Don’t tread on Bridgeport kids
Following the Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board meeting of October 15, 2014, I am greatly concerned about their proposal to move our 6th-8th graders from Bridgeport (their hometown) and school them in Coleville instead. Transporting our young students round-trip over 70 miles per day, often through hazardous road conditions, is not required. From what I understand, this is not a budgeting issue but rather the perception that it’s difficult to teach students in small numbers and will supposedly provide more opportunity to the children. This is a very limited view and excludes the obvious downsides to the decision:
* Unsafe, unnecessary travel on the highway
* Extended school day – mixing 10 year old children with teenagers on the bus
* Reducing or excluding parents and families from participating in sports events, assemblies, open house, programs, & parent/teacher conferences
* Transportation: Added burden on parents to/from Coleville
* Potential loss of employment for bus drivers & teachers
The bigger picture: This decision merely adds to the existing downward spiral for our local economy. Bridgeport was especially impacted during and following the recession. We now see a number of vacant/foreclosed homes, a stagnant housing market, closed businesses and some for sale which are all contributing factors reducing the numbers of students at BES.
Small town economies are based on factors that involve housing, schooling, government and medical services, tourism, second homeowners, transportation, viable internet, and potential growth opportunities. Many citizens and parents of students at BES are concerned about the lack of governmental, medical, and other services (that once were dedicated to Bridgeport as the County-seat) that have slowly moved to the population base of Mammoth Lakes and other locations.
The economic problem with rural America is not that people no longer want to live in small towns and rural areas. For example, a survey done in 2011 for the National Association of Realtors found that among respondents from the Midwest, 19% preferred living in small towns and 23% in rural areas.
The problem is that rural areas are losing jobs and cannot attract new companies that will bring in new jobs. It is the lack of employment opportunities that underlies the depopulation of our rural areas. Since labor force size and skills are often key variables in business location decisions, the situation seems to be one of a perpetual downward spiral. The challenge is how to keep Bridgeport from falling into this downward spiral.
We, as a community, are in a challenged state of existence and must be concerned about every decision that affects one of our economic strengths. The proposal to lose one half of our students to another community is a contribution to Bridgeport’s downward spiral.
This proposal is not necessary, will extend a financial burden on already struggling families, and lacks a compelling argument to move forward with such parental and community resistance. I adamantly rally for the denial of this proposal (ceasing all future discussions), assuring our 6th-8th graders an education in Bridgeport until graduating from BES. At that time they will be more mature and better equipped to move onto high school in another community.
Fire chief responds
I recently spoke with Mrs. Trosky and Mr. Fryer; both had submitted letters to your column regarding concerns and questions about our defensible space program. We had very civil and sensible conversations about the balance of needs in a fire-active mountain community. Mrs. Trosky and I agreed it would be helpful to have myself and my defensible space program staff sit down with her during her next trip to Town. Mr. Fryer and I were able to settle on some helpful ideas over the phone that I intend to implement next Spring.
My purpose here is to be publicly accountable for my people in the execution of their duties, instructive as to the intent of defensible space, and approachable as a public servant to the citizens and visitors of Mammoth Lakes.
The first one is pretty simple. When I arrived here I provided the department members with a sheet of paper titled “Directives on My Watch.” Under the category of public trust they have three standing directives: “1) Behave, and demand behavior, that is above reproach. 2) If you’re wondering if it’s not ok – it’s not. 3) People expect extraordinary performance from us, especially in matters of discretion and stewardship; deliver.” If I determine someone has violated these in letter or spirit they will be disciplined. With equal commitment, I’ll also protect them from unfair complaints and support them in the unpopular duties (i.e., enforcement of fire and life safety codes) if they are doing them properly. Over the years I’ve had to do both, and always go where the facts take me.
How we perceive defensible space programs has a lot to do with what we will tolerate in terms of compliance. Mrs. Trosky, Mr. Fryer, and a delightful Mrs. Delaney in Old Mammoth (spent an afternoon with her two weeks ago) are all right; what we are asking is expensive (compliance at my home cost $1,100, and I’m not in the grant area), and it’s individually intrusive. I have to balance that reasonably negative perception against the historic experience of communities that have had wildfires.
Fires spread without our permission; property lines, favorite foliage, and our homes are dispassionately consumed on hot and windy afternoons. Consequently, we have a State Law and Local Ordinance requiring defensible space (CA Public Resources Code 4291, and Ordinance 13-01, Sections F 320-320.9). To mitigate the environmental risk of a fire in Mammoth Lakes, and to reduce the cost of that mitigation to our citizens, we’ve been managing a federal fuels reduction grant since 2011. During that time we’ve conducted approximately 1,500 total initial inspections. 454 of those were in grant approved areas, and of those 108 received grant support totaling $121,703; an average homeowner reimbursement of $1,127. We’ve also treated about 45 acres of open-area in the Fire District where a wildfire could become well-established. We have been encouraged by the U.S. Forest Service to apply, and compete for, another multiyear grant this spring.
