After a week out of the headlines, the bus turnaround on Woodmen [aka Woodman] Street in Mammoth Lakes proved to still be contentious.
The matter was discussed at Mammoth’s Planning and Economic Development Commission meeting on Wednesday, July 14. Town of Mammoth Lakes staff gave an updated presentation on the topic, including responses to feedback from the public received after previous meetings.
This time around, the goal was simply to collect more feedback, both from the public and commission, ahead of a presentation to Mammoth Lakes Town Council in mid-August.
Associate Engineer Amy Callanan, Town Public Works Director Haslip Hayes, and Eastern Sierra Transit Authority Director (ESTA) Phil Moores tackled the presentation together.
Callanan explained theproposed changes to the local transit system, mainly consolidating bus turnarounds to a mini “hub” at the Community Recreation Center parking lot at Mammoth Creek Park. Doing so would mean that a turnaround is, in theory, still needed for the Old Mammoth neighborhood given alleged demand for public transit at the Aspen Village apartments complex.
The current turnaround for that route, at the Snowcreek Athletic Club, will be bulldozed to make room for the Snowcreek VII Creekhouse project.
Hayes said the previous route to/through the neighborhood, the grey line, was discontinued in 2016. Another route ran to the area from Spring-Fall 2017 but consistent low ridership resulted in that route also being discontinued.
Moores gave a rundown of the goals for a turnaround: reduced spacing between the turnaround and ridership concentration, ease of access in the winter, no conflicts with personal vehicles (i.e. blocking roadways), limit impacts to residential rural areas, and generally limiting potential for interference with the route.
Callanan gave a rundown of the areas that were/are being considered for a bus turnaround in the Old Mammoth neighborhood, beginning at the Bluffs and running down to St. Joseph’s Church and a site to the east of Fire Station #2.
The proposed sites past Woodmen created too much spacing, 1-1.5 miles, while a site on Waterford Avenue, at a water tank off of Old Mammoth, and Aspen Village didn’t have the space needed to create a safe turnaround and had high potential for interference from personal vehicles.
St. Joseph’s Church, a more recently proposed alternative, was deemed unlikely due to its location on private land and along a residential road, distance from the concentration of riders at Aspen Village, and potential for a crowded parking lot on Sunday, holidays, and during church events.
Which, in the eyes of the Town, leaves Woodmen as the only viable option.
Building a turnaround at Woodmen would include widening the street itself, installing boulders/landscaping to shield adjacent houses, and a new bus shelter at the corner of Woodmen and Old Mammoth Road.
The Town used a survey to gather input from residents: 66% of those who responded said that they would like to see some sort of route extension into the Old Mammoth neighborhood, with a number suggesting a turnaround at La Verne to access recreation opportunities.
27 of the 58 respondents to a question about preferred location indicated that they would prefer a turnaround at Woodmen Street.
A number of Old Mammoth residents present in Suite Z for the meeting voiced their opposition to the survey, as they felt the questions were leading and didn’t fully allow them to express their views on the turnaround project.
Callanan also took time to respond to previous comments about the project.
Residents had voiced concerns about safety, citing sight distance, excessive downhill speed, and “close calls.” Callanan said that widening the road would help with visibility, as would a new driver speed feedback sign on Old Mammoth Road. She said that both the Town and ESTA were satisfied with the level of safety at the project site, adding that there have only been three reported collisions on that stretch of road in the past 3 years, none of which occurred at Woodmen.
Regarding noise: buses will not idle at the turnaround and frequency of buses may be adjusted due to demand. In addition, the fleet will begin to transition to quiet electric technology in the coming years.
In terms of environmental concerns, Callanan claimed that impacts to wildlife would be minimal, only five trees would be removed in total, and downstream drainage patterns would be unaffected. She also said that the project is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act as it falls under a “ministerial” designation, meaning no discretionary decision is required.
Old Mammoth residents were then permitted to give their public comments.
Greg Guatelli, who lives in the Woodmen neighborhood, said that the project is going to “spoil, even ruin our neighborhood and I wouldn’t wish it on any Old Mammoth neighborhood.”
“What you need is to give service to Aspen Village,” Guatelli said, “but you don’t need to do it the way you’re doing it.”
Tim Perl, President of the Aspen Village Homeowners Association, said he was more concerned with getting consistent service to the development than he was about where a potential turnaround might be sited. Perl said that a lack of parking both at Aspen Village and around town makes public transit an important piece of living in the complex.
“I would like to advocate for consistent service, no less frequently than every 20 minutes,” he said, “and I would like to see that maintained throughout the year.”
Mitchell Dutko, whose family property is adjacent to the proposed turnaround site, said that the ministerial designation for the project is not an accurate representation of the work required, adding that local wildlife passes through his property and the proposed site “every night.”
Mark Dutko, Mitchell’s brother, told the commission “This stop is less than 10 feet from our bathroom, bedroom, living room windows.” He said that there has historically been mismanagement in the area by the local water department, leaving problems that he and other residents have had to deal with themselves.
“This is one of the most egregious ridiculous projects I have seen in this town,” Mark said.
Traci Walker, who called into the meeting remotely, has lived in Old Mammoth since 1995; she cited wildlife concerns and mismanagement by local authorities as key issues.
Walker also said that there has been a “trash disaster” in the area due to high-density housing, stating “there is trash that was never ever in our neighborhood [before] due to Aspen Village.”
“This meeting is stated to be about locations and yet you’re not offering really any other options,” Walker said.
Mono County Supervisor Stacy Corless, who represents the district, called in to say, “A lot of this could’ve been avoided if the public could’ve been engaged much earlier. It does feel like all the presentations are backing into Woodmen out of many imperfect options.”