After a weekend which saw the California state government revise its standards for reopening into Stage 2, the Mono County Board of Supervisors approved an attestation letter on Tuesday, along with the required application from Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo and additional testimony from Mammoth Hospital, to expand the county’s opening.
Later that day, the application was posted to the California Department of Public Health’s page, an addition to a growing number of counties around the state who have provided attestation that they are ready to proceed with reopening.
Expanded Stage 2 reopening includes in-restaurant dining, destination retail like shopping malls, and schools with modification.
However, in Mammoth Lakes, the ban on short-term rentals has been extended through the end of June. Lodge owners had been gearing up to accept reservations as soon as June 1, but Dr. Boo halted potential visitors in their keyless ignition SUVs. Boo claimed the extended restriction on lodging was made in order to stay in accordance with Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders.
Still, this will certainly ruffle some local feathers. Michaela Vargas wrote a letter to Mammoth Lakes Town Council this week which appeared in the agenda packet, saying, “…the Board of Supervisors clearly acknowledged the critical danger that our town faces by not having tourism this summer. That is why the County Board of Supervisors last Thursday requested that Dr. Boo refrain from extending the short-term rental ban. Why is the Town of Mammoth Lakes acting against this?”
Normally, Council does not respond to comments on specific agenda items. Mayor Bill Sauser did take the time to say that the town is trying to follow Governor Newsom’s orders and these things can be adjusted if state orders loosen up.
The Mono County Board of Supervisors chose to not extend the existing countywide lodging ban beyond May 31.
“This squarely puts Mono County in a position of not being more restrictive than what the state has ordained,” Acting County Administrative Officer Bob Lawton explained at Tuesday’s meeting.
As the County looks to continue to ease restrictions and be ready to open as soon as possible, members of the board expressed frustration with a perceived lack of movement by public land managers to reopen their gates and campgrounds.
“It’s frustrating to know that campgrounds around the state and other national forests are open (around the state)”, Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz said on Tuesday, “The inconsistencies are glaring.” Kreitz also referenced other counties opening for short term rentals while Mono County has been unable to do so.
County Counsel Stacey Simon provided input that aside from Orange County, no other jurisdictions had approved short term rentals. Further, national forests have been instructed to remain closed.
Joshua Tree National Park was repeatedly cited as an example of a National Forest defying enforced closures. Why, asked Kreitz, have Inyo National Forest or Humboldt-Toiyabe not opened their campgrounds?
It was later revealed that Joshua Tree “had its hand forced” in the matter, as the amount of people illegally camping in the park had grown too great to manage while remaining closed.
Mammoth Fire Chief Frank Frievalt detailed that the national parks have been asked to proceed in a uniform manner, stating “They’ll try to follow the most restrictive of the group so at least at the forest level, they have uniformity in how they’re opening up.”
Advocates for re-opening cite examples of RVs and campers already in Mono County who have been camping illegally. Over the weekend, several illegal campfires were reported, with one posing a significant risk in the area of Conway Summit.
Supervisors unanimously approved attaching Mono County to a letter, written in conjunction with Mariposa, Madera, and Tuolumne counties, that asks the state government to consider accelerating opening state and private campgrounds in order to mitigate the negative impacts of illegal dispersed camping in their respective areas.
The Supervisors met again on Thursday morning to take up a number of issues, including a letter asking the Department of Fish and Wildlife to move up the fishing opener before the current proposed date of June 1.
While parks like Inyo and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Yosemite National Park, and Bureau of Land Management lands are all open to dispersed camping and hiking, RV campgrounds and amenities remain closed to the public.
All facilities are working to get seasonal workers on board and get set up for when they receive a go-ahead from higher authorities, the timing of which is unclear as it hinges upon the county progressing to stage 3 of the state’s reopening plan.
Jan Cutts at the Bridgeport Station of the Humboldt-Toiyabe reported that they are currently working towards opening the most trafficked bathroom within the forest to guests. Steve Nelson with the Bishop office of the Bureau of Land Management explained that his jurisdiction would most likely take up a soft opening, devoid of advertising until it is able to guarantee the health and safety of employees and guests.
Representatives of Yosemite reported that it is planning to operate at 50% capacity within the park, with limitations on day usage and allowances for thru traffic.
That being said, none of the local national and state parks are open at this time.
Supervisor Kreitz again expressed frustration with a perceived delay on the part of land managers, adding that there’s a sense that “local leadership has more authority than they are owning and there seems to be a shirking of responsibility.”
In response, Inyo National Forest District Ranger Philip DeSenze noted that the park’s delay in bringing on staff for guest preparation was due in part to prioritizing “on-boarding” staff and training park firefighters.
In more Supervisor news: the board voted 3-2 to approve sending a letter to Fish and Wildlife requesting consideration of an immediate opening to the fishing season. Mammoth Lakes Mayor Bill Sauser and Town Councilmember John Wentworth both called in to advocate keeping the opener on June 1, citing the possibility of crowds descending on an unprepared Mammoth Lakes.
Others asked about where prospective fisherpeople will stay in light of existing bans on lodging.
After the board moved to approve petitioning an immediate opener, Abbie Thompson, operator of Crowley Lake Fish Camp, explained that she and other operators may be in a Catch 22 as they do not own the land on which they run their business.
Thompson, who’d planned a June 1 opener, told the Board, “I don’t see how I’m supposed to open and see thousands of people lined up at my gate … it’s problematic to say you can fish when public lands are closed.”
Mono County Testing Update as of 4 p.m, Thursday, May 21:
Tests Administered: 523 (+48)
Tests Negative: 439 (+17)
Positive Tests: 34 (+0)
Inyo County has not recorded a positive case in more than a month.