This week, we take a look at the remaining four of the eight candidates for Mammoth Lakes Town Council (the previous four profiles appeared last week). The next Town Council candidate forum is scheduled for May 6 at Cerro Coso College in Mammoth.
John Wentworth, 55, the founder of Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access (MLTPA) and the driving force behind the passage of Measure R, is a glass half-full kind of guy. And while there are many challenges facing the Town of Mammoth Lakes, with every glance at the surrounding mountains, there is that simple reminder that Mammoth is a jewel.
“Time is on the side of this community if we keep looking 10 years out, 20 years out,” he says. “The value around us, in the natural environment, increases every day.”
A graduate of Brown University, Wentworth spent two decades in the film industry, notably working as a co-producer on multiple David Lynch films before moving to Mammoth.
“When you come to California from the east (Wentworth grew up in the D.C. area), you immediately feel not only a sense of openness, but of opportunity, which is kind of a narcotic,” said Wentworth. “I love the culture of this place. What Gov. Jerry Brown’s done the past few years is pretty interesting … And think of the things he learned as Mayor of Oakland. He took a step back to take a step forward.”
While Mammoth may have taken a step back with the burden of the airport litigation settlement, Wentworth sees many avenues forward, particularly with the formation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR).
“To move forward [as a community], we’ve got to demonstrate success in our core business of tourism and recreation,” he says. “We need a [economic] model that’s sustainable, a model that can weather the weather.
A successful MLR will be that entrepreneurial body that can identify opportunities.”
Mammoth Lakes Re-Creation is Wentworth’s name for it.
With MLR and MLT (Mammoth Lakes Tourism), “We’re not building empires for people,” insists Wentworth.
“The Boards of each need to be engaged with the community. And if they’re not, and if the community feels disenfranchised or disengaged, Council can end the experiment [of outsourcing certain responsibilities to non-governmental agencies].”
But the reason Wentworth is running is precisely because he wants to see these types of institutions be successful. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to see it work,” he says.
So what is Wentworth’s skill set? Why is he a guy who can help makes these institutions successful? The Sheet couldn’t help but bait him with an obnoxious question.
Sheet: So are you just another wonky intellectual who can’t make a decision?
Wentworth: My path has been one of real life, motion picture industry education, which taught some indispensable lessons, namely
- Efficient, effective project management.
- That you’ve got to embrace the ubiquitous influence of technology.
- That effective teams can be brought together from the unlikeliest of circumstances.
This third point is interesting, because it also applies to some of the work Wentworth has done as Executive Director of MLTPA.
When MLTPA was first created, the popular belief was that no real collaboration could ever possibly exist between the Town of Mammoth Lakes and governmental agencies like the United States Forest Service.
This popular belief has been turned on its head over the past decade.
“MLTPA has done it all through partnerships,” says Wentworth, “identifying common interests and then negotiating who will be responsible for the various tasks … and I think we’ve been pretty successful, bringing trails into a single system.”
Regarding Ormat’s desire to expand geothermal operations at Shady Rest: “I support the project. I support renewable energy. But I want to mitigate the impact on a cherished recreational asset. I’m no expert on water supply, but I’m listening if the Mammoth Community Water District has a concern. A monitoring plan and a mitigation plan make logical sense.”
“I’m very interested in the success of the TBID, but it needs more conversation and input beyond John Urdi.
But the nature of competition these days is that it’s just a click away. To be successful, we’ve got to give people an experience they can’t have elsewhere.”
“I want to have a conversation about what we can do to renegotiate the settlement or pay it down more quickly, if possible.”
Single Family Home Rentals
“I don’t see a plan yet that succeeds. It’s a challenge to create a community that people want to live in.
I don’t think we need to compromise the residential housing mix as an economic development strategy.”
Upcoming labor negotiations
“The community needs and should demand an accounting of our financial position before we enter into these important negotiations.”
Philsophically, however, Wentworth feels we don’t have to pay the absolute top dollar for talent. Talent will take a discount to come here.
“The fact that we needed a 2/3 vote on R was informative of the relationship between the citizens and their government,” says Wentworth, so this is very important to him, restoring the public’s faith in its government … as well as being realistic about what government can and can’t do.
“Ask government to do the things it can handle … and focus the tasks,” he said. “As a citizen, you want the sense that your public officials aren’t doing things simply for dramatic effect.”
