GOING (SEMI) ROGUE
Well, this is unexpected.
Had a minor communication error within the office (funny, since there are only two of us here. It’s not like there’s a rabbit warren of offices and layers of bureaucracy to confuse us) and realize now at 5 p.m. Thursday that we don’t have a second front page story. So let’s start the weekly ramble on page one instead of page two.
I received a few complaints last week regarding non-compliant (health order) local businesses, so I visited Mammoth on Saturday, January 2nd to check out the scene.
The time was about 3 p.m., so not necessarily prime time. The crowds in the North Village were generally sparse.
A few outside tables were occupied at Campo, one table at Side Door, a pretty full outside area at Mammoth Brewing (below) and some tables at Lakanuki.
Lakanuki has a new outdoor tent which is an indoor/outdoor area. You’re sitting outside, but it’s enclosed.
I followed up on Monday with Lakanuki’s Stu Need, because I thought it was ironic that it took a Kiwi to perpetrate an act of civil disobedience.
How did he come to make the decision to open up table seating?
“I went up to the mountain. Took some pictures. And I thought to myself, “How is this inequity allowed?
I figured it was time to take a stand. And that I would operate just like the mountain.”
Meaning, Need would adhere to all the same safety protocols, masks, distancing, etc.
“I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business over the past few weeks,” he said. “And I spent a lot of money to get this outdoor tent installed [in order to comply with pre-lockdown orders]. Over $10,000. That’s money I don’t have.
… I’m a proud man. I’ve been on unemployment. This is an ego thing for me. I don’t want to take money from the government. I did apply for business assistance from the Town since my landlord is not giving any breaks. I met the criteria for the grant. I don’t know if they’ll [the Town] hold this against me.
… I’m not out there to defy the government. But this is past the political. This is about survival.”
I asked Mr. Need what sort of reaction he’s received.
Need: I got an email from [Town Manager] Dan Holler that was vague. I haven’t replied. He says he’s working on
some sort of common seating plan that they may roll out in a few weeks. [Public Health Officer Tom] Boo dropped by Saturday. I get it. He’s got a job. I’ve got a business. He told me I had to take a wall down for my outside patio. And that my seating needs to be open to all. But he didn’t come in heavy-handed. He says Mammoth Mountain is in violation as well. And you can’t really punish me if you have this other issue hanging out there.
I’m not against the Mountain. Not at all. Whatever he can do [Mammoth Resorts President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Brownlie] can help me.
I signed a [Mammoth Chamber of Commerce initiated] letter to take a stand and thought we would follow through. I was highly disappointed after the December 23 public meeting. The [political] leadership did not back our community. Not one person said, ‘Hey, these guys have a point.’
The Governor saying [stay-at-home orders are] ‘indefinite’ gives us no hope. And I don’t sleep well at night because I stress about the ultimate outcome.
But I’m down 82% (year-over-year for the holiday). I have two key staff leaving. They’re done waiting. They’re leaving for Canada. I worry that when we come back around, there’ll be no one here to work …
Stu was one of several local business owners whom we either spoke to directly or offered their thoughts via written statements. Let’s run through a few more. Snowcreek Athletic Club General Manager Sharon Harvey said the Club had 2,000 members when the first shutdown occurred in March. “When we reopened in June, he had 700 members,” she said. The Club then had to close back down again in early December. Zero members. Even with a closed building, the utilities cost $10,000 last month. “We only have one club and we’re bordering on not having one. How much more money can you pour into something?” Between the flooding due to a burst pipe several years back and now the pandemic, she says owner Ralph Lockhart just can’t catch a break.
David Ramos, who runs Mammoth King cleaning company said: Cleaning companies and lodging operators are being negatively targeted. We’ve implemented so many precautions, yet we are not getting compensated for any of the extra work. We want to do our part and protect our visitors but now we don’t have any visitors. Our staff typically works 80 hours in a 2 week pay period. They are now down to 20 hours in a 2 week pay period. They are thinking about moving away to other areas in Southern California that are open to guests. Please figure out a plan for us to open safely and we are happy to implement more cleaning measures to do so. This is all really unfair. We are taking it week by week so it’s really tough to plan and staff accordingly.”
