The Mono County Board of Supervisors has wrestled with what to do with the old Sheriff’s Sub-Station, located on Substation Road, southeast of the junction of U.S. 395 and Hwy 203, for years.
On Tuesday, with a new board behind the dais, an agreement was finally reached. The Board agreed unanimously to allow the current tenant, Jim Ouimet and Mammoth Dog Teams, use of the Sub-Station for storage and its existing restroom, with appropriate indemnification. The Board also agreed that it would pursue a new lease at the appropriate time. Ouimet has been granted use of the property until July of this year, after which the County will have to go through the public process of developing a new lease.
A staff report from Jan. 19, 2010, however, highlights a segment of conversation that may have been glossed over this week. In that report, then-Assistant Director of Public Works, Kelly Garcia, gave the following background of Mammoth Dog Teams’ history at the site:
“On November 18, 2003, Mono County entered into a five-year lease with Jim Ouimet, owner of Mammoth Dog Teams (MDT). The lease provided for MDT to use outdoor spaces at the substation for $500 per month, and required MDT to repair and paint the exterior of the building and to clean up debris and waste. The lease authorized use of the interior of the structure only upon improvements to the structure being made by MDT and subsequent approval by various County departments. No public use of the site was authorized by the lease. The lease expired November 30, 2008. In conjunction with the property lease, Mono County issued a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), which allowed the MDT use at the site. During the term of the lease there were issues with compliance both with the lease and with the CUP. This CUP remains in effect but will require modification and consideration by the Planning Commission for future use by MDT or another lessee.”
Compliance issues included MDT allowing public use of the interior of the building as well as use of the space as living quarters by staff.
Safety issues within the building such as questionable electrical wiring left the door wide open to liability issues for the County with so much movement within the building.
“He [Ouimet] did overstep his bounds in the past,” Supervisor Byng Hunt told The Sheet on Wednesday when asked if Ouimet and his staff had broken into the Sub-Station and been living in it at times during the original lease. “He took advantage [of the situation], but he was doing what he needed to do to keep his business running. It wasn’t a criminal act.”
At least one of the three new supervisors to the Board had been unaware of the past compliance issues when he cast his vote on Tuesday.
“This is the first I’ve heard of past transgressions,” said Supervisor Tim Alpers. Alpers, however, said that the Board’s decision on Tuesday was a “great opportunity” for Ouimet. “If he abuses it, then he’s out. The parameters will be laid out clearly in the new lease.”
Both Alpers and Hunt agreed that they wanted to help MDT.
“We want to extend an opportunity to a unique business and situation,” Alpers said.
“We’re trying to help and accommodate him now,” Hunt said. “He’s an icon who marches to a different drummer. We don’t want to spend a lot of money, but we want to help.”
Indeed, the Board agreed on Tuesday to toss out the idea of remodeling the Sub-Station at this time.
When asked how the County would keep Ouimet from once again overstepping the bounds Hunt had referred to, Hunt said, “He’s not going to have too much to overstep. He’s learned that there’s bounds he has to stay within and I feel confident he’s not going to be a menace.”
Hunt did add that before any official concessions could be made to Ouimet, the building would have to be inspected to make sure it is habitable. The electrical issues may still exist.
“We haven’t been in there to look for a long time, so I’m not sure of the status of the electrical issues,” said the County’s Director of Facilities, Rita Sherman (Sherman announced her retirement this week, see page 2). She agreed that compliance conditions would be spelled out in the new lease and use permit and that the property would be subject to check ups from the County.
“We didn’t give enough oversight before, but we will give more this time,” Hunt said. “We have to be careful but we want to keep his business.”
Ouimet was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to recent surgery, but he did speak with The Sheet on Thursday morning regarding the “past transgressions.”
“I really don’t know what happened [during the old lease], I was just given 48 hours to get out,” Ouimet said. “I apologized … I thought this was old news. All I know is that my lease ran out and all hell broke loose.”
Ouimet added that he was never given an answer as to why he was booted out of the building.
“I was just told, ‘Sorry, Jim, it was a misunderstanding’,” Ouimet said.
Currently, Mammoth Dog Teams is only allowed access to the small morgue section of the Sub-Station to use as storage. This area is not large enough for Ouimet’s handcrafted sleds and also does not allow him access to an indoor restroom, forcing him to use a porta-potty.
In regard to a new lease, County Counsel Marshall Rudolph explained to the Board that even if Ouimet were the only bidder for a new lease, the County still has to go through the public process.
“His [Ouimet] lease has expired so now it’s working on a month to month basis,” explained County Counsel Marshall Rudolph. “He’s allowed to stay there as a holdover tenant [until July].”