NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
I think the toughest part about Wednesday’s meeting of the Mammoth Town Council was the callousness of it. The lack of empathy.
Dieter Fiebiger was there pleading with Council to make some final changes in the Parcel development plans. Because Dieter finally understands that he and his neighbors have been marked as casualties of progress.
Although he didn’t finally understand it at the Council meeting itself. I had to explain it to him in the hallway afterward. But we’ll get to that.
Before Dieter’s moment, Council first had to congratulate Grady Dutton on his retirement. And congratulate Stu Brown for his 15 years of service. And slog through about 90 minutes of housekeeping while they made Dieter wait. He had neighborhood allies with him as well, but they all eventually got fed up or tired or had things to do and otherwise left before the agenda item came up.
But not before they heard all the praise heaped upon Grady Dutton. And remember, once the praise starts coming, everybody feels compelled to say something, so it just drags on. It was like an Oscar ceremony celebrating the Assistant to the Assistant to the Key Grip and this Assistant to the Assistant is in the midst of an eight-minute speech.
In my notes, I have seven years and about $1.5 million in salary and benefits down the toilet. Grady was mediocre. That’s his legacy – and the legacy of the projects which coincided with his tenure.
I can still remember talking about Grady with former Sheet staffer and current Councilmember Sarah Rea. She just loved Grady and his gravelly voice and his gravitas and his ‘aw shucks’ demeanor.
And then I would kindly ask her to separate down-home charm from job performance
*Just wait ‘til that $14 million tent goes up in Mammoth Creek Park next spring and the neighboring residents start screaming bloody murder. They can only guess right now at the horror.
As for Stu Brown, he’s a pro and is the do-everything guy for the town. Really the public face of the town government. He’s a community guy and deserves the praise. But for godsakes, someone pull Stu off the community news updates and all that “busy work.” Find a staffer at half the pay to compile that crap. Seriously.
In his staff report at Council, Stu said a whopping 375 people showed up at the free opening night at the town skate rink the day after Thanksgiving. He also said the adult hockey league has drawn five teams and 76 players.
Finance Director Rob Patterson then talked about a celebration that occurred at Mammoth Airport on November 24 to welcome the first Advanced Airlines charter flight. First I’d heard of the event. Clearly a tremendous publicity campaign.
Finally, we get to The Parcel item. Mayor Pro-Tem Lynda Salcido – who was elected Mayor in the ensuing agenda item but ran this item because Mayor Sauser is conflicted out – tried to admonish Fiebiger that Council would not engage in debate on the item nor discuss specifics. But Fiebiger doesn’t hear very well so he just spoke over her. Which was somehow poetic, a politician getting railroaded by a citizen who can’t hear as opposed to vice-versa.
And then Dieter plaintively laid it out. The density of the project was too much. The height and setbacks were inconsistent with the neighborhood, the town. That the development should be compatible with its surroundings. He mentioned names of at least 20 neighbors who he said agreed with him.
On a personal level, he faces having a 60’, four-story building being located 65’ from his home and 35’ from his lot line.
Only Community Development Director Sandra Moberly had the courage to tell him the truth – that the ship has sailed and plans have been approved.
But Dieter couldn’t hear her. Literally.
He noted that it would’ve been a whole lot easier if Council had been present versus on Zoom. Eye contact is a better solution to this than looking at you all on the television [screen], he said. Of course, he’s right. Zoom is becoming a very convenient cop-out.
Kathy Cage chipped in during public comment. She observed that people start to notice when stuff starts happening, e.g. trees being felled. Yes, she acknowledged, you crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s in terms of public outreach, but … it’s hard for the regular folks to get a feel for what you’re saying during the conceptual phase and there’s got to be … some allowance for belated realization. Some wiggle room for last-minute adjustment.
Of course, no one wants to hear that. Too inconvenient. Holds up “progress.”
This is the tough part. Dieter’s still at the podium. He thinks Council is still listening. He thinks there’s still a dialogue going on. But Council has wrapped up the item. Sauser is back at his Zoom perch, running the meeting and going through the consent agenda. Dieter hasn’t budged. He doesn’t understand it’s over. Town Manager Dan Holler has the cognizance to motion for Dieter to meet him outside in the hallway, where he promises Dieter they’ll continue the discussion – but it’s all just polite horseshit.
I gather my stuff and grab Dieter’s briefcase for him and his wife Marlene meets us outside.
And I say to him, “Do you understand what happened in there?”
His eyes tell me he’s uncertain.
They’re done with you, I tell him. It’s over. They’re done listening.
And Dieter’s eyes well up. He’s always been an emotional guy. And it’s clear he can’t understand why there’s no happy medium to be found. And why others who will be unaffected by the project have so little empathy for their fellow citizens who will be affected.
It makes me recall the time about ten years prior when Dieter, a longtime member of the Town’s Recreation Commission, wasn’t reappointed. They felt he’d “aged out” but no one wanted to tell him directly.
This is a guy who always talks about doing things “for the kids.” And for others. He’s a fellow member of the Mammoth Lakes Lions Club with me, and I’ve never seen him waver. The man’s heart is pure.
Change is … brutal.