As former Mammoth Mountain (now Alterra Resorts) CEO Rusty Gregory is often fond of saying, “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”
On Wednesday, Mammoth Lakes Town Council decided to not let mediocrity get in the way of nothing at all. By a 3-2 vote, Council decided to go ahead with the Community Recreation Center project at Mammoth Creek Park West.
The Center will boast an Olympic-sized ice rink (with roof!) for winter use, and an indoor shell for summer activities.
Councilmembers Sauser, Wentworth and Salcido voted in support.
Councilmembers Rea and Stapp voted in dissent.
The approval vote means Council awarded an $8.9 million contract with Hamel Construction of Murrieta for the site preparation and installation of a Sprung Structure at Mammoth Creek Park.
The Sprung Structure itself, rink infrastructure and a 119-space parking lot are being acquired/built separately.
Ultimately, it’s a $15 million project, factoring in an additional $1.7 million in “pre-construction” costs.
The CRC is anticipated to have an operating budget of approximately $650,000/year.
For many community members, the vote to move forward was long overdue, and Councilman John Wentworth noted that public sentiment (as gauged by letters of public comment received) ran 7-to-1 in favor. Further, asserted Wentworth, these weren’t “cut-and-paste” form letters but “heartfelt, sincere expressions of support.”
Wentworth added that when you consider the CRC, The Parcel and a future MACC (Mammoth Arts and Cultural
Center) are teed up, that the public sector is leading the way in the next development phase of the Town.
Mayor Pro-Tem Lynda Salcido talked up the multi-use component and the potential to have 2,000 seats under cover in the middle of town for summer events.
She didn’t explain how those 2,000 fannies would be accommodated by a 110-space parking lot.
Given Mayor Bill Sauser’s longstanding advocacy for the project at the site, the bow on the package was already tied.
But someone forgot to teach Councilmember Sarah Rea the words to Kumbaya.
Sarah Rea. Remember her? The leading vote-getter in the last election? Some had considered hanging Lost-and-Found posters to figure out what had happened to her since November.
She found her voice Wednesday.
She eviscerated her fellow Councilmembers and staff for what she considers a “cut-rate and fiscally irresponsible” project, saying the decision-makers are more concerned about approving a legacy project than getting it right.
She was vocal in her opposition to the project during her campaign and won her seat by a significant margin.
“Council is dug in on this,” likening Wentworth, Salcido and Sauser to Republican Senators dug in on their impeachment stance.
She attributed the 7-1 ratio of public comment to a Facebook campaign.
She concluded by saying the project was sold as a MUF (multi-use facility) but in reality is nothing more than a hollow shell with many of the promised amenities having been pushed out to a later date due to cost considerations. “Don’t cling to a mistake just because we spent a lot of time making it.”
The evisceration turned Sauser into a puddle.
He spoke next and meandered through a defense of the project.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said. Seven years since the latest push to move forward, confirmed Public Works Director Haislip Hayes. As Rea said, working on something a long time doesn’t necessarily make it good.
*The Sheet resembles that remark.
“We need to move forward with what is best for the community.” Fair. Debatable.
He also disputed that the current CRC project is scaled-down.
He’s unequivocally wrong on that count.
“I still wish the community knew it’s building a $15 million house with no furniture or walls,” mused Sharon Clark in a text message to The Sheet on Thursday.
And as former Councilmember Colin Fernie writes in a letter to Council reprinted on pages 4-5, the current project represents a “far cry from what many of us set out to do.
… It pains me to say it, because it was always my goal to push this community to want better for itself, but we already have a subpar facility, so it doesn’t seem sensible to just build another one at the cost proposed.”
But, as Recreation Manager Stu Brown said in his presentation, “This is a defining moment for community recreation in Mammoth Lakes.”
And for Sauser, Wentworth and Salcido, “defining moment” would not be defined by inertia.
As for Councilman Stapp’s role in the proceedings, he again talked about so many projects, so little time and money. So why this one?
Then he randomly mentioned that the Town has been renting offices for 46 years even though the Town has only been incorporated for 36.
*As if building Town offices for a Town staff that has been completely unaffected by the pandemic should be potentially weighed as a higher priority than Mammoth Youth Hockey.
It’s not a higher priority than Mammoth Youth Whittling.
One thing to hold Council accountable for: It has “borrowed”$1.5 million set aside for the future construction of the Mammoth Arts and Cultural Center. Town Manager Dan Holler promised that mopney would be restored to the MACC acccount by FY 2022-2023.
In other Council news …
Mammoth Lodging Association Chairman John Morris pleaded with Council to eliminate its 70% cap on lodging.
He agrees with keeping the 24-hour space between stays in place.
He said the 24-hour empty slot between stays effectively caps lodging operators at 80% anyway.
He added that there are six weeks left for operators to sock away some money during the earning season before slack.
His earnest plea earned little feedback.
Finally, Finance Director Rob Patterson anticipates that TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax revenue) will come in at $12.8 million this year, $1.3 million above budget, but down $7.7 million from the pre-pandemic record set in 2018-2019 ($20.5 million).