As my favorite bartender in the whole wide world, Roberta Fisher (of Challis, Idaho) would often say, “You do what you have to do to survive.”
And we’re all caught in the crosshairs of pandemic survival (financial and physical) these days.
As we sort through the overarching mixed message (We’re open, but we’re closed), let’s start with the front page photo. According to Mono County Environmental Health Director Louis Molina, the reason that it’s okay for Mammoth Mountain to host outdoor dining on its Tusks sun deck is because the deck is considered common area, not necessarily dining-specific, and that MMSA patrons represent a “captive” audience. They need to rest somewhere. They need to eat somewhere. They can’t just grab it and go.
Molina contrasted that with the Stellar Brew deck. Saying if Stellar Brew’s deck was open, it would be “inviting people to congregate,” which is what we’re trying to avoid.
By that standard, I said, why is the ski area open?
Molina was quick to reply that under no circumstances should it be implied that he believes the ski area should be closed.
That’s not the direction I’m heading.
Which is: If it’s legal at the ski area, it should be legal everywhere else in town.
If people are wearing masks and keeping distance, the government referees should swallow their whistles.
A letter that came in this week.
“Citizen, well done investigating local businesses for possible shutdown order violations. The Leader has spoken, as always with a benevolent eye toward the good of the folk and improvement of the health of the fatherland. We must not tolerate those who stand in destiny’s way. It will be a magnificent thousand year rule ahead, if we but understand that our experts require only temporary, trifling obeisance to their reasonable compulsory mandates a few weeks longer, to flatten the curve.
Now that you have joined the righteous cause, use your outlet to promote further national greatness by exhorting others to follow your example. Form a protection squadron. Tolerate no departures from The Leader’s progressive vision. Inform the State Police of violations. Stigmatize non-conforming jackanapes by forcing them to wear a yellow “J”. We have but to crush ignorant dissent on our way to final triumph over the enemy flu, for which we all can, we all should, we all must, cry “hail victory!”
How come I keep returning to Kipling’s poem, “If.”
I had a whole riff on it in the May 2 editorial.
But I’m gonna come back to it now because old men tend to repeat themselves. Maybe because they tend to be so tiresome.
If you can keep your head when all about you/
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you
So if I understand Mr. Rogitz correctly, he wants me to stop being curious and stop performing my job if he doesn’t like whatever investigation I’ve undertaken. I imagine Mr. Rogitz also believes the IRS shouldn’t audit anyone, because heaven forbid they may uncover billionaires who don’t pay taxes.
And Lance Armstrong should still be the seven-time champion of the Tour de France.
What we try to convey in the paper is what’s happening, or at least what seems to be happening. And how people feel about it. And how people respond to it.
So Mr. Rogitz will be excited to learn I doubled-down and did the same run-through in Bishop this week.
I walked into three downtown hotels on Tuesday evening.
At the Cielo, I asked if they had availability. The front desk person responded by asking me, “Queen or King-size bed?”
Across the street at the Holiday Inn Express, I asked if they had availability. The front desk person replied by asking me if I was an essential worker.
I said no. My reply literally pained her. She really wanted to serve me and make me happy. She didn’t wish to turn me away and disappoint.
We kind of eyed each other. Hemmed and hawed a little bit. I then asked about room prices. She quoted prices for a queen and a king. I told her I had to go outside and consult with my wife.
She would’ve rented me a room. I mean, the charm and dashing good looks alone …
At the Elms, I inquired as to availability. And they gave me a price. No questions asked.
So I thought about this, and it’s patently obvious that Bishop is really eating Mammoth’s lunch. People are literally being trained to stay in Bishop and ski in Mammoth. And then, when they drive down the hill at night, they can go check out the new casino, which is open.
But while the bulk of Bishop’s rooms are hotels/motels, Mammoth has a sizable, private Airbnb/agency-managed supply.
And one agency manager described what was really happening in Mammoth.
“Owners are blocking dates as owner stays and renting the units themselves versus using property managers who would otherwise follow the rules and pay the taxes. They send out private emails to their friends and colleagues. It’s all off the books.”
And because it’s all off the books, and it’s virtually impossible for Town compliance officers to verify whether or not it’s an actual owner stay,
these folks are not going to be paying bed tax during the most lucrative week of the year when Stonegate, Creekhouse and Gray Bear units go for $3,500/night. Which equates to about $500/night in uncollected tax revenue on a place like that. Madness.
Meanwhile, when I reported that my wife’s Airbnb in Bishop received ten calls in a 24-hour period last week, one of which was from an essential worker – that wasn’t quite accurate.
