If I’m lucky enough to have grandchildren and my grandchildren are unlucky enough to attend a Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting, before they go I will tell them, “Don’t sleep on a short agenda.”
At Council’s meeting on Wednesday night, December 19, attention spans didn’t stand a chance. A man in the back row had his head in his hands. Then, a ten minute break two-hours in. Disputes over the length of public comments. As I write this, I hear my father playing the world’s smallest violin.
The catalyst of this chaos may never be determined. What follows are the major issues that were discussed.
Tom Hodges, Vice President of Development at Mammoth Mountain, asked to push a vote on a proposed increase in development impact fees to council’s first meeting in January. He termed the ordinance as “overall acceptable” but wants a few weeks to sleep on it.
Council passed a motion to hire two new staff members: an Associate Engineer and a Senior Planner/Housing Coordinator.
Council also increased the Housing Programs and Planning Department budget from $577,344 to $922,343.
Part of this increase involves $200,000 for “subject matter experts.”
This is apparently the new term for consultants. The motion passed 3-1.
Councilman Stapp voted ‘No’ and Councilman Sauser abstained because of a conflict of interest (he lives within 500 feet of The Parcel). Sauser was allowed to comment before discussion began.He expressed concern that the town is going to spend $1 million on staff per year without producing tangible housing.
Stapp also disagrees with the approach. He thinks The Parcel should be bifurcated from the Town’s service levels, meaning The Project should be separated from staff’s everyday-normal-keep-the-government-running business. Then, he suggested the Town hire a developer to plan and develop the project.
He’s referring to the fact that there are three organizations working on the planning: Town, Mammoth Lakes Housing, Chamber of Commerce.
Town Manager Dan Holler bestowed another title upon the dome of Town Public Works Director Grady Dutton: Director of Parcel Development.
Dutton admitted to being behind on the project. The Town has taken on the planning and development phase in addition to their existing workload. Again, this is Councilman Stapp’s concern. Instead of hiring a developer, the Town has decided to hire more staff and more ‘subject matter experts’.
In an attempt to avoid the stigma attached to the term ‘consultant’, council and staff have adopted new language that has French Linguist Jacques Derrida diving for his heavenly bidet. ‘Subject matter expert’ is pretty much the definition of ‘consultant’.
Staff could have substituted a synonym for ‘consultant’, like ‘expert’ or ‘adviser’. Instead they used three words, where one would do. ‘Subject’ is unnecessary; the word ‘expert’ implies knowledge and knowledge is categorized into subjects.
Adding ‘matter’ emphasizes the fact that ‘subject’ is noun. Although ‘subject’ could also be a verb, in this context it isn’t and doesn’t need clarification. Remove ‘matter’ and the phrase ‘subject expert’ communicates the same thing. Subjects aren’t the only thing that ‘matter’. Language matters. This meeting lasted approximately 3 hours and 50 minutes, excluding the closed session. The words! They compound!
The Trails Homeowners’ Association claims that a Town project that reconfigured drainage at the border of Mammoth Elementary School and the Trails neighborhood in the summer of 2016 led to flooding in 2017 and 2018 that caused property damage.
“To me, it’s clear that when changes were made to the parking lot, problems started,” said EL Smoogen, Head of the Trails Homeowners’ Association.
Tom Hodges speaking as a private citizen and member of the Trails HOA asked staff if the school installed storm water retention tanks. “I’m just questioning if the project was properly designed,” he said. Dutton said it had.
Former mayor and Trails homeowner Rick Wood called the agenda item incomplete, misinformed and defensive.
“It is designed to persuade you to do nothing.”
His time expired and Mayor Hoff asked him if he could wrap it up in two additional minutes. But Wood wanted more.
“I feel like I’ve earned the privilege to stand here for more than five minutes. When I was the mayor, if there was something important to say I allowed people to say it.”
He was granted the time: “I can guarantee you that I know that any entity that owns an easement has the responsibility to maintain that easement or the structures within it … I have a theory of liability in the event that something goes wrong.” Certainly a threat.
He finished. Then Councilman Sauser exploded on the premise that Wood preached at him. Mayor Hoff banged her gavel and asked the conversation to stop. Councilman Sauser told her, “No,” and continued. She left the dais. Councilmen Stapp and Wentworth leaned away from Councilman Sauser, each with a hand over his own face.
Councilman Stapp offered ‘heat tape’ as a solution. Heat tape is exactly what it sounds like, tape that can be heated to melt snow and improve drainage. In the case of the Trails, it might be able to be used to prevent snow from obstructing flow through culverts. It was a long-winded comment, but he was the only member of the council to offer a solution.
Mayor Hoff packed her papers. Councilman Sauser folded his papers up then looked to the ceiling for grace. Councilwoman Salcido stared at Stapp and then directly out into the audience. Lifting his head from his hands, Councilman John Wentworth asked “Madam Mayor, can we please bring this back into the realm of reality?”
It was too late.
Mayor Hoff, waving the gavel, said, “Everybody just shut-up.”
After a second of silence, Councilman Stapp continued about the heat tape as if someone had been listening in the first place. Then he stopped. And then the meeting was adjourned.