I’ve known Jim Ouimet as long as I’ve been in Mammoth.
In fact, he may have been the first local I ever met.
Ouimet is the owner of Mammoth Dog Teams. I moved to Mammoth in 2001 because he had hired my then-girlfriend to mush dogs for him in the 2001-2002 winter season.
I was the 33-year old tag-along boyfriend who called himself a writer.
After that season, we split up and Julie moved to Alaska and I ultimately started a newspaper in Mammoth.
The world works in mysterious ways. But I digress.
Back then, Ouimet had a stable of 40 dogs. Today, he’s got 15.
This week, he called it quits on the mushing season – barring a future storm.
Given that we didn’t get snow until the week before Christmas, that’s a two-month season.
“I went out to Smokey [Bear Flats] today,” said Ouimet on Wednesday. “The recent snow didn’t do anything. In fact, the recent snow made things worse by softening it up. The equipment’s getting wrecked. The dogs are at risk of punching through [and getting hurt].”
Ouimet says things started changing for the worse in 2004.
“Twenty years ago,” he said, “the seasons were 4-5 months, and even in low snow years, I could do spring [tours], at least in the mornings.”
“Since ‘04, we haven’t really worked full [9-4] days. We can go like 9 to 1.”
The business is there, said Ouimet. That’s the frustrating part. “My phone didn’t stop this winter. People have all sorts of money to spend … if we only had snow.”
Anecdotally, Ouimet said he saw two snowmobiles out at Smokey Bear Flat on the Sunday of President’s weekend. “Twenty years ago, there were probably twenty machines out there.”
Speaking of climate-related closures, Clay Tyson sounded the death knell this week for “Skin Up Ski Tours” after less than two years.
It didn’t take him two winters to figure out winter’s not worth betting on.
As Tyson noted, “We’ve gotten three inches of snow in 2022.” So climate change has inspired human adaptation.
Lemons, meet lemonade.
“I’m taking the human and financial resources I was pouring into Skin Up and launching Pedal Up Bike Tours, mountainbike packing. The advantages to a biking operation as it relates to the weather are substantial. One climate-based concern that IS going to stare us in the face: fire season.
But quite simply, bikes just make more sense – the seasons are twice as long – and a bike trip can either be a stand-alone or complementary activity.
The basic idea, said Tyson, is a fully-supported, multi-day mountain bike excursion/camping experience, with various options (combo trip with hotels, combo trip with rock climbing component, etc.).
“When I started Skin Up Ski Tours two years ago, the pandemic was in full swing, the economy was teetering and the future was certainly less than clear. I was still wildly confident that all the signs were pointing toward success. Ground Up Climbing Guides (Tyson’s initial foray into the recreation biz) had established a solid reputation, and skinning and uphill skiing was working its way into the vernacular. When stories about the growth of backcountry skiing are showing up in non-endemic outlets like the New York Times, you can usually bet that all the cool kids will be doing it within a year.”
And maybe they would’ve. If the weather had cooperated.
As a follow-up to last week’s front page story (“IMACA in Deep Caca”), The Sheet spoke with IMACA Executive Director Kate Morley this week.
As Morley said, IMACA has always covered a wide scope of services.
A huge hole was created recently when the organization’s controller left in December. In one fell swoop, IMACA lost institutional knowledge of literally thirty contracts it is party to, said Morley
IMACA has since hired a contract team consisting of two, out-of-area CPAs to get the bills out and sort through the financials.
“We’ve survived here because we have incredible staff,” said Morley, staff who are clearly not in it for the money, as Morley described the wages as “not super-competitive.”
She then told the tale of IMACA and the Valley Apartments – which describes in a nutshell the push-pull predicament of a service organization when it comes to services and resources.
IMACA’s association with The Valley Apartments (19 units of low-income senior housing located in Bishop) predates Morley’s birth.
The deal was cut in the early 1980s.
IMACA obtained the property via a 30-year loan from HCD (California’s Department of Housing and Community Development). Typically, HCD has forgiven these types of loans, and IMACA was led to believe it would be no exception.
“But in our case,” said Morley, “after thirty years, they wanted the balloon payment plus interest. And we couldn’t pay.” This was circa 2011.
What followed was a decade-long dance between IMACA and HCD.
