Mammoth Lakes Town Council talked a lot about housing at its regular meeting on Wednesday evening.
But ultimately decided not to move further resources into the housing column.
By a 3-2 vote, split along gender lines, Council decided to maintain its existing budget, versus transfer approximately $344,000 from its General Fund marketing allocation to housing.
Mayor Sauser and Councilmembers Wentworth and Stapp opted to maintain the status quo.
Councilmembers Salcido and Rea both made impassioned arguments to direct more money to what is arguably the Town’s most pressing need, workforce housing.
The debate was certainly a bit chippy – with plenty of saltiness to go around.
Wentworth went after Salcido – hard. “We can’t sit here in a meeting and say ‘I don’t know what someone does,’” said Wentworth, a reference to a comment Salcido made regarding Mammoth Lakes Housing during an MLH contract negotiation meeting a few months ago.
He repeated the charge twice. The second time around, he lambasted fellow Councilmembers for being “uninformed.”
Wentworth, President and CEO of MLTPA (Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access), may be better ”informed” than the rest as Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi is a longtime MLTPA board member and its current Treasurer.
Mammoth Lakes Tourism gave MLTPA $100,000 this year to administer the Town’s Trail Host program.
Wentworth is not considered to have a conflict-of-interest regarding the receipt of funds from MLT because he does not take a salary at MLTPA, so therefore, he does not personally benefit.
*But the relationship would appear to confirm Mr. Urdi’s status as a marketing genius. Spend $100,000 so that a Councilman can help you preserve $344,000 of MLT’s budget. That’s a 244% return on investment!
During the meeting, Urdi aggressively sought an accounting of all the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) overage dollars that have funneled to the Town.
MLT employee Emily Bryant suggested the money may have been siphoned off to pay for Covid response.
Salcido replied icily, “I know of the TOT overage and where it all went.”
Salcido, who sits on MLT’s board, defended the attempt to redirect funds, saying “Contract changes are a reality of life … our priorities have changed.”
It was notable in her comments that she referred to MLT as “they” versus “we” though perhaps it makes sense given she was speaking in her capacity as a Councilmember.
Mayor Bill Sauser addressed the issue with rhetorical flair. Have we adopted a budget? Did we designate 2.35% of the TOT points to tourism? Simple. Next.
Councilmember Sarah Rea disagreed – not so simple. During the budget process, she said she’d had conversations with Town Manager Dan Holler as well as fellow Councilmember Lynda Salcido where she’d expressed a desire to examine the MLT allocation more closely.
Holler told her this could be brought up during the MLT contract finalization at a time post-budget adoption.
She acknowledged that it was a mistake to have this conversation privately versus publicly.
In her comments Wednesday, Rea said, “No one wants a reduced budget. But if it’s not [a complaint about] process, it’ll be something else [as reason to not act].”
She said both the lodging and restaurant association meetings on Monday harped on labor issues.
Rea also ensured an abrupt end to her MLT blogging career by noting that when she blogged for MLT, she was paid very well and given a ski pass as part of her compensation so, “It’s obvious they’re [MLT] not hurting for money.”
Longtime MLT Board member and current Treasurer John Morris made public comment in favor of preserving MLT’s budget, as did MLT Chair Jeremy Goico, Robert Richards and Teri Stehlik.
Salcido said she’d received plenty of public comment both pro- and con- prior to the meeting.
So the tiebreaker on Wednesday was Kirk Stapp.
While one would think that Stapp, as a longtime champion of Mammoth Lakes Housing, would vote for any measure which would provide extra dollars to housing, that person would’ve lost that bet Wednesday.
Stapp insisted that the “political commitment” of Measure A be honored, and that the current allocations of 2.35% for tourism, 0.85% for housing and 0.85% for transit be preserved.
What Stapp neglected to point out is that since Measure A was approved by voters, marketing has acquired another funding source (TBID) while housing and transit have not.
When A was passed, the Town’s overall marketing budget was approximately $2 million/year.
During Councilmember reports following the contentious budget item, Stapp talked about Mammoth Lakes Housing working on its 11-unit, $8.4 million workforce housing project (Country Glass Apartments).
According to the staff report in Wednesday’s agenda, MLH will seek a $1.5 million contribution from the Town in order to bid the project and potentially leverage more than $5 million in grants.
And yet, Stapp slammed the door on his own foot to the tune of $344,000 the town won’t have available to meet MLH’s $1.5 million ask.
You can’t make this stuff up.