The “essential worker?” He wasn’t.
He had said that as part of what he perceived to be a wink/nod rental arrangement.
When my wife told him he needed to produce documentation about his essentiality, he copped. Inessential. Says he’s staying at home this weekend. Unless he calls a Bishop motel.
While Jeff Griffiths wrings his hands and says we need to take things seriously.
If the “enforcement” process is supposed to be education-warning-penalty (and no one gives a damn about heeding the first two steps), it’ll take four months to get anything done. And by then, the crisis has passed.
I heard rumblings from a few folks this week that Mammoth should do what Solvang did.
So what voodoo did Solvang – a faux Dutch resort town located in Santa Barbara County – do?
From Tyler Hayden’s story in the December 11 edition of the Santa Barbara Independent:
“On Monday, the [Solvang] city council voted to defy the state edict, which applies to the entire Southern California region, including Los Angeles. Mayor Ryan Toussaint filed the emergency motion. It was approved unanimously. “As of tonight, they can go about their business,” said Councilmember Daniel Johnson of the restaurants and bars lining downtown’s Copenhagen Drive.
“People can’t keep getting kicked like this,” said Councilmember Robert Clarke.
Clarke also suggested the governor’s order would last longer than the three weeks it currently dictates. “If anybody thinks this is going to be three weeks, you’re smoking something,” Clarke said. “The city needs to do something to keep these businesses open. I’ll take the heat wherever it comes from.”
Councilmembers Jim Thomas and Karen Waite raised concerns about the liability of such an openly defiant move. City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt said unless Solvang actively prevented the enforcement of Newsom’s order, he didn’t see any glaring legal issues. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over Solvang, hasn’t shown an appetite to issue citations, he pointed out.
The cities of Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach are making similarly subversive moves, Wullbrandt said. They even declared their outside restaurant tables public spaces, so take-out diners could sit there without fear of breaking the law. So is San Mateo, a much larger community.”
A different take
A story that appeared the next day in rival publication Noozhawk had a slightly different take.
Janene Scully reported that Santa Barbara County Supervisors Chairman Gregg Hart said, “The county counsel … explained that this could potentially really put businesses in Solvang at risk if they’re getting the message from their elected leadership that this is a viable legal option when, in fact, it isn’t.”
Businesses violating the orders risk any licenses, including those from the or the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Additionally, a city could put its state funding at risk or face problems with obtaining liability insurance, Hart said.
“It’s a serious matter, and the governor has been very clear that they’re going to be enforcing this order through all the state regulatory tools available to them,” Hart said.
But here’s the most interesting part. The Mayor and two Solvang Councilmembers who voted to defy the state – they were lame ducks when they made the vote. They were all voted out in the most recent election.
The Sheet spoke to Philip Grant this week about what’s happening in Solvang. Grant, who’s owned First Street Leather in Solvang for more than four decades, owned a sister First Street Leather shop in the Village at Mammoth for approximately fifteen years before deciding not to extend his lease once Covid hit this past spring.
Of the Council decision to defy the state, Grant said, “I think it’s a bad call … It’s all well and good until the State Liquor board revokes your license. These are not folks of my political persuasion.”
He said he and wife Cassandra were downtown earlier this week. No one had taken the Solvang Council up on its decree, and no tables and chairs had been set out. Restaurants remained take-out only.
Grant sits on the Solvang Chamber of Commerce board. The board did not support Council’s decision.
As for his retail business, it’s operating at 20% capacity and while it seems slow, Grant says everyone who comes in buys something, and that Solvang locals have been extremely supportive.
The Sheet attended Monday’s Zoom meeting of the Mammoth Unified School Board. The most interesting item involved Brooke Bien’s state-of- the-district financial report, particularly the part regarding teacher salaries and benefits.
Bien’s report demonstrated that while the cost of teacher benefits has essentially doubled since 2008-2009, payroll is utterly stagnant, just 10% higher district-wide than it was in 2008-2009.
According to the CPI calculator, a 2008 dollar is worth $1.21 today, a 21% increase.
So I asked around to figure out why that was? The answer seems to be a general decrease in staffing (much attrition/retirements last year).
Year-over-year enrollment at MUSD is down 5.5%, from 1,185 students in 2019-2020 to 1,120 students this year.
Speaking of Brooke Bien, she is a new member of Town’s Business Asssistance progam decision-making committee.
For the fourth round of grants, the committee will consist of Bien, Jennifer Burrows, Alicia Vennos and Jeff Simpson.