I came across this quote the other day from Tom McGuane: “Remember, when you back your horse into the box, there’s about 500 million people who don’t care whether you catch the steer or not. I always think of that when I’m writing.”
I’m gonna channel that today, because I attended a bunch of meetings this week with very little to show – proof that it always helps to send a younger writer in to perform such tasks because they might be conned into sharing the politicians’ belief that something meaningful is taking place.
On February 9, a Mammoth Planning and Economic Development Commission (PEDC) hearing to approve Obsidian’s Villas III subdivision at Callahan Way ended in a 2-2 deadlock (Commissioner Eckert did not participate due to conflict).
Staff was directed to go back to the drawing board, incorporate public comment and commissioners’ concerns, and present a revised plan at a future date – later scheduled for March 2.
On Tuesday of this week, a day before the hearing, the Town announced that the anticipated hearing would be pushed back to April 13.
Too late for folks to change their schedules – one attendee I spoke with in Suite Z had to get a special dispensation from work in order to make the 9 a.m. meeting.
Only one PEDC Commissioner attended the meeting in Suite Z: Jennifer Burrows. I think she’s winning me over. Among Mammoth Councilmembers, Kirk Stapp is the only one who regularly attends in person.
John Wentworth typically attends via hot air balloon. But I digress …
Though the hearing was postponed, PEDC did say it would take further public comment at the meeting.
One would expect that members of the public, inconvenienced by the late cancellation, would be able to kick off the meeting with their comments.
One would expect.
So it was with some disappointment that PEDC Chair Michael Vanderhurst announced that a hearing on a six-unit development project at 377 Manzanita would precede public comment on the Villas III project.
Vanderhurst said the developer at 377 Manzanita, Steve Selcer, had had the hearing on his project delayed multiple times, so it was only fair.
While my cynical, darker self may view Vanderhurst as a happy water carrier for people of means, I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt here and ascribe his insensitivity to the local workforce to, well, how about Zoom? Because man, these politicians have gotten awfully comfortable in that remote communication silos.
I had one local politico whom I exchanged a few texts with this week regarding the virtual meetings. It went like this.
Lunch: This is a non-democratic format. You people are scared of your constituents.
My argument is that you can’t have a format where the government and staff know who’s on the call, but the public doesn’t know.
Most government entities have disabled the chat rooms and the attendee lists for meetings.
I’m reminded of my first reportorial coup in Mammoth. I was working for Benett Kessler at Sierra Wave and she asked me to attend a Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting (back when they were held in the Community Center on Forest Trail).
So I was sitting there, innocuous, back of class. I’d never covered a local Council meeting before so I didn’t know the players and the players didn’t know me.
I was the only member of the public in the room, and was probably looking down and half-distracted in a book. My presence didn’t register.
Anyway, Mammoth’s then-CEO Rusty Gregory and Intrawest’s Benno Nager enter the room. And Mayor Rick Wood, jokingly, off-handedly, says,. “This is our opportunity to hold a public meeting in private.”
Which I took to mean, hey, we can potentially discuss a lot of stuff in this meeting and literally cut a back room deal in the living room because it’s the public’s fault for not being here.
Benett loved that story.
Whereas on these Zoom calls, the politicians can look at who’s on the call and potentially tailor their message to whomever happens to be listening.
And if they see they might encounter some hostility, they’ve got three-minute time limits and a mute button.
It’s a lot harder to say no to someone when they’re standing right in front of you. Back to my text exchange.
Politico: Actually, it’s the public’s right to speak. There’s nothing about attendance in ‘rights.’
Lunch: At a public meeting, it is the public’s right to know who’s there. Thanks Vlad … That’s what happens when outsiders get comfy on the inside. They like the furniture.
While some boards like the Inyo County Supervisors are back to in-person meetings and most boards will return to in-seat meetings by April, you wonder how quickly they’ll all be scurrying to figure out how to climb back online
As for Vanderhurst … it would be nice if he had a bit more empathy for folks who, you know, have to actually be physically present at work. And for folks who make the effort to come to Suite Z and attend the meeting in person.
These are the same folks who pay the taxes which in part helped fund a job for Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s international marketing rep during a pandemic when international marketing was pointless.
And during public comment, many said that meetings at 9 a.m. are absurd, and that for meetings which may elicit a lot of public interest, evening start times would be far preferable.
But then, Vanderhurst would have to actually go to his day job and then conduct an evening hearing. After two years off, he might not have the stamina for that.
From the Bishop City Council meeting on Monday, per Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tawni Thomson: Bishop’s hotel occupancy for January, 2022 was at record monthly high of 61%. February, 2022 was tracking at about 65%, very close to pre-pandemic levels.
By the way, the City of Bishop found itself $325,000 over mid-year budget, thanks mostly to sales tax revenue being $400,000 ahead of projection.
Mammoth had already bested its budgeted TOT [Transient Occupancy Tax] revenue number of $14.5 million by the end of January so the rest of the year is gravy. MLT (Mammoth Lakes Tourism] is shattering revenue records right and left.
What’s funny is that Council met later on Wednesday evening and one of the items, introduced by Finance Director Rob Patterson, involved the Town’s pension funding and liability.
In short, Patterson was gently reminding Council that it doesn’t have to just fund the pension at the required state level, but could put itself in even better financial position by contributing more.
But what politician will choose fiscal prudence when there’s money to be spent on MLTPA? Seems like a non-starter.
My favorite part of Wednesdays MLT meeting was when they were talking about dog feces littered about town and MLT Executive Director John Urdi gave what would be popularly referred to as a “givers and takers” speech.
Yes, there are givers who care about the envirnment and clean up after their dogs, and then there are takers who leave shit everywhere.
It took everything I had not to raise my Zoom hand and suggest we resurrect the “Don’t Be A Bleephole” campaign.
To Urdi’s credit, he’s definitely in the ‘let’s get back to meeting in person’ camp, because he believes there are certain planning discussions which are held far more efficiently in person.
Quite honestly, if I’m Urdi, I want the meetings held in public so I can receive all the pats on the back in person.
My favorite part of Wednesday’s Council meeting came during the review of Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce activities – and no, I’m not saying this because Ken Brengle is a dynamic speaker.
Councilmember Sarah Rea made the observation that the Chamber’s filled four [rental housing] units since June, 2021. Largely because there’s no inventory. So, what is your housing coordinator actually going to do? she asked.
Brengle gamely tried to answer, but he had nothing,
The true answer would’ve been, I need to keep the housing coordinator to ensure that it’s one more person to manage and one more thing to point to so as to justify my relevancy.
How long does Brianna Goico have to wait for him to retire? Hope we don’t lose her because she gets sick of waiting.