If there’s one thing about Mammoth, it’s that we have a knack for doing things and celebrating things which inevitably fall out of fashion or become utter relics.
There’s the new Mono County Civic Center. Thank God we’ll be paying that off for the next three decades, now that we’ve determined most folks can just work from home.
Or consider the monument signs we have at the entrance to town featuring the John Muir quotes. That was the brainchild of former Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney, who opined that Mammoth needed something at the entrance to town which would suggest a “sense of place.”
Never mind it would make a good photo op. And people would send their selfies all over the world.
Fast-forward to this week, when Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, issued a long letter condemning the Club’s racist past and its founder, John Muir (see related news brief p. 4).
So this got me to thinking. While it’s certainly a disappointment to have Muir discredited, it also provides us as a community the opportunity to adopt slogans which better reflect our town and beliefs.
Let me present a few finalists before revealing my suggestion as Muir’s replacement.
Martha Stewart: “So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges, stay in control and never panic.” This seems like excellent governing advice for our local leaders. And an admonition to our guests that they’re here on vacation. Relax. You’ll get your piece of the Sierra, and you don’t have to litter the forest or park in a stream to get it.
Yogi Berra: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” This neatly sums up 18 years of my career covering the Mammoth Lakes Town Council.
Dave Chappelle: “I’m cool with failing so long as I know that there are people around me that love me unconditionally.” Some encouragement here to Mammoth’s Town Council, which is absolutely terrified of failing, so it remains resolute in its determination to do nothing. Cleland, Kirk, Lynda, John … I love you unconditionally. I really do. I love you too, Bill, but refreshingly, you’re too old and curmudgeonly to give a shit about failure/change your mind. Now that you know I love you – do something!
Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.” Perhaps someone can forward this editorial to Alterra senior management. A good post-it note for the corporate offices when you resume making money hand-over-fist.
Mike Tyson: “Sometimes I put on a ski mask and dress in old clothes, go out on the streets and beg for quarters.” This could be a good reminder for our legions of public employees. Maybe exit your cocoons once in awhile to see what effect your directives and mandates are having on small business owners who don’t enjoy the cradle-to-grave care you enjoy.
Roger Stone: “Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business.” A good reminder for our harried front-line employees – at least the ones who still have to work versus stay at home and collect the CARES $600.
But the winner, clearly, is Dolly Parton: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”
No explanation required.
This editorial written by newspaper dinosaur Jack Lunch, who’s had a knack for doing things and celebrating things which inevitably fall out of fashion or become utter relics since 2003.
How Dense Can We Be?
Pretty damn dense, as it turns out.
That was the old Advocates for Mammoth slogan from the 2000s. Every once in while, you’ll see that bumper sticker on an old Subaru.
John Walter is missed.
Back then, the Advocates warned about population density and environmental degradation. No one wanted to listen. There was too much money in not listening. The Advocates were perceived as a bunch of aging NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard).
And now … the place is overrun.
Mammoth Lakes Recreation Executive Director Matt McClain said this week, “The trash, the parking, the behavior … has never been so bad. They’re pulling up RVs to the banks of the Owens River. There was even a car on the beach at Horseshoe with a popped tent.”
Mammoth Lakes Town Council pretended to address the issue at its last meeting by tying provision of Measure A marketing dollars to Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT) to a promise that MLT will do more destination management/Covid outreach.
So now we have Sasquatch hiking. But he’s in a mask. What a revolutionary message! But would you pay $5.8 million for that? Is it enough to dissuade the behavior we’re witnessing?
Would we be better served by a multi-pronged attack?
There is a certain irony here. McClain is on the ropes. The Town (Council, Holler) wishes to defund MLR because it doesn’t have the guts to confront MLT or its own staff about making one iota of sacrifice, But McClain and MLR are the logical choice to fulfill a need right now.
I asked McClain what it would take for MLR to get an army of people on the ground – people to clean up after the masses and to offer a presence in our recreational areas.
He said $50,000, which means he needs about $100,000.
You know where it should come from. We all do. MLT.
And we all know what the response will be. No way. Stop picking on us. Our money. Back off. My Precious ….
But the problem is, we’re divided into too many subgroups. Too proprietary. Too tribal. We have no ability to make good, collective decisions. And Council is too scared of its own shadow to take back its own government.
MLT is doing its damn well best to remain as quiet as possible. And if it were my fiefdom, I’d rope-a-dope it the exact same way. Loooow profile. No emails from Lara Kaylor this week copying and pasting other people’s press releases (I guess the new hire at the Chamber of Commerce does that now. Yep. We recently filled a “Membership and Marketing” position at the Chamber even though membership is free this year and there is no marketing to do. But … how can we expect Ken Brengle to do all that work by himself?).
And no recent event update from the irrepressible Caroline Casey – even she has capitulated, resigning herself to the fact that she can’t stretch Parkinson’s Law any further.
There’s nothing to do.
The messaging is nice enough. There’s an ad on page three. Sasquatch’s camping tips. June likes the ad. She is begging me not to write this. She wants to get paid.
