“The information from the bill is there for the Council. Frankly, at this point it would be more of a policy question to the council if you believe there is adequate value in paying a portion, or all, or none of the bill as presented from the Trails HOA,” said Town Manager Dan Holler to open up agenda item number 15 at Wednesday night’s Mammoth Lakes toqwn council meeting.
The issue: a water-on-snow event that occurred about three years ago.
As E.L. Smoogen, President of The Trails Homeowners Association said “I have lived here for 19 years and never had an issue with water on the easement.”
The easement being a piece of land owned by the town.
It all started when a snow berm gave way, and drainage from town-owned property leaked towards homes in the Trails neighborhood, threatening severe damage.
The threat was mitigated when affected neighbors, members of ski patrol, and members of the fire department came together and created a bypass for the flooding.
That is when Smoogen first went to the town council and said there was a problem and it needed a solution.
At the time, Town Manager Dan Holler simply asked, “What do you want?”
To which Smoogen replied, “To keep the water on your easement.”
The Town did nothing.
Two years ago, Smoogen and the Trails HOA made its second appearance before Council and Smoogen described the encounter at the meeting on Wednesday. “We said we could save the town some money [undertaking a mitigation project] because we [as a non-government entity] wouldn’t have to pay prevailing wage. Nobody on the council, not the town lawyer, not Dan (Holler), not Grady (Dutton), no one said ‘you can’t do that, you gotta pay a prevailing wage.’”
The town’s easement had a drainage issue that winter. Members of the Trails HOA were happy to do it [the project] as they were “saving the town some money.”
Fast forward one more year and the Trails HOA was back at a town council meeting that Smoogen described as “contentious.” Former Mayor Cleland Hoff banged her gavel throughout simply to keep the peace.
The meeting ended with Wentworth saying “You guys talk with our team (town attorney and the town manager) and we will figure something out. I can’t talk directly, but talk to them and we will figure it out.”
For Smoogen it didn’t matter how much money they [the HOA] got. “We were going to shovel what we needed to in order to protect ourselves. If the storm came that meant we shoveled more.”
The minutes from the meeting read, “Michelle Quirsfeld, resident of the Trails, said that they were never told they had permission to fix anything until tonight. She said that their efforts had prevented a lot of damage. She said that the damage caused from the Town’s easement was the Town’s responsibility, and that private homeowners should not have to fix the Town’s drainage system. Ms. Quirsfeld said that the Town should pay for their shoveling until the problems were fixed.”
The town agreed to pay for a portion of the snow removal. That winter, the town sent the Trails HOA an email saying “this work falls under the umbrella of a prevailing wage.” But the HOA did not understand the ins and outs of the prevailing wage as it is a complicated issue that a minority of citizens understand.
Town attorney Andrew Morris said that the prevailing wage requires a roughly $35 minimum wage and an extra $22.54 to be applied in specific ways defined by the prevailing wage. The contractor that the HOA used, Mammoth King, appeared to lump these two numbers together and used a $60 minimum wage for all hours worked. According to Morris, they likely did not follow prevailing wage laws as the invoice was not that detailed.
This is important because the town would be liable to pay the difference in prevailing wage if the wage was not met. Morris and Holler figured this number to be about $4,327.68 more.
Town Council got even more scared as the $4,327 added to the invoice of $11,640 presented to Council on Wednesday equals a number above $15,000. State law mandates any government payment over $15,000 requires a contractor that is registered to pay prevailing wage, and Mammoth King is not one of these contractors.
Holler asked for a 10 minute break and Mayor Bill Sauser accepted. Holler then had a private discussion with Smoogen and basically told him that he could take the $5,000, as that was the limit to which Holler can authorize, or he could go home with nothing.
The Trails HOA went home with $5,000 and felt like they were skimped by Council.
The final tally appeared to be around $16,000, but Councilmembers were scared of any liability associated with a number above 15,000, so they went with $5,000.
In a bit of irony, 15 minutes before the easement issue, Council approved a $33,209 expenditure for Dekra-Lite Industries, Inc. to put up a total of 27 illuminated snowflakes around the Town of Mammoth Lakes.
*Glitz trumps meat and potatoes every time.
This time, the HOA bore the brunt of it. “If we paid the invoice in full, it would knock out over half of our budget,” said Smoogen. For the town, it is just another agenda item ticked off the list.
A PhD thesis on acronyms
In other Council news, John Wentworth sounded off on representatives of SCE (Southern California Edison) who came to thank the town for its cooperation. “This is all important work that you’re talking about, but I am profoundly disappointed by what we are talking about this evening because when the council agendized this item, we did not want a PHD thesis on acronyms.” He concluded his rant with “I’m frustrated because we need to address the citizens we represent, and we need to start representing their needs.”
Wentworth wanted practical, granular pieces of information that would help locals in the event of a public safety power shutoff (a PSPS). Government Affairs officer Cal Rossi incited part of the frustration when he had the floor, as he used it to thank all parties involved (for what?) before displaying excellent political rhetoric such as “We are committed to processing improvement with the county to make sure we get this right and your voice be heard.”
Which means nothing.
Bob Stein, a Senior project manager and government affairs officer, said “We encourage people to sign up for the SCE outage updates through our website.” This is the only way to get all of the information, but Councilmembers Hoff and Wentworth recoiled at all the annoying messages blowing up their phones.
Stein also helped explain what factors go into deciding if a PSPS is necessary, “The ultimate decision is made by our inside based commander on the ground.” In addition to this person, SCE utilizes meteorological data to inform its decision.
MLPD chief Al Davis was one of the people the SCE reached out to in order to confirm the severity of weather, “They called me and asked what are you seeing out there?” And said, “One of the real benefits to this event is this was an outstanding way to stress test ourselves.”
He then joked that someone was gonna probably roll him in the alley due to this statement.
Hoff concluded the SCE presentation by saying she was using this opportunity to prepare herself for an outage so she would not have to rely on anyone in the event of a power outage. She anecdotally suggested buying flashlights, batteries, candles, and other essentials before an outage happened. She encouraged the public to do the same.
Council also discussed its approach to the October 9 joint meeting with the Planning Commission. The meeting marks the next step in the arduous process of planning the parcel. The goal is to narrow their choices to one parcel plan, but as councilman Stapp always exclaims when it comes to the Parcel, “What about the financials?”
Answer: In the 15-point analysis published in Wednesday’s Council agenda, funding and costs are listed as items #11 and #12, behind such worthy imperatives as “transit hub,” “open space” and “building height.”