Jason Herbst, owner of Five Star Lodging: Unfortunately, the status quo ties Mammoth’s ability to reopen to a community of millions of people, 350 miles from here, who don’t know us or care about us, and who are not observing anything like the same level of shutdown that we are. (I recently had no trouble traveling to Newport Beach and securing an RV space on the beach, in a paid resort for Xmas!) Meanwhile, my company is borrowing tens of thousands of dollars every month with zero incoming revenue, because we still have to pay our staff to answer the phone and spend labor canceling thousands of affected reservations and being abused by angry travelers. Our town continues to attract visitors from somewhere, who are staying somewhere … All this policy has achieved is to create a black market for rentals in which my organization can’t make any money to cover our overhead or costs, the town can’t make any tax revenue to cover their costs of operating (much less the crisis) and the community continues to be exposed to travelers who wish to visit the huge tourist attraction we inexplicably continue to allow to operate in contravention of the whole point of this shutdown.
Cynthia Fleming, co-owner of Ready4Rentals: Owners have now gone rogue, renting off social media, email campaigns to colleagues, neighborhood groups, etc. We have no control over the number of guests. We also have no control over limiting visitation. For example, owners are not adhering to a 24-hour block in between guests, a three-day minimum, etc; all strategies to slow visitors to town and allow us to function safely. As a lodging operator with 76 properties, I have been told by the town my head will be on the chopping block if I don’t comply with the ban. The
fines are $1,000 per day, per property, per guest and I lose my business license for a year. Perhaps even prosecuted by the D.A. So now I sit back and see my property owners renting illegally to “family” members while I don’t get paid, the town doesn’t collect its tax, and even more important, I have no control over the number of guests they are hosting nor have the ability to slow the visitation by 24-hour blocks in between guests, etc. The lost TOT revenue I would have paid the town for December is roughly $90,000. January is projected to be $80,000. I’ve never heard of a municipality try so hard to stop revenue, going as far as hiring a temporary task force to go after us.
Colin Fernie, Black Tie Ski Rentals: I have not spoken to a single business owner in town who is advocating that everything should return to normal. Most are simply asking to operate at some reduced capacity (with a host of protections in place), so we can stay afloat and live to fight another day; all while providing a safe experience for our employees and the limited guests who do choose to visit Mammoth regardless.
However (there’s always a however) I’m not sure the above has adequately factored in the public health side of the equation.
My two cents based on many conversations I’ve had this week.
Don’t bash the politicians too hard. They’re in a rough spot. If you open the spigot (even more than it’s already open) and invite more people to the area and increase the risk of introducing this recent and more contagious virus variant, you test the law of unintended consequences. If the new variant is as scary as advertised, it’s estimated to be 70% more infectious.
EOC Director Frank Frievalt said extreme lockdown measures being taken in the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere is evidence in itself that this is a serious threat.
And no one wants blood on their hands. No one wishes to make a poor political decision that leads to multiple deaths
The way through, it would appear, is to outrace the virus and its various mutant offshoots via vaccination.
I half-jokingly told one friend this week that we should make an outrageously generous offer and buy out a Covid-denier community of its vaccine.
Another, more realistic option may be to convince the state that it needs a small test county/counties to prove the efficacy of vaccine and herd immunity.
Given our exposure to visitors from contagious places, we’d certainly know in a hurry if the vaccine was working!
As for the arguments made within these pages today about widespread illegal rental activity, perhaps the Town should direct the bulk of its enforcement resources toward that problem rather than hassle legit operators over the rare bookings they receive.
I spoke to one operator this week who was hassled over paperwork and ultimately denied the ability to rent a room for a legitimate essential worker stay.
A classic case of obsessing over a small leak while the dam is collapsing.
Master Plan approved
By a unanimous 3-0 vote, Mammoth Town Council approved various code changes and amendments in oredr to adopt the Parcel master Plan at its meeting Wednesday evening.
The approval was made despite a fair amount of last-minute public comment critical of the project’s density, height and parking plan.
The vote was 3-0 because both Mayor Sauser and new Councilmember Sarah Rea are disqualified from participating in the item.
The Rea disqualification is more recent, and somewhat embarrassing as her political campaign trumpeted housing as her #1 issue.
“I’m very disappointed in the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) decision,” she said. The verdict: Because Rea lives 700 feet from the edge of The Parcel, it was determined her rent could potentially be affected.
