Mammoth a strong city? Just ask us!
Mammoth Lakes isn’t unlike many other cities in California. It’s seen its share of challenges as part of the nation’s economic downturn. But, given recent layoffs, high gas prices, struggling real estate and construction industries, reduced tax revenue from a dry snow year, not to mention a $42 million litigation judgment, can the Town of Mammoth Lakes, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, still call itself a “strong city?”
Well, of course.
Just read the latest press release!
A new PR campaign, known as “Strong Cities,” a joint effort between the League of California Cities (of which Mammoth Lakes is a member) and the California City Management Foundation, isn’t focusing so much on economic strength. Instead, it’s attempting to play up what municipalities are doing with whatever limited financial resources they do have.
According to its mission statement the “Strong Cities | Strong State” campaign is “designed to communicate the importance of local government in California residents’ everyday lives, and the people at work delivering critical municipal services.”
The campaign’s stated goal is to broadly promote the “innovation and experience of local officials,” as well as success stories alongside profiles of the elected officials and managers and their efforts to “build and maintain a high quality of life” during tough times for state and local governments.
Besides Mammoth other cities in our region listed on the “Strong Cities | Strong State” website include Riverside, Yucaipa, Hayward, Beaumont, Apple Valley, Altascadero, Palmdale, Santa Clarita and Beverly Hills. A link to the Town’s Facebook page, with its 492 Friends, is added as an additional PR point.
Profiles can include photos, video and other media. Success stories can be anything from public safety initiatives to educational, infrastructure, community engagement strategies and more. Mammoth’s “Success Stories” include brief descriptions of a variety of topics, such as the Lake Mary Road Bike Path, the Mammoth Lakes Police Department-Community Hispanic Advisory Committee, Air Service, Town Transit, RecStrats and Mammoth Track Club’s Whitmore Track and Sports Field Project.
“I’m proud to serve a community so committed to quality-of-life priorities for residents, second-home owners, and visitors,” Town Manager David Wilbrecht said in a Strong Cities press release from the Town.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to let everyone know about our successes,” Town of Mammoth Lakes Mayor Jo Bacon said in the PR piece. “The ‘Strong Cities’ profile shows what a great place Mammoth Lakes is to live in and why it is also great place to visit.” In short: rose-colored glasses, perhaps, but let the good times roll.
The League of California Cities calls the Strong Cities program “a first of its kind platform for showcasing California cities’ success stories.” In a media statement, the League said, “The successful passage of Proposition 22 in November 2010, which prohibits state legislators from raiding existing funds allocated to local government, public safety and transportation, is the most recent demonstration that Californians hold their local communities and cities in high regard along with the services they provide.”
According to spokesperson Adrienne Sprenger with the League of California Cities, there was no “buy-in” to be part of the voluntary program. “Cities can elect to participate,” Sprenger said. “We’re trying to feature all the cities in the state. Of the state’s 482 cities, a little more than 100 are currently part of the program.”
There is also no specific criteria for inclusion. Sprenger said town officials are free to use whatever accomplishments they choose to highlight in their localities. “Even though we might not have the budgets we used to, we’re still making our cities a great place to live. A lot of people who live in some of these cities might not be entirely aware of that.”
Essentially, Sprenger acknowledged that the promotion provides a place for talking points for managers and mayors, and other civic leaders. “In the news, you typically hear about a lot of the bad things; this is a sort of ‘accentuate the positive’ outreach,” she added.
But, given the bankruptcy and other negative headlines of late, is the Town sending mixed messages? Bacon doesn’t think so.
“I think people will get it … people who are tied in will recognize that we are getting things accomplished,” Bacon told The Sheet. “I’m not sure what other towns meet the level of challenges we have to deal with, but it’s a good opportunity to bring attention to the good things we’re doing that often get overshadowed by the bad. We’re open for business. And we have snow! Crying over spilt milk [the Airport litigation judgment] isn’t going to solve anything; we have to fix things and keep moving forward.”
Councilmember Matthew Lehman said he thinks everyone knows what our problems are, and the campaign’s platform is a good one. “If anything I’d like to see some things get more visibility,” he commented. “Air service is a pretty big accomplishment, especially given our economic challenges lately.” Cracking down on collecting Transient Occupancy Tax on nightly rentals is another area in which he thinks the Town has done well. “That affects a lot of cities … we’ve made some huge strides there and staff has done some incredible, uncredited work.”
He also said the Town should add more about fishing. “We should be pitching our outdoor events, and our trails, things we have in addition to what we’ve done.”
Lehman said the site’s not a whitewash, but a “celebration of our high points and our qualities.”
“Strong Cities,” he thinks, could provide some impetus to have more plans in place. “When the recovery does take hold, we’ll be ready to go, rather than just have people come up to the podium and gripe during public comment.” Lehman is also mulling proposing that he and other Council members divvy up some of the many issues facing the Town, as opposed to what he suggested was the Council trying to juggle numerous balls at the same time.
“If it weren’t for the lawsuit and the attorney’s fees, we’d probably be pretty well off. Dave [Wilbrecht] and Marianna [Marysheva Martinez, Interim Town Co-Manager] have done a great job during the last couple of years, and we’ve got some good, creative people, but we’ve been focusing too much of our resources on defense … time to switch to offense pretty soon.”