close to a lake, if you see a bridge that has washed away or a tree across your favorite trail, call or write a letter to the Inyo National Forest’s Forest Supervisor’s Office or your local District Ranger and tell them what you’re seeing and what you think of their “priorities.” Finally, as you recreate this summer in the National Forest that is your back yard, be careful out there. There’s no one making those trails safer and no rangers close at hand to help with first aid and rescue.
Open letter to Town Council
Dear Council members:
The Mammoth Knolls Homeowners Association (MKHOA) Board of Directors are writing this letter to provide our input concerning our feelings about possible lawsuit settlement negotiations, as we believe that some resolution might be drawing near with the Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition Association (MLLA) creditors.
We strongly feel that the land assets of the Town of Mammoth Lakes should be protected for current and future residents, especially its municipal parks and recreation facilities such as the tennis courts, park and community center adjacent to the Knolls.
We understand that MLLA has requested a list of all Town assets, including this park, as part of its information gathering. Combining this knowledge with the recent closed session action taken by the Town Council to remove Measure R funding for new tennis courts at the community center park, lead us to believe that this land is under consideration for relinquishment in the settlement.
Rather than voluntarily negotiate away our meager public land assets as part of the settlement, we would rather see the Town either negotiate a long-term payment plan with reduced Town services, or take our chances with a bankruptcy court. If the Town’s credit rating suffers in order to negotiate a level of payment that our General Fund can handle, particularly if that level of payments or even bankruptcy might allow us to keep our handful of local parks intact, we feel that we and our children will benefit in the long run.
Therefore, we are suggesting that even if a bankruptcy court may decide that we have to relinquish some of our land assets in the end, we would rather have the Court make that decision rather than the Town Council. We believe it is in the long term best interest of our citizens to retain ownership of our parks. Municipal revenues go up and down with the economy, but once land is lost, we know we’ll never get it back.
So many people have worked for so many years to build our small parks into something we can be proud of that we do not support any Town Council relinquishing them voluntarily as a part of a settlement.
We understand that you find yourselves in an extremely difficult situation, facing the pressures of a settlement we all can live with. We wish to support you in any way that we can, but we do not support in any fashion the voluntary surrender of any of our Town’s meager land assets.
Sandy Hogan, President
Mammoth Knolls Homeowners Assn.
(on behalf of a unanimous board)