The options presented to IMACA were stark. 1.) Pay the outstanding debt ($1.1 million) which it didn’t have. 2.) Hand the building back and toss 19 seniors on the street. 3. Sign a new loan and kick the can down the road so that in 30 years, the balloon payment would be $2.8 million.
None of this makes sense because the Valley Apartments represent a financial sieve. As Morley says, the apartments are meant for seniors on an income who make 30% of the area median income. “People move into the Valley Apartments and don’t leave,” said Morley. “A lot of ‘em are on a fixed income of less than a $1,000/month, and they’re paying rent of something like $375.
As a result, there’s hardly any money for upkeep. The building needs a new roof, the boiler is always going out …
After the decade-long dance, in January 2021, HCD put IMACA’s loan into default.
As Morley explains, if you have a default loan, it’s crippling for a non-profit. You become ineligible to seek other commercial loans. And your programs start getting audited so that your already stretched staff is spending more time on audits than they are with the work they’re supposed to be doing.
“My third day on the job [this fall] we had a whole meeting with State Rep. Devon Mathis and HCD … we were begging a solution.”
And Morley says she can see why previous iterations of the IMACA board did not walk away from the Valley Apartments. It would be unconscionable to do so.
As Morley said in frustration, “$1.1 million is couch change to the state.” A state that has bragged that it may run a $23 billion surplus in the current fiscal year.
19 units at $1.1 million. In Mammoth, $1.1 million won’t even get you two.
The next section is from Charles James:
Mono County Planning Commission recommends “NO “on Short-term Rental Application Moratorium
Last Thursday, February 17, Mono County Planning Commissioners held a special meeting for the purpose of making a recommendation to the County Board of Supervisors on whether it would be productive to enforce a moratorium on Short-term Rental Applications.
Moratoriums are typically for 45-day periods.
During the three-hour meeting, commissioners arrived at their decision only after first going through a lengthy discussion on updating the County’s Housing Element.
The commission voted to recommend that the supervisors “Do not propose a moratorium at this time.” District #4 Commissioner Scott Bush, District #5 Commissioner Chris Lizza, District #3 Jora Fogg, and Roberta Lagomarsini voted “Yes” on the motion, while District #1 Commissioner Patricia Robertson, who serves as the Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Housing, voted “No.”
Several ideas were discussed during the workshop to find ways to increase affordable and available housing that will meet state goals and local needs before coming to their decision. It was largely the recognition that it was not feasible to recommend a moratorium without further guidance from the county supervisors. Also, Short-term Rental Applications are only a part of the problem of the much larger problems facing the county when it comes to providing housing.
A few items discussed included considering increasing density limits and allowing use of RVs and Tiny Homes under certain restrictions. Other ideas included allowing greater flexibility in home construction and new housing types (e.g., encouraging more duplex housing), and encouraging accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
Another consideration, given the high cost of building stick homes is to consider finding ways to reduce design requirements on factory-made and manufactured homes.
There was some talk of providing incentives for owners of short-term rental eligible properties to rent longer-term instead, although what those incentives might include is undetermined.
Disincentives to short-term housing applications were also briefly discussed, but here again, what form would those disincentives take?
The full February 17th Planning Commission meeting can be viewed online at the Mono County website, www.monocounty.ca.
Finally, I made a few calls recently about the Mammoth Ice Rink, which is scheduled to close for the season next Sunday (another victim of the vagaries of winter).
First, I called the Town’s Recreation Manager Stu Brown, because I wanted to know what will happen with the property, owned by the Mammoth Unified School District and currently leased to the Town, going forward.
Brown merely said the Town and MUSD are “in negotiations.”
MUSD Superintendent Jennifer Wildman wasn’t nearly as circumspect. She said the Town’s lease expires on June 30 and that the Town is responsible for restoring the property to its original condition.
That means getting rid of the concrete slab and various structures, fencing, electricity.
This is not inexpensive.
Remember, Mammoth Resorts earned approximately $700,000 in development impact fee credits when it graded the property to install the rink in the first place.
Wildman said the District may be amenable to leaving certain improvements like the parking area behind the rink in place … with the condition that it could require the town to remove it later if the Diustrict determined the lot was not needed.