In a split vote on Wednesday, Oct. 21, Mammoth Town Council approved the motion to move forward with the Multi-Use Facility Task Force’s recommendation to build a facility at Mammoth Creek Park West.
The vote gives Town Staff authorization to proceed with conceptual design and environmental review for the facility.
Council discussion spanned more than two hours because of the volume of public comments.
Rich Boccia, Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Recreation, is supportive of placing a multi-use facility at Mammoth Creek Park. He said, “Our goal is to continue to build a shared vision based on the greater good of the larger community that we can execute with passion and a focus on excellence.”
This shared vision has been extremely hard to agree upon in Mammoth, as evidenced by the bitter battle over Measure Z and, now, the contention over the Multi-Use Facility.
The Facility’s detractors say there is no money to embark on such an ambitious project when the town is still struggling from the effects of its 2012 near-bankruptcy.
In their dissenting opinions, both Mayor Michael Raimondo and Mayor Pro-Tem Shields Richardson said that they did not feel the Multi-Use Facility was the best use of funds at this point in time.
“It’s not that I don’t want the ice rink, I do want the ice rink, I just don’t know if it’s the right thing to do it now, to build it now,” said Richardson. “It’s not easy sitting up here and listening to our community bicker back and forth.”
“We don’t have any money,” said Mayor Raimondo. “It’s pretty simple. Our next Council meeting is two weeks away. We’re going to be faced again with $300,000 in budget cuts. Again. I’ve been on this council for 4 years, all we’ve done is cut and cut and cut, and now we’re trying to figure out how to spend two million bucks to build a new site.”
Lynn Altieri-Need, who has been advocating for the building of a roof on the current ice rink, questioned why the Town is so adamant that it must own the property on which the rink sits.
“If you’re concerned about owning assets, buy a building for Town Offices,” she said, making reference to the fact that the Town rents its headquarters in the Minaret Village Mall for approximately $30,000 per month.
Altieri-Need also said that the Town’s estimated cost for the project seems incredibly low.
“The Town Manager did an excellent job of baiting us all with a lowball figure of $400,000-600,000 to relocate the rink. That number quickly increased to $1.3-1.5 million. This figure remains in place with no consideration of the cost of litigation …”
“Are we a town that has so much money that we can risk forcing this through?” she asked.
Jeff Posey pleaded with the Council to move deliberately. “Take the proper time to build the right facility,” he said. “Hit a home run. Hit a grand slam. Win the World Series!”
Others also urged the Town Council to get consensus from the community. “Don’t charge ahead when people are still saying ‘No, that’s wrong,’” said John Walter.
Sharon Raven Clark observed, “Our community is hurting. People have not been nice to each other lately. Our town is horribly divided. If you pass this item tonight you will add fuel to this fire.”
Town Councilmembers Jo Bacon, Colin Fernie and John Wentworth all voted to move forward with the project, citing the fact that Mammoth needs to provide amenities in order to achieve its vision as a premier resort destination.
Fernie said that he was in favor of the facility partly because it was time for Mammoth to prove that it can work together to accomplish its goals. “We’re putting some faith in our staff and in this community to execute [this project]. We have not executed very well in the past … I’m hopeful that we can execute in the future, otherwise I wouldn’t be up here,” he said.
John Wentworth explained that with the Town’s border constraints, Mammoth Creek Park West is truly the only option for the facility.
“We’re gonna make this thing work. This is the challenge to this community. To take our limited, constrained space and come up with great options that we can all get behind. This is a great opportunity,” Wentworth said.
As the plan moves forward, the specter of litigation hovers. Residents of La Vista Blanc have already enlisted the help of San Francisco law firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. Their attorney has drafted a letter to town officials which Tom Bell, the coordinator for the Homeowners Association, handed out to the Council before the vote.
The letter lists potential infractions of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
Just before the vote, Mayor Pro-Tem Richardson asked Town Attorney Andrew Morris what the repercussions of legal action might be.
“Should we get into a legal issue on this, what would you estimate our costs?” asked Richardson.
“Typical CEQA suit, about $100,000” Morris said, to which Kevin Green facetiously asked from the audience, “What about the next month?”
While skepticism on the project and its proposed timeline of a ribbon cutting by Halloween of 2017 remains, with Wednesday’s vote the Town will move forward with designing the facility and commissioning an EIR.
What the community and the Council did agree on was clear—meeting the timeline is the key to building trust in the process.
Recreation Commissioner Sean Turner said, “I hope at the end of the day that we will all be celebrating opening this. Please, stick with this timeline, that’s the best thing that we can do.”