In Ken Murray’s mind, passage of the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) last year was an excellent start, but it’s just half the equation.
As Murray figures it, further cooperation between the Town and Mountain is also needed on the product side. “We need to work together and figure out a reasonable price point [for our guests],” he said in an interview this week.
Murray, 51, has served as the General Manager of the Chart House in Mammoth for the past five years.
“In our company,” he said, “we talk about frequency [of visitation]. We want people to come back three or four times a year versus once every few years.”
At the Chart House, Murray says that anecdotally, he’s seeing customers who are coming for shorter visits. He’s also seeing less families. It’s these types of worrisome trends which ultimately turned Murray into a political candidate.
“It’s something I’ve thought about,” he said, alluding to running for office. “I’m comfortable in my current position, want to be more involved in the community and want to voice my opinion in a collaborative forum.”
Citing his business and managerial experience as political assets, he nods towards the Town’s Park-and-Ride lot across Old Mammoth Road from the Chart House.
“You know, there are no stairs from the lot to the bus shelter,” he explains. “Every day, I watch people have to walk all the way around to reach the bus stop. It’s not just forgetting the stairwell. They seem to have forgotten the whole concept behind the Park-and-Ride lot and its value. This is a hugely popular stop and it gets a lot of use by locals.
I’m left to ask, ‘Are we utilizing our resources in the right way?’”
Murray, who is single, grew up in the San Diego area. He has an older brother who lives with his family in Santa Cruz.
When asked what sort of legacy he’d like to leave after four or eight years in office, Murray said, “Financial stability, increased tourism and better public safety.”
In fact, public safety was one of the first items Murray said he would like to address, if elected. Currently, he said, the MLPD is stretched to the limit staffing-wise and could certainly benefit from adding back some positions as resources permit. “What message does it send when you don’t even have the resources to police on a 24/7 basis?” he asked rhetorically.
On other issues … Murray is ambivalent about the home rental issue, but is willing to explore it, and ambivalent about air service in its current form. He would prefer getting more regional buy-in and adding more flights – espousing what appears like a ‘get bigger or shelve it’ attitude.
As Murray does not sit on any major boards or committees locally and does not own real estate in Mammoth, he says he is a truly independent voice.
When asked the hypothetical question of what he might be doing if he weren’t working at the Chart House, Murray paused. “I’ve never thought about it … I guess I’d be golfing more,” he said with a smile.
Shields Richardson, 60, a businessman and entrepreneur with a finance and accounting background at Price Waterhouse, says he’s running for Mammoth Lakes Town Council because “I want to see the success of Mammoth Lakes in my lifetime.”
Richardson, a Mammoth resident since 2001, initially thought Mammoth would be a nice place to take a breather – a mid-career mini-retirement, so to speak. But then he got hooked, bought into the Village at Mammoth by opening the Side Door Bistro, and has made Mammoth his permanent home.
Furthermore, his two daughters also live here, and recently bought a condo together, giving him even greater incentive to help Mammoth prosper.
“I’ve got one daughter working for my wife at Mammoth Village Properties, looking for a second job to supplement her income, and another daughter working at Vons … I want them [going forward] to see greater opportunity.”
Greater opportunity, says Richardson, will present itself as Mammoth convinces the outside world that it’s a good investment opportunity.
“I have spoken with investors who think that Mammoth is a dying town. It’s important to set ourselves up so investors feel more comfortable investing in Mammoth. With new investment, comes new amenities and more visitors; visitors translate into prosperity for all within our community. It is also important that we spend an equal amount of effort preserving and improving our environment, which is the ultimate attraction for all of our visitors.”
The first priority, says Richardson, is to do whatever possible to push through the Mammoth Mountain land trade. “If we have to fly back to Washington, D.C. and knock on a few doors, so be it,” he said. “It’s an important time for our town. We need councilmembers we can feel confident in when tasked with missions like this.”
Second, he said, we’ve got to renegotiate the airport litigation settlement. “15 percent of our budget currently goes to to pay off the b.s. debt deal … our bond rating is important … there are all sorts of places people can invest their money. We have to go sell ourselves. We don’t have to lift our skirt, but we have to put on some makeup.”
On business development
“In the next investment cycle, when things happen, and they happen quickly, you want someone who knows what to ask for, knows what the developer needs,” Richardson said.