She said she will do what she can to participate in housing, attend Mammoth Lakes Housing board meetings, and seek a spot on the MLH board next year.
As for the hearing itself, Dieter Fiebiger made an impassioned plea for Council to scalke back project density, noting original zoning called for 172 units and now we’re contemplating more than three times that amount.
As a neighboring resident of the property for nearly half a century, he worried about excessive tree removal, flooding risk and fire hazard (density and lack of egress points would place residents at risk in a fire event).
Fiebiger and neighboring resident Michelle Morrison were also not fans of the proposed buildings, both for their height and bulk.
As Morrison said, when the project was first in discussions, “cottages” were proposed that would back up to her property. In the current plan, she’s now faced with bulky two-story buildings on two sides.
Another resident suggested the Town should compemsate neighbors for anticipated loss in property values based upon the proposed project densities.
Project planniong has been going on for so long that Council had no stomach to engage the last-minute comments and voted unanimously.
Fiebiger was stunned by the swift approval and said afterward, “This is not the land of the people anymore … I’m disappointed Council does not listen to the people.”
And from Owen Page’s desk, a meditation on Wednesday’s events in D.C.
Wednesday was a strange day to say the least. While the spectacle of the day, the congressional confirmation of Joe Biden’s presidential victory, was expected to be long and drawn out, what the nation got instead was much more surreal
As Arizona Representative Paul Gosar stood at the podium, railing against the election results in his home state, shouting started in the House chambers.
As Gosar asked for order, the cameras switched to a wide angle of the room and then the sound cut out, followed shortly thereafter by the feed from the room.
My groupchats with friends were pinging that protestors, who had marched to the Capitol from a “Save America” rally hosted by President Trump, were breaking into the Capitol building and lawmakers were sheltering in place.
KUNR was broadcasting a live conversation between a journalist and her news agency as she was sheltering in the Cannon House Office Building at the Capitol.
And then photos and videos came out of people, draped in American flags and Trump apparel, walking the halls of the Capitol, lounging in politicians’ offices and engaging the Capitol police in fights.
There’s no way around the fact that this was Trump’s doing/fault. He told his supporters to go to the Capitol after riling them up and refusing to concede the election. And in the end 4 people died (one by gunshot wound), over fifty were injured, and the arrests are beginning to pile up. Most are being banned from DC and sent home to await to trial.
Note: when committing a crime, especially on federal property, it’s generally unwise to livestream, film, or post photos of yourself engaging in said crime.
People were wringing their hands and asking “How could this have happened? This is not the America I know.” Truth is, it seemed inevitable. Looking back at Charlottesville in August 2017, where there were “good people on both sides” as the President asserted, the anger was validated as it has been throughout the past four years. And when he lost the election, refused to concede, and did everything possible to throw out legal votes and undermine the American people, it was more clear.
I’ve always believed that Trump has never attempted to capture a new supporter; rather he drew inwards and consolidated his base into only the most loyal and faithful. The results of that effort were on full display Wednesday when, for example, the Confederate flag was flown in the Capitol for the first time in history. Or when bombs were found at the national headquarters of both major parties. And “protestors” brought zip-tie handcuffs into the building, presumably prepared for a hostage situation.
Perhaps most shocking was how unabashed those who participated were. They did not shy away from cameras, recordings, or wear a mask to hide their faces. Of course, it didn’t help that Capitol police put up none of the resistance that law enforcement typically rolls out for large scale protests AND they were undermanned and outmatched by sheer numbers. And when the reaction came, the “protestors” were shocked. From Andrew McCormick’s article “Madness in the Capitol”, published by The Nation: “This is not America,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.”
Patriots is the word that stands out and has stood out for me. Because I don’t see anything patriotic in attempting to overturn the will of your fellow citizens or embracing fascism or flying the Confederate flag. In this context, it makes everyone who disagrees an enemy or traitor to the country. I firmly believe that those who love this country want to see us be better; patriotism is not exclusive to one movement or ideology.
And of course, after spending the day expressing their shock and horror at the chaos that took place, Republican Senators decided that this election and this president are the hill that they will die on. And in doing so validated the abhorrent actions of those who broke into the Capitol building.