After a year of deliberation, back and forth arguments for and against, and continuous postponements of a final decision, The Tioga Inn housing plan went out with a whimper at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. The project amendment was denied via a 2-2 vote on a motion to approve. An earlier motion had been made to further continue the public hearing on the matter until an unspecified date but was rejected by the same margin.
Supervisors Jennifer Kreitz and John Peters voted in favor, Bob Gardner and Rhonda Duggan were opposed.
Supervisor Stacy Corless recused herself from the matter due to a conflict of interest. The only way that the project could have moved forward was with a 3-1 or 4-0 vote.
And so Dennis Domaille’s hotel and restaurant project will move forward with no additional housing for the 100+ individuals expected to work there.
The outcome is a win for the Mono Lake Committee and the Mono Kutzadikaa tribe. The Committee has fought the issue since the outset and was continually well-represented at any and all public hearings regarding the housing amendment, while the tribe has repeatedly voiced concerns about their involvement in the process.
So, too, it was a victory for Supervisor Gardner, who had been the project’s most vocal opponent on the board for the duration of deliberations.
Of people who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s hearing, the majority were in some ways affiliated with the Mono Lake Committee, an affiliation they opted not to mention during their 2-minute speaking time. Most of the other speakers were tribal representatives or supporters
The decision came almost exactly four months, December 15, 2020, after the supervisors had previously opted to continue the hearing to a later occasion. The delay was made to allow time to address tribal concerns and an emergency egress road for the housing units.
Community Development Director Wendy Sugimura gave a presentation about progress made on those topics since December.
LADWP had assented to Tioga Inn’s usage of the road, provided it could install a lock and retain the right to revoke access. Given that Domaille owns the majority of the land that the road is on, Sugimura said that it would be in the best interest of both parties to maintain a strong relationship.
As for tribal concerns, that was more complicated. The issues from December: the tribe wanted more consultation, more time to meet with the applicant, and there was an ask that the California Attorney General look into project compliance.
Sugimura gave a full rundown of the county’s work with the tribe, which had requested a meeting with Domaille at an October 2020 board meeting.
Two meetings were scheduled and cancelled before December. Domaille reached out to the tribe on January 8 to set up a meeting, which was declined due to Covid-19 concerns. What followed was a series of invites from the county to set up meetings; these two were rejected.
On February 9, the tribe expressed a hesitation to working with Domaille and a follow up letter a month later, from the tribe and Mono Lake Committee featured an outright objection to working with Domaille.
About a week later, they changed course again and said a meeting would be scheduled by mid-May. The can kept getting kicked from that point. As of the public hearing on April 20, no meeting had been scheduled and another delay had been requested by the tribe.
The tone of the presentation and Sugimura’s words made it clear how frustrating the process had been on her end.
“The County has consulted with the Tribe and the Tribe defined the consultation topics. The above-and-beyond efforts by the County to meet and find resolutions with the Tribe grants the Tribe’s concerns, recognition and respect well beyond that required by the process even if the Tribe is not receiving the answer it wants. Options have been offered to the Tribe to address concerns,” Sugimura read aloud from the slides, followed by “Respecting diversity and equity does not mean all parties agree, or that any party is unilaterally granted their request. The Tribe’s concerns have been taken seriously and elevated above the typical process, and significant effort has been dedicated to trying to meet and resolve them within the legal framework by which the County is bound. This effort is consistent with the County’s commitment to diversity and equity.”
Sugimura provided conditional language that, should the project amendment be approved, it would feature an invitation for Domaille, the tribe, and the county to meet and come to an agreement or agree to disagree within six months.
She also addressed concerns surrounding an access path between the project site and Lee Vining. Because the issue is considered pre-existing, there would be a funding gap that would make the path infeasible, she explained, if made a condition for beginning construction.
In addition, alignment studies would be necessary for any work, SCE (Southern California Edison) would need to approve the project, and constructing the pathway as an underpass created a significant barrier.
In spite of staff findings and assurances that the work done was “above and beyond,” it wasn’t good enough.
Part of the issue lies in how much the Mono Lake Committee and Kutzadika tribe controlled the process. With a significant amount riding on the consultation and meeting process, the actual meeting was of the utmost importance. And it never materialized for one reason or another and there’s no reason to believe that it ever would have happened without some sort of legal mandate.
Regarding the necessity of the access trail, the Committee argued that it was in fact feasible and that the county was engaging in a form of doublespeak to avoid the issue.
In the end, controlling the process resulted in a victory for their side. When you send in your complaints and comments at the last minute, you can always argue that they won’t be properly addressed.
All the Committee and Tribe had to do was convince one supervisor, given the smaller board for the meeting and Gardner’s opposition from the outset.
Duggan asked questions about the height of the project and location of the buildings for clarity, claiming that she was still new to the process and the project itself.
She argued that she didn’t see the need for the housing portion of the project, given that it wouldn’t be made available to the Lee Vining community initially.
An initial motion to continue the hearing failed 2-2, then a motion to approve failed by the same margin. By law, that meant a denial. As County Counsel Stacy Simon explained, a supervisor who voted in opposition had the right to propose an amendment or revision to make forward progress possible.
And when asked if they would, Gardner and Duggan said nothing and only shook their heads.
With that, the housing project was denied and the meeting was adjourned.
Domaille has indicated that he plans to sell the project to developers. Some of the buyers, he said, have no qualms about continuing without the rejected housing component.
Of note: Supervisor Gardner has a history of involvement with the Mono Lake Committee. He is listed as a donor and volunteer in their yearly newsletters and his wife Karen trains volunteers with the non-profit, although she receives no financial compensation for that role.
A call to the Mono Lake Committee confirmed that she still holds that role.
Supervisor Duggan had a potential conflict of interest regarding family in the area but resolved the issue with Fair Practices Commission. She told The Sheet that she has no financial interest or stake in the area, as the “conflict” was related to familial relations.
A relative of Duggan’s is an owner of a hotel in Lee Vining.