AGAINST THE WIND
I’m cranky today. Blame the heat.
Or blame Mammoth’s Town Council. Tough to listen to that paean to denial at Wednesday evening’s regular meeting and not get cranky.
I’ve written what I’m about to write at least 15 times over the past five years.
I’ll try it again tonight. Phrase it differently. See if any of it can penetrate John Wentworth’s skull.
I’ve given up on Sauser’s skull.
Sauser again whined plaintively on Wednesday that he’s available to speak to all comers on any issue, but no one bothers to call.
Dear Bill, When one perceives that you are intractable and cannot change your mind or think creatively or flexibly about anything, what is the purpose of engaging you? Of course no one’s going to call.
The topic which takes up an increasing amount of oxygen these days (though not the oxygen in Suite Z – still meeting via Zoom) is housing, in particular, how do we provide/acquire units in this insane market. Everyone’s apoplectic. Everyone needing to make a little speech declaring how much they care about workforce housing.
As if this makes up for the very real failure of Council over the past five years to allocate its resources effectively.
Conservatively, we’ve overspent on marketing by $20 million or so over the last five years.
But no one can stand up to Mammoth Lakes Tourism. Because they’ll always hit you with the “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” line. And maintaining the status quo is the easier, more poltiically safe path.
But I’m here to tell you: Worry less about killing the golden goose and worry more about the working class drowning in yolk.
But back to making choices. At a median condo price of say $400,000, the Town of Mammoth Lakes could’ve undertaken an aggressive campaign to acquire 50 units of housing over the past five years which it could own right now. Outright. And not be subject to anyone else’s rules regarding what it could charge for rent. It could make up whatever rules it wanted.
Kirk Stapp said at the meeting that there are currently 88 people on the Mammoth Lakes Housing waitlist.
But you see, this is what happens when it comes to local government and capital projects.
We always sit around and say we need this grant or that grant to pay for it, so a lot of thumb-twiddling gets done in the interim while we wait to see what handouts are forthcoming from the Housing Fairy or Gavin Wonka.
Instead of getting down to the Nike principle. Just (F’ing) Do it. That’s the strategy. I don’t need a housing summit (No thank you, Mr. Wentworth. Sounds painful.) And I don’t need speeches.
I need three people to say, “You know what. We’ve primed the pump. Time to take money off the table and address other needs. Time to tell MLT it can live off TBID alone. And time to trim some staff and slash those agency/consulting fees”
But this town has consistently, during my 20-years in news here, been five years late in making every pivot.
It’s like … we put our fingers in the air, figure out which way the wind is blowing, and blunder straight into the gale.
This reminds me of the Blighdo football pool run by Spike Todd for many years.
One year Big Dave was in the pool.
Meaning a surefire trick to performing well in any particular week was to take the opposite of Dave.
It got to the point where Spike had to outlaw the strategy.
What Council really needs to do right now – the opposite of what they think they should do.
Right now, what they think they should be doing is what they should have been doing five years ago, throwing money at acquiring units.
Now is not the time to be a buyer. The market is overheated. Building costs are stratospheric.
That ship has sailed.
So you’re going to have to wait ‘til the next cycle.
At least in Mammoth. Consider: In 2019, Mammoth Lakes Housing had a quote on the 11-unit Country Glass apartment development.
Total development cost (including site purchase) was calculated at $6 million two years ago. Current calculation: $8.2 million.
Robertson does believe 10% can be shaved off that current figure.
But she also said the real struggle has been in trying to maintain five garages as part of the project. The tradeoff to keep the garages is that you could build more units if you eliminate them.
One thing the Town can do, and which occurred on Wednesday, is bank some land. Council approved the purchase of a quarter-acre lot on Joaquin which could support up to six units of workforce housing.
The cost was not cheap: $200,000.
But as local Real Estate Broker and Appraiser Matthew Lehman said last week, raw land is one area which has not seen a huge price spike, in part because land prices are hugely affected by “high material and construction costs, as well as government fees.”
But when government’s the builder, government can prove quite forgiving on the fees.
The most frustrating part of Wednesday evening was watching Council nickel-and-dime on the Mammoth Lakes Housing contract, knowing it had blown $20 million in thumb-up-ass complacency regarding marketing dollars.
Mammoth Lakes Housing wanted a 5% increase in its budget.
The Town suggested 1.8%.
Mammoth Mountain Vice-President of Mountain Development Tom Hodges, who sits on the MLH Board, pledged that MMSA would fund the $10,000 gap between ask and counteroffer.
Given that 36% of Food Bank beneficaries last year identified themselves as Mammoth Mountain employees, this certainly seems like an appropriate way to return the favor.
Regionally, I think Bishop has intriguing possibilities right now. Given the County’s move to its new office building at the edge of town, there’s ample commercial property in and around the downtown core that really should either be converted to housing stock or bulldozed and reimagined as downtown apartments.
Excellent opportunity for Mammoth to participate in a solution versus simply exporting a problem.
In other news, the MACC is back.
The Mammoth Lakes Foundation came before Council Wednesday seeking $100,000 in set aside Measure U funding to redesign the Mammoth Arts and Cultural Center project.
The new design would connect a 6,500-square foot multi-purpose auditorium space to the exisitng Edison Hall.
“The design direction is to create a program and constructioon budget of $9 million,” reads the staff report.
As the Foundation’s Executive director Betsy Truax said, $7.5 million of that money has already been raised via an existing bond.
She says all the major donors are “still on board.”
She envisions a spring 2023 groundbreaking.
Councilman John Wentworth shared the news that Mammoth District Ranger Gordon Martin will retire effective end of this month.
Martin leaves no legacy behind. But perhaps that’s intentional. Maybe he wished to Leave No Trace.
Town Special Projects Manager Grady Dutton said he plans to reboot a Mammoth Lakes Airport Group/Commission. This will provide cover and a delay (advertise the group, select the group, educate the group, hold a few meetings) for what Mammoth should really be doing – expanding its charter service. Now.
Finally, Council waffled on making a decision as to when to return to in-person meetings.
Councilmembers Rea and Salcido are both reticent. Sauser and Stapp appear ready. Wentworth is agnostic.
Town Attorney Andy Morris said the Town could institute a policy of masks required, but if you don’t want to wear a mask at the meeting, show proof of vaccination.
I can only imagine Police Chief Al Davis’s enthusiasm in enforcing something like that.
Mayor Sauser said, “The Brown Act cannot be suspended forever.”
I wouldn’t look for an in-person meeting before Labor Day.