We all just wanna put our heads down and shut up and get paid.
But … we need more than a nice message. We need more than another Zoom meeting. The town is under siege. Literally.
Council split out the NGOs at a time when we were bankrupt and really needed to aggressively market ourselves out of the $47 million airport litigation debacle. But here’s the thing. That very successful moment has passed. The world has changed. And we are better off folding all the NGOs back into a central government.
Because right now there appears to be more self interest than common interest.
Leaders Eat Last
Simon Sinek’s one of those TED talk, guru types. He published Leaders Eat Last back in 2014.
Leaders eating last? Wait. Does that happen these days?
Anyway, it’s hard not to read the book and consider Mammoth as a whole.
So here are a few of the things that Simon Sinek would say local public agencies do right.
Our public agencies do a good job at protecting their employees from layoffs and financial fallout. This should engender loyalty and make people feel better about the organization they work for.
And to some extent, our agencies help protect a wider circle. There’s the Food Bank that MLT ran, and the $300,000 business assistance program initiated by the town, and there was a period in the mid-2000s where we actually built affordable housing versus talk about it.
But as General George Flynn is quoted as saying in the book, “The cost of leadership … is self-interest.”
And by that definition, we have no leadership.
The chapter that I found most interesting was the one about “Destructive Abundance.”
“Whenever a group moves from subsistence to surplus, those with the greatest surplus work hardest to mold society to meet their expectations. The question is, are they using their surplus to effect change that is good for society or for themselves?”
This is what happened as Mammoth recovered from drought and the Great Recession and the economy began to prosper. We had surplus. The marketing organization cleverly took credit for every bit of it. And I’ll admit, this is probably the biggest issue I have with MLT. The self-justifying metrics and puffery. Which, I recognize, is what folks cling to. Everbody loves a handy statistic. MLT is our Frankenstein. And we are more to blame than its representatives.
And during this, what I’ll call our greed pandemic, a whole lot of folks who just didn’t want the boat rocked – and were willing to accept rich budgets and spending excesses – ran their businesses, made their money, kept their heads down, shut up and got paid.
Reminds me of a nephew who once commanded, while he was showing me his room, “Don’t … touch … everything.” That was the culture and philosophy. To point out anything different (but especially, to suggest taking money off the table and allocating it elsewhere) was considered anti-business.
So the photograph below. Is that pro-business?
Sinek: “In a culture of weak character, the people will feel that any protection they have comes primarily from their own ability to manage the politics, promote their own successes and watch their own backs.”
“In weak organizations, without oversight, too many people will break the rules for personal gain. That’s what makes the organizations weak. In strong organizations, people will break the rules because it is the right thing to do for others.”
I literally had one MLT board member tell me in a private conversation at one juncture, in explaining why a certain transgression by an employee would be forgiven, “Many, many, many folks take small liberties with their jobs.”
But consider. Sinek tells the story of a Marine Colonel who was debating whether or not to throw a candidate out of Officer Candidate School.
Sinek asks what the candidate had done to merit potential expulsion.
It wasn’t that he had fallen asleep on his watch. It was that he denied it twice before finally taking responsibility when he was presented with irrefutable proof.
“Taking responsibility for one’s actions actions must happen at the time you perform your actions, not at the time you get caught.”
“Leadership and trust is all about telling the truth.”
Here’s the truth. We need Caroline Casey and her baddest ass self to team up with MLR and figure out a way to make this a more livable environment.
And we need to take a hard look at our resources.
Marketing has fallen to about 11th on the priority list and should be funded accordingly.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -Maya Angelou
And from Hite’s desk … the first Mono County Coronavirus meeting in months was held Thursday evening. The Emergency Operation team addressed the public’s concerns over the extreme uptick in cases.
Mono County now has 102 total cases (one was revealed during the meeting). According to a July 23 press release, “Our level of 11.7 percent over the previous 7-days, measured on Monday, July 20, far exceeds the 8% rate established by the State.”
A lot of these cases are in the Town of Mammoth Lakes which currently has a positive test rate of 462 people per 100,000. Mono County’s total rate is around 250 people per 100,000 and Northern Mono County is between 50-60 people per 100,000.
The State threshold for the watch list is 100 cases.
If Mono County is still on the list by Sunday an extra level of State-mandated restrictions will be levied.
When asked if the EOC was considering a shutdown both Town Manager Dan Holler and Mono County Public Health Officer Tom Boo said no.
“We are not considering a hard closure [of hotels] just yet. There are certain things that go into that and one of them is the economics of it,” said Holler. The ripple effect of closures in Mammoth Lakes could disproportionately affect neighboring counties and the greater Mono County area as people would likely still come … they would just have nowhere to stay or eat.
“If I feel our contact tracing teams can’t control the epidemic, or Dr. Burrows and the Hospital are hitting yellow light threshold and there is a risk of not being able to take care of people, I would intend to act and cut out the pipeline that is tourists,” added Boo.
And for now, we are back to our weekly scheduled Mono County Coronavirus talks. Thursdays @ 5:30 p.m.