Mammoth Lakes Town Council heard its first feedback from the public at its regular meeting Wednesday night in Suite Z regarding proposed budget cuts and policy changes necessitated as a result of the airport litigation judgment.
In short, the public is mixed about legalizing single-family home rental in certain residential neighborhoods, and strongly opposed to police budget cuts and a Whitmore Park and Pool closure.
According to Assistant Town Manager MMMartinez, the first $2.5 million payment to MLLA (Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition) is due upon acceptance of the negotiated agreement by the courts and will be made by Dec. 31, 2012.
The first of 23 annual payments of $2 million each will be made on July 1, 2013.
So the Town needs to come up with $4.5 million over the next six months.
The first payment, said MMMartinez, will be cobbled together from various accounts, including approximately $100,000 from the almost-depleted Vehicle Replacement Fund, $700,000 from the last DIF account that hadn’t already been previously raided, more than $600,000 from the employee leave fund and $1 million from what MMMartinez said was budget surplus from FY 2011-2012 (which didn’t make sense to me because I thought they ran a huge deficit last year, but …)
When I asked her if tapping Measures R and U to make the initial payment was a possibility, she said yes, it was possible.
This is what we know.
Lt. John Mair and Officer Jesse Gorham have put in their retirement papers.
As the sergeant with the most seniority, Marc Moscowitz would remain as the lone sergeant of the department and #2 overall behind Chief Dan Watson.
The two other current sergeants, Eric Hugelman and Paul Robles, would be reclassified as officers.
The five officers with the least amount of seniority would be laid off.
Officer Marty Thompson has applied for work at the Mono County Sheriff’s Dept.
Chief Watson said in an interview Wednesday that some of the other officers on the chopping block may catch on with the Bishop Police Dept., which he said is currently recruiting.
“Even officers who are not threatened with being laid off are looking [for work elsewhere], because they are concerned about the future of the department,” added Watson.
On condition of anonymity, one Mammoth Lakes Police Officer told The Sheet this week that Mammoth’s Council, by virtue of its proposed layoffs, has essentially “lost” the department.
Watson said if the cuts are made as proposed, the department would not provide a MONET (Mono County Narcotics Enforcement Team) officer, which could lead to the dissolution of MONET depending upon the commitment of the other agencies. MLPD would also eliminate the School Resource Officer position and see staffing decrease from four to two officers on busy weekend nights.
Another issue is that officers would be largely unsupervised, because the Chief and Sergeant would be mostly confined to completing administrative tasks on the day shift. Lack of supervision, in the long run, generally leads to problems, said Watson.
“The [decreased] level of staffing poses a genuine risk,” he said.
That thought was echoed during public comment by local resident James Hoodman. Hoodman, now turning his life around after getting out of jail approximately a year ago, said “These guys [police] are what slow me down.”
Hoodman predicted burglary, theft and gang activity would all increase if department staffing is thinned as proposed. “It’s gonna get ten times worse,” he said, “because even if I’ve changed my life around, there are a dozen out there who haven’t.”
Sal Montanez said that Mammoth Lakes has been a safe haven for those who have come from more urban areas with more criminal activity. He fears the haven may erode if Mammoth reduces its police presence.
Kate Page said that if Council follows through on this experiment, it is taking a huge gamble. Mammoth could lose its reputation as a safe and fun place. What you might save in expenses would be dwarfed by what you might lose in business.
Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Wood said the Town has always prioritized public safety, and that it has traditionally garnered the largest share of the budget. The real problem, he said, is not that we have too many officers, but that the officers we do have are paid too much. Should the compensation package be readjusted? he asked rhetorically. The police union doesn’t want to renegotiate its contract, and frankly, Wood doesn’t blame them. Who would give up the opportunity of retiring at 50 at 90% of one’s salary?
Wood pointed out that the MLPOA (Mammoth Lakes Police Officers Association) does have the unilateral power to reduce the number of cuts by voluntarily reducing its own wages and benefits.