Managing a grant-funded fuels reduction program involves inspections, and homeowner costs, even with a 75% reimbursement. In return, the “deliverable” we get is a fire-resistant community. The alternative is a free-running wildfire through Mammoth Lakes. This would be predictably devastating to our individual and collective property, quality of life, and financially crushing to our recreation-based economy. If that sounds overstated, read about how South Lake Tahoe residents responded in a series of articles in 2012 about the 5-year anniversary of the Angora Fire (http://www.laketahoenews.net/2012/06/reflections-of-angora-fire-5-years-after-the-devastation/).
We’ll do our very best to protect the lives and property of Mammoth Lakes, as is rightly expected. From that perspective, defensible space helps us meet your community expectation, collectively and individually. As I offered earlier – it’s a delicate balance of needs.
As your Fire Chief I’m always available to hear your concerns, and if we earn it, your praise. I’m grateful to The Sheet for supporting the dialogue. Additionally, I hope people can feel as comfortable calling (760)-914-0191, or talking to me at Vons, as they would writing a letter –but I’m new here and I’ll have to earn that.
Frank L. Frievalt
Mammoth Lakes Fire Chief
Assessor weighs in
It is correct to say that I am not in favor of a large, expensive government. I feel that the government should cut costs rather than raise revenue, and the taxpayers of Mono County will see that put into practice in the Assessor’s Office, starting immediately.
Here are some examples that illustrate that we are serious about providing the services that the Assessor’s Office is responsible for at a reduced cost to the taxpayers:
I have assured the Mono County Finance Department that I will not seek to fill the position I vacated to accept the appointment to Assessor, which in this case will save eight months of salary and create benefits for future budgets.
The Assistant Assessor left the office and I have also agreed to leave this position vacant until July of 2015, at which time we will reevaluate our circumstances and decide whether that position should be filled, and if so, at what level.
I have been told that my staff reduction is a little over ambitious, but it is worth noting that I visited Plumas County, another small rural California County, and they have 25,000 secured parcels compared to our 16,000 secured parcels, 8,400 parcels on Prop 8 status compared to 4,200 here in Mono, and they have one less appraisal staff member than Mono and they are getting their work done in a timely manner using the same software system as we are.
We are significantly reducing our reliance on outside legal advice, i.e. contract attorneys, and we are using our County Counsel representative in place of these very expensive attorneys. We have an appeal hearing scheduled for Wednesday, October 29, in which we will settle 83 appeal applications, over 40% of our total outstanding case load, and we handled it all with existing staff. Some of these go all the way back to 2004. The previous office administration had been using an attorney from the Central Valley, and no resolution had been reached.
One of the Board of Supervisors has been trying to hold my feet to the fire, saying I promised to immediately cease using any outside resources that had a cost component, but it is not feasible (or intelligent) to terminate all of those contracts immediately, although we are working toward more dependence upon our own resources.
We just finished a remodel in our office to consolidate our file storage and to create a more open work environment, and this work was done at very little cost to the County (and therefore, the taxpayers), as we used inmate labor, tools and equipment provided by staff, and had very little involvement from the Public Works Department.
You [Lunch] mentioned that you do not see an increase in values in your neighborhood, and that may be true, but most areas in Mono County are experiencing an uptick in value, though in the far northern and far southern areas of the County you could probably make an argument either way.
As far as the lines crossing, we are nowhere near restoring values to the 2006-2007 peak. I estimate that value levels are approximately equivalent to 2002-2003 levels, so we have a ways to go.
As you are aware, the California Consumer Price Index last year was .00454, which equated to just less than ½ of 1%, and the early indications this year are that the CCPI will be 2%, so we do expect to see an increase in the roll value for 2015, and my early estimations are that we will see an increase in the overall roll value of 3-5%.
As we discussed earlier, the reason the Assessor is an elected position is so that the Board of Supervisors cannot put undue pressure on the Assessor to raise values, and if the Assessor were to be overly aggressive with the valuations, the voters could remedy the situation. Our intent, and our duty, is to enroll values that are fair and equitable. Our current staff, and our newly-appointed Assessor, are empathetic with the taxpayers and will enroll what is fair, and not look at it as raising revenue but as enrolling those fair and equitable values.
The best thing about my campaign promises is that I did not make them just to try to win the election, I made them because these are things I truly believe need to be done, and I am saying this from the perspective of a participating taxpayer.
Mono County Assessor