Skip Harvey was clearly no environmentalist.
Because he’s definitely left a trace.
Harvey, a two-term Mammoth Lakes Town Councilmember and two-time Mayor, passed away late Sunday/early Monday.
On Monday, July 9. I got a call from Therese Hankel saying Skip had checked himself into the hospital – would I call him to make sure he was okay.
I knew if I called he wouldn’t answer. Over the past few months he hadn’t answered his phone very much. Historically, he’s never answered his phone unless he felt up to it, and lately, he had felt up to it less and less. The treatments he’d had for his cancer allowed for certain “windows” in between where he felt halfway decent. You had to catch him during one of those windows.
If he was in the hospital, it was fair to say the window was shut.
So I went over to the hospital and found his room and walked in. He had been sleeping but awoke when I entered.
We talked for awhile. He joked that it probably hadn’t been such a good idea to ride his motorcycle down to his last set of medical appointments in L.A. He’d dropped the bike a few times – I assume because he hadn’t quite had the strength to handle it.
I told him I felt a little bad about ripping him in the paper that week (over the Friend of Public Education award), seeing as he was laid up in a hospital bed.
“The worst part is, I paid you to do it,” said Skip, referencing the ad he runs in this paper.
I asked him how he felt. He looked at me as if I were a complete moron.
“What do you think? I’m in the hospital.”
“You do look like shit,” I admitted, which caused him to laugh, and then cough, which in turn made me cringe a little and involuntarily glance at the blood stains on his hospital gown (a product of previous coughing fits – he was having issues with his lungs. All I know, even now, is that he had cancer and that it had spread).
Damn, I will miss that laugh.
It was only then, I think, this reminder that he didn’t look well, that jogged him into his controlled self. He knew he was dying and he knew he didn’t want the whole process to become public, a spectacle, and there I was, the bleeping press, in his hospital room, a threat to blow his cover.
“How’d you get past the nurse’s station?” he suddenly asked. “Your name’s not on the list.”
“I have my ways,” I replied, wanting to make it sound like there had actually been strategy employed, but in fact, I’d just kind of breezed through with such a sense of belonging that no one had bothered to ask.
Just then, a nurse came in to change out his oxygen, which appeared like an appropriate time to depart.
I never saw him again.
While on some level I still can’t believe he’s gone, on another level, I knew it was coming, because he had been more open, more vulnerable of late.
It was maybe three or four months ago. I was sitting in Base Camp with Skip and I happened to ask him about his father, just because he had never talked about him (and frankly, I had never asked).
Skip said his father died when he was 15 years old. They were on a family outing when a drunk driver t-boned their car in an intersection. While the rest of the family survived, Dad did not.
Skip was not particularly close to his father when the accident occurred. Dad was a workaholic – owned a Howard Johnson’s in Columbus, Ohio. So as Skip said, it didn’t overly affect him at the time. “Dad was never there before the accident, so when he wasn’t there afterwards, I … didn’t really notice.”
To be fair, as Skip’s sister Constance points out, there was a generational element to her father’s absence: in that era, the men were expected to provide while the women ran the household – but what surprised me most about this revelation was that it came from a person who was such a natural role model and mentor. Skip always had a knack for finding and cultivating great employees. And in turn, these employees were incredibly loyal to him. There’s a reason Base Camp Cafe has the feel it does, why each of the two restaurants Skip created in his lifetime were so successful, why he was elected to Council twice. He knew how to treat people. And he learned that on his own.
You know, the press and public officials – those are funny relationships. You run in many of the same circles, obviously share similar interests, care deeply about a lot of the same things, and yet … you’re not exactly friends, and can become adversarial, and keep secrets from each other, and may have vastly different objectives.
It’s a scorpion-frog deal. You remember the parable. The frog carries the scorpion on his back across the river because he figures the scorpion won’t bite him. If the scorpion bites him, they both drown, so the scorpion wouldn’t do that, right?
Sure enough, the scorpion bites him halfway across the river. And when the frog says, “Why the hell did you do that?” the scorpion replies, “Because it’s my nature.”
Per usual, I have the perfect response to Skip regarding the editorial about the Friend of Public Education award. It’s just two weeks late. That’s human nature. We always have the perfect response – two weeks late.
Another part of human nature that’s dogged Mammoth ever since I’ve been here – the fear of missing out.
That was really the history of Skip’s time on Council. Everyone else would say, “If we don’t do x, we’re gonna miss out.”
And Skip would say, “Well, if we’re gonna do x, let’s do it this way.”