“We need to have a resort that can draw and keep a visitor whether there’s snow on the mountain or not. Amenities, shopping and entertainment districts … why do people go to Solvang? It’s out in the middle of nowhere. But it’s cute. We have a lot more to offer than just cute.”
Sheet: What type of investor or investment are you looking for?
Richardson: A good investor cares about the town, has a stake, brings his family here, stays here, skis here.
He cited Rob Mitchell and Jim Demetriades as two such examples.
“We scared Jim Demetriades away [by miring his proposed Old Mammoth Place project in development hell] … and that scares me.
While their [Mitchell and/or Demetriades’s] vision may not dovetail exactly with ours, we’ve got to do more to find common ground.
“Mammoth is really good at saying no, but not good at creating a roadmap to yes.”
In regard to the recent contretemps over Mitchell’s purchase of the Lodestar property in and around the Sierra Star golf course, Richardson said, “There’s a middle ground. I don’t see us putting maximum density [700 units] there. No SFRs only either. Nor do I see just a handful of single-family homes.”
Ultimately, said Richardson, if Mammoth can simply position itself, the town might be surprised by the impact.
“The flagship hotel brands, these guys come in as battleship groups. They bring with them their own marketing dollars, their own following, their own cache.
You can always change the direction of a moving boat,” he continued. “If we go down the wrong canal, we can change course. But we gotta start movin’.”
Richardson, a former Tourism and Recreation Commissioner, is supportive of the formation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR). As he describes it, there is a “process” side and a “development” side to rec.
The “process” side revolves around municipal recreation and its various programs.
The “development” side relates to infrastructure – trail development, rec centers, et. al.
“The development side needs to exist outside of the process world,” he explains.
A 26-year resident of Mammoth who raised four children here, Karen Sibert, 51, would like to take on politics as her next challenge.
Sibert, who worked as a Town employee from 2007-2013 before landing her current job in the accounting office at the Mammoth Community Water District, is running for Town Council because she doesn’t feel like the community is being properly heard or heeded.
“I don’t think the community knows much about MLR (the plan in motion to form Mammoth Lakes Recreation). And I personally don’t understand why it’s so important to do this right now,” she said. “The things they’re talking about are things staff can do. I’m concerned about a third party getting involved and eating up Measures R and U with overhead costs.”
She’s also concerned about creating a new organization which is dedicated to building all sorts of fancy new things like rec centers while current assets like the public tennis courts on Forest Trail fall quickly into disrepair.
As Kurt Vonnegut famously wrote, “Everybody likes to build, but nobody likes to do maintenance.”
She said she was also concerned about certain financial decisions being made in a vacuum. When pressed for an example, she cited the staffing cuts at the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.
“They commissioned a survey, and the majority of Town residents said we want public safety … and then they went out and made all the cuts anyway.
I don’t like the fact that the Police Dept. is not open 24/7.”
On other issues, Sibert is refreshingly blunt.
She says she was not supportive of the TBID but hopes she is proven wrong.
She was never a fan of the airport but doesn’t see how it can be rolled back at this point.
She says she’s not anti-development, “but do we need more rooms if we can’t fill the rooms we already have?” she asked, citing the Town’s historically anemic occupancy percentage. “I’m interested in cleaning up/rehabbing what we have before building more.”
Sibert also has a very interesting and controversial take on the political sanctity of promises made by previous Town Councils.
“Measure A funds were not legally committed to Mammoth Lakes Tourism. They were politically committed. And with the passage of the TBID, we should have a discussion about it. So Mammoth Lakes Tourism is going to get Measure A plus TBID … do we really need to spend $7 million a year on marketing?
$7 million a year to get people here,” she continued, “and then they’re going to come and see a place that’s neglected. I don’t think this is a good strategy. If people come and then don’t return, that’s not money well-spent. At the very least, it’s shortsighted.
The big reason I’m running is because last time  there was no election and no conversation. Generally, this Town is governed poorly, and that begins with Town Council. There’s no strategic plan, and the airport litigation settlement was totally botched. They spent a lot of money going towards a bankruptcy that was never going to happen. It wasn’t an option.
And we never actually restructured government. There were just cuts and attrition. We need a conversation about what levels of service we want and in what departments. Personally, I like a high level of service when it comes to public safety and roads.”
Sheet: Is there anything in particular you absolutely want to accomplish in the next four years, if elected?
Sibert: No, I don’t have specific agenda items. I’m more of a team-builder and a team leader.