Question is, why would police voluntarily make these reductions when the marketplace suggests police officers are in demand?
In a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Sept. 28, Stockton, Calif. Town Manager Bob Deis noted that since 2009, Stockton, as part of an effort to get its fiscal house in order, has reduced its number of police officers by 25%.
The result? Stockton is now the 10th-most violent city in America. Rates of violence, according to Deis, are increasing by double digits each year. “We have the second-lowest police staffing levels in the country for a large city,” he wrote, “and often Stockton Police can respond only to ‘in progress’ crimes.
“Since reducing our compensation, we have already [additionally] lost 45 officers to other cities. We cannot just pluck people from the unemployment lines – the requirements to be a police officer are demanding and 99% of applicants do not qualify or, if hired, wash out,” he wrote.
The POST report
Rather ironically, a Management Study conducted by the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST), which Police Chief Dan Watson commissioned in January 2011, finally came out last week on Sept. 20.
The report was written by Senior Consultant Joe Sampson.
Sampson included statistics in his report which showed Mammoth staffing levels compared to “what were believed to be the most similar agencies in California [i.e. departments that served a population of less than 15,000 residents that more than doubled in population during tourist season].” The selected comparable communities included Healdsburg, Morro Bay, Capitola and Pismo Beach.
Sworn staff per permanent population:
Morro Bay 1:572
Pismo Beach 1:350
Sampson recommended that Mammoth “employ no fewer than 17 sworn officers … and effectively freeze any changes to the current shift deployment until a service delivery plan with public safety goals and priorities can be created.”
Several community members voiced objection to the closure of Whitmore Pool, particularly local resident Lisa Okamoto, President of the Mammoth Lakes Swim Team.
Okamoto said the team had 90 swimmers last year.
She noted that Whitmore is the only municipal pool in Mono County. She also said it is an invaluable resource to the local Husky Club, so kids who might not normally be able to get swim lessons have the opportunity.
Okamoto said she was told by Mono County Finance Director Brian Muir that the county and town split the pool cost 50/50. Her query: If the county keeps up its half, even if Mammoth reneges on its half, can the pool be operated at reduced hours?
She also asked about the possibility of using Measure R funds to support the pool.
Mayor Matthew Lehman said that using R to support the pool would represent a clear “supplanting” issue.
“Do we touch the tax measures or not?” This is what we want to hear from the public about,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Wood.
Okamoto doesn’t care whether it’s supplanting or not. “I thought [when I was voting for R] what I was voting for was recreation.”
Parent Erin LeFrancois urged the Council not to go backwards when it comes to parks and recreation offerings. Don’t balance your budget on the backs of kids who had no part in any adult-botched litigation was her message.
Mel Seator said the Town needs facilities to attract and keep families who wish to live/move here.
The other issue which garnered the most attention was Council’s trial balloon regarding the rental of single family homes.
Proponents suggest this is a way of generating additional revenue. David Page, who started a website www.mammothvhr.org (subtitled “Why allowing short-term single family home rentals makes good sense for Mammoth”), said many of our peer resorts have studied this issue, implemented it, and realized significant additional revenue.
Opponents say it will ruin neighborhoods, and generate far more unintended consequences than revenue.
As Gary Thompson said via telephone Thursday, the effect of legalizing SFR rentals is creating a “boutique hotel” on every lot in Mammoth.
A position paper supported by John Vereuck, Gordon Alper, Tom and Kathy Cage, Tom and Teri Stehlik, Lanie Somers-Standifer and the Thompsons said such a change would increase property value for homes and decrease property value for condominiums. “No local will ever be able to buy another house.”
The change would undermine the Town’s General Plan vision, undermine quality-of-life and reward people for heretofore illegal behavior,
Somers’ suggestion: “If we police our neighborhoods and respond to complaints about transient occupancy we will drive the revenue back into the areas where we have planned for it and the TOT will be realized.”
The Sheet promises a more thorough examination of this thorny issue next week.