But no one would listen to him, because they were so worried about missing out that they were too scared to approach anyone about negotiating x.
I’ll bet Rob Clark must’ve made a living giving away farms in a past life.
Skip’s Memorial service will be held tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Canyon Lodge. If you can’t make it, please consider giving a gift in his memory to the Nevada Humane Society in Reno or the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation.
Skip the prophet
On March 10, 2010, the then-seated Mammoth Lakes Town Council (and then-Town Manager Clark) held a special meeting to discuss placing what would come to be called Measure U on the June 2010 ballot. The Sheet reviewed the video footage from that meeting and was struck by Harvey’s foresight.
During the meeting Skip asked John Wentworth, who was part of the Measure U Committee to get the utility tax extension on the ballot as a special tax, about discussions he had heard of taking $400,000 of the new tax to replace Measure A to subsidize air service.
“Isn’t that supplanting?” Skip asked.
“You’ll be happy to know that came off the table several weeks ago and is no longer part of this,” Wentworth stated in the video.
However, during Council deliberation, Harvey didn’t let it go.
“I am concerned by the mobility section [Measure U was passed to be used on mobility, arts and culture, and recreation] and the notion even being put out there to use up to 50% on airport subsidy,” he said. “I know the committee ixnayed it but that doesn’t mean the next Council or Tourism and Rec group couldn’t change it and say, yes, air service falls under the mobility heading. I support a small part going to air service but the money should go to bringing the town up to speed. Our product is behind our marketing. We only have about 40% finished of what people should be seeing when they get here and 30% is from Mother Nature.”
Skip was in favor of trying to set some geographical limits on where the money should be spent. He realized they couldn’t confine it to the four square miles of town because of the need to fund the Mammoth Track Project, but hoped to keep it as close to town limits as possible.
“We have our work cut out for us within our town limits,” he said.
When Councilwoman Jo Bacon asked Wentworth why the Measure U Committee had not placed specific geographical limits on the funds that would be generated by the Measure, Wentworth said the group “didn’t want to put in artificial language that would limit [the funds].”
“It wouldn’t be coming to the Council raw,” he explained because the plan was for any application to Measure U to go to the Measure U Oversight Committee and the Recreation Commission first.
In recent weeks, using Measure U for air service subsidy did go to the Oversight Committee, which voted 2-1 not to use the funds for subsidy. Council overruled the committee last week when it chose to take a loan from the funds, anyway.
Again, however, on that day in March in 2010, Skip pushed the envelope.
“But how will you deal with my concerns,” he asked Wentworth.
“Be involved and show up,” Wentworth said. He added that even Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory had stated that use of Measure U wouldn’t be appropriate for the air service subsidy.
Skip asked that Council to consider putting a 10% cap on the amount of money that could be pulled from Measure U for an air service subsidy.
“That could have a whole other set of consequences,” Wentworth said. He added that Skip needed to trust that the community would get together and make responsible decisions if something like this were to arise.
“We can’t be constantly defending against our individual issues,” quipped former Councilwoman Wendy Sugimura. “We’re in a very good place right now … we’re building a healthy community … we’re investing to make this a better place to live.”
Then Mayor, Neil McCarroll stated that while at first skeptical of a special tax, he had come to realize with governments falling apart all over the place, a special tax was a way to return things to local control.
“People are taking care of themselves with taxes for a specific purpose,” he said. “It’s an exercise in the most basic form of government … the Tourism and Recreation Commission has done an excellent job with Measure R … Using half of the funds for air service would be supplanting. We have to trust that the Tourism and Recreation Commission would filter those out.”
The 2010 discussion is fascinating in the context of what the Town is doing today. Last week, the Council approved taking a loan of approximately $325,000 from Measure U for air service subsidy. This while other mobility services within the Town limits, such as the Town Trolley, are being cut.
At Tuesday’s Mobility Commission meeting, John Helm of the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority explained that the Town Trolley would begin running at 9 a.m. rather than 7 a.m. Also, Helm reported that next winter the trolley would only run until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The rest of the week it would stop running at midnight. He was unsure if this would be the schedule during peak holiday periods as well.
Overall, Brian Picken, Assistant Airport Manager for the Town, reported the reduction in transit hours at this time was down from 19,000 hours to about 18,000 hours.
“It’s a moving target,” Picken said. “The cuts are nibbling at the edges and this is not the last reduction to transit we will see.”
On another transit note, ESTA was finally awarded an agreement with Mammoth Mountain to operate the red, blue, green and yellow lines next winter. The frequency and schedule of buses is expected to remain the same.