I think local citizens will be happy to know that there are at least two other entities (well, three other entities) which should thrive in this post-apocalyptic (airport settlement) era of Mammoth Lakes history – aside from the profiteers (and the attorneys who serve them) at Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition.
1.) Municipal retirees
2.) Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw
3.) Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) Consultant Walter Kieser
Mr. Kieser’s firm released a 53-page report entitled “Mammoth Lakes Economic Forecast and Revitalization Strategies” last week.
The report featured the usual gems, such as this line from the introduction: “Ski resort visits typically vary directly with the timing, amount and quality of snowfall.”
Okay, so let’s cut through the morasse of language meant to pad a regurgitation of statistics you’ve already been fed 1,000 times before. (Bet you didn’t know shoulder season visitation could use a boost).
After the last General Plan Update, Town Council kept harping about how the Town needed to update its zoning codes so that there would be clear rules to follow going forward in regard to future development. Even MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory urged the Town to get its planning done so that when the next growth cycle arrived, the Town wouldn’t be left to shoot from the hip when it came to project approvals.
Now listen to the EPS report: “While appropriate comprehensive planning and zoning capacity are necessary components to achieve the community’s desired future, they alone are not sufficient. Innovative zoning regulations (e.g. Incentive Zoning), streamlined regulatory review and redevelopment actions … are essential.”
Translation: All that time and effort you’ve spent on planning the last five years has been a nice exercise and has kept Mr. Wardlaw and his eager beaver planning staff busy, but really, in the new recessionary environment, you’ve got to cut deals so consider everything you’ve done in regard to planning a nice exercise in “job creation.”
What’s better is the section where EPS encourages the Town to “provide dedicated funding for certain community and resort amenities otherwise funded by development impact fees and other developer exactions.”
Translation: Tax yourselves and pass more bond measures so you can offer tax breaks to developers.
The problem with that scenario is that we all know the Town is planning to indirectly raid Measures R and U to pay off the airport settlement. Given this, how anxious will taxpayers be to tax themselves in the future knowing they can’t trust the Town to spend their money appropriately?
Then there are the projections in the “Development Scenarios” section. The projections are presented in the usual fashion. If you kiss some serious developer ass, you will raise all sorts of new revenue from new rooms and new visitors which will provide a cascade of money to help you reinvent yourselves.
But if you don’t kiss some serious developer ass, no one will ever invest here and the Town will stagnate and pretty soon we’ll have to dedicate the tent at Little Eagle as an historical landmark.
“The [economic] assumptions are based on available data, interviews [with whom, I wonder], surveys from other resort communities and EPS’ experience in other resorts,” says the report.
Here’s a sample of the Economic Model Results:
In a low buildout environment, the Town would generate $2.3 million in sales tax revenue and $6.23 million in unrestricted T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax revenue) by 2030. In a high buildout scenario, the numbers are $7.0 million and $18.7 million respectively.
Note: The high buildout scenario reflects an assumption of a mere 15% increase above current occupancy rates and a general doubling of the retail spending per person per day.
Gee, I guess I’ll take the second set of numbers. What do I have to do, Wally? Just drink a little bit of this Kool-Aid. Why, sure!
What’s fascinating about this document is that it appears as if it was written entirely in a bubble. No mention of the airport litigation. At least none that I recall.
There have been several stories in the news recently about the burgeoning public pension crisis. A story by Tad Friend appeared in last month’s New Yorker about the city of Costa Mesa. Its focus: a recently laid-off and distraught municipal employee who jumped to his death from the City Hall roof.
The second story, written by Michael Lewis, appears in Vanity Fair this month. Consider this excerpt, which focused on the city of San Jose. By 2014, Mayor Chuck Reed calculated that his city of one million people, the 10th-largest city in the United States, would be serviced by 1,600 public workers.
“‘There is no way to run a city with that level of staffing,’ he said. ‘You start to ask: What is a city? Why do we bother to live together? But that’s just the start.’ The problem was going to grow worse until, as he put it, ‘you get to one.’ A single employee to service the entire city, presumably with a focus on paying pensions. ‘I don’t know how far out you have to go until you get to one,’ said Reed, ‘but it isn’t all that far.’ At that point, if not before, the city would be nothing more than a vehicle to pay the retirement costs of its former workers. The only clear solution was if former city workers up and died, soon. But former city workers were, blessedly, living longer than ever.”
So here’s the good news. Thank goodness Mammoth only incorporated a quarter-century ago. The brevity of our history has, to this point, largely saved us from ourselves. Council would like to think its foresight and fiscal austerity has saved us, but we all know better. Our employees have the same deal every other municipality’s has. Regardless of whether Mr. Kieser is right or wrong in his latest report, if the Town conducts business as usual and does not rein in its public employee unions, even the rosiest of revenue projections will be dwarfed by obligations to the no longer working.