Of the three concepts reviewed by the Mono County Board of Supervisors during a workshop on Tuesday morning in Mammoth, Alternative C, the so-called radial approach, was thought to have been the token concept, put in simply to round out the field. The County’s Redistricting Advisory Committee essentially included it to show a diversity of options and meet the required three concepts, but it was Alternative A, with its long agrarian District 4, that generally drew failing marks from the Board and public.
The Committee finalized the three concepts, no more and no fewer as mandated by a Board resolution, during its final scheduled public meeting on June 29. Redistricting is triggered by Census counts taken every 10 years. Of the five districts, four have changed enough to require population shifts to achieve the roughly 2,840 persons per district needed for parity. Roughly 10 meetings were held countywide, with at least two in every district. June Lake had the greatest attendance, but Advisory Commitee Chairman Bob Peters lamented the rather weak public turnout that characterized most of the other meetings.
A1 calls for a long, agrarian-based corridor, running from Topaz down the California-Nevada state line and picking up Benton, Hammil, Chalfant, Swall Meadows and Paradise, and 3 core Mammoth districts. B1 sets up 2 core Mammoth districts, a core unincorporated district and 2 split districts. What is now District 4 picks up 700 persons, and what is now District 3 expands into the Mono Basin. C2 contains 1 core Mammoth district, and 4 radiating split districts, which all share Mammoth to one degree or another.
It was a foregone conclusion that Mammoth, with a population of 8,400, was going to be split to some degree. The Committee opted to leave June Lake intact, but two of the three options leave Sierra Valley Sites divided. Racial discrimination, which has drawn threats of legal action in other counties, was deemed not a problem in Mono County, following an extensive review by the County Counsel’s office.
Committee members were asked for input. Chris Carmichael said it was important to protect the outlying areas of Mono’s diverse and divided county. Fellow member Rick Phelps said that, even with 60% of the population, and three supervisors with districts in the town, he didn’t want to see Mammoth set up as a “fortress situation.” Tony Taylor opined that he still thinks some form of radial approach makes sense. “The trend in population suggests that 10 years from now indicates that we might have 80% of the population here and that troubles me,” he pointed out. Bill Taylor said his goal was, “trying to resolve both the tyranny of the minority and the tyranny of the majority.”
“We need to end the ‘us versus them’ stigma that’s plagued the county,” Peters remarked. “This isn’t about an election or who’s serving on the Board today, but a structure that will last for the next 10 years.”
In public comment, Steve Noble, owner of the Ruby Inn in Bridgeport, has been been part of the community for 33 years. He favors the radial approach (C), which he says provides the best political balance between Mammoth and unincorporated areas.
Former District 4 Supervisor candidate Tim Fesko, a self-described advocate of the radial approach, also was opposed to A, and thinks that, while it’s viewed as agrarian, it’s really tourism driven. B, he said leaves the system where it is today. He pushed for C, which “lets the supervisors represent the rural and urban districts better. It gets supervisors out there to learn how to balance and understand rural and non-rural concepts.”
Rancher George Milovich didn’t back a concept, but reminded the Board “millions of dollars in agriculture isn’t miniscule.” Landowners, he said, need to have a voice; even though their numbers aren’t as big, their land holdings mitigate that. “We just need to get those cows to come to meetings,” Supervisor Vikki Bauer responded, good-naturedly.
Speaking for the Town of Mammoth Lakes, Mayor Jo Bacon insisted that, “the decision made takes into [account] what’s best for our citizens, who are also part of this county. Being incorporated doesn’t change the rights of citizens to receive health and other public services. The citizens deserve their fair share.” She also pushed for an option B2 to be brought into consideration.
What matters most, however, is how the Board views the options. Supervisor Tim Hansen opened fire on A, calling it “totally ridiculous, unless you’re a Schwan’s salesman. No one would ever voice an opinion for it. It wastes one of the options.” Supervisor Byng Hunt said he’s, “interested in the county’s future and growth over the next 10 years.” Hunt indicated he’s leaning toward some sort of compromise between B and C, which he thinks, “accounts for Mammoth’s expanding population and yet allows interest in the unincorporated areas.”
Supervisor Larry Johnston, who first lobbed in an early version of the full radial approach, focused on the lack of south and north county commonality, and the perceived South-Inyo, North-Nevada linkages. “What if I lived in Chalfant? Would I want someone from Mammoth representing me?” Johnston, whose district covers roughly two of the county’s 3,000 square miles, said he also has concerns with how two of the three options divide Sierra Valley Sites. He also suggested that a supervisor who represents Mammoth Mountain Ski Area should also be able to effectively represent outlying areas, such as Walker.
Bauer, whose district is the only one that includes incorporated and unincorporated areas, basically agreed. “When it comes down to serious issues, we fall all over the place. You can’t call who is going to fall on any side of an issue based on where they live. It doesn’t happen,” she said. Bauer wasn’t, however, in favor of rethinking the options or bringing back any variations. “[The Committee] was made up of 10 members with nothing at stake, as opposed to five members with their own interests. We’d end up redoing [their] work and end up right back where we started.”
Board Chair Hap Hazard also took aim at A. I worked [a scenario similar to] A for about a year, when I covered for late supervisor John Cecil. It darn near killed me and affected my marriage,” Hazard recounted. “It’s not doable, on the gas expenses alone!”
He said it’s only “natural” to look at the districts and how the options affect the status quo. “I look at this as a 10-year plan and how it will impact my successor,” he said. Hazard deemed this Board is “very conscientious” when it comes to deciding issues, and said debates are balanced on what’s best for the County as a whole. “I’ve heard it implied that some supervisors don’t know about the county or the town. I disagree; that’s not the case at all.”
Tourism, he said, is to provide amenities and enhancements for its citizens, but providing safety net services is the County’s first priority, and redistricting comes down to what we need and what we can afford.
The only suggested tweak so far came from Hazard, who asked for a change on the borderline that defines in which district the geothermal plant falls, which isn’t likely to affect any population centers.
The first public hearing is set for the Board’s next regular meeting on Aug. 2. At that meeting, the Board is expected to take public testimony and then forward a final option (garnering the most support) to the second hearing, which is likely to be held the following Tuesday, Aug. 9.