John Wentworth is a seasoned public servant for the town of Mammoth Lakes. He is one of 6 candidates running for one of Mammoth Town Council’s 3 open positions in November, along with Betsy Truax, Cleland Hoff, Amanda Rice, Chris Bubser, and Seth Guthrie. He is the only incumbent councilmember running.
Wentworth came to California in 1983 to attend the American Film Institute. He then worked in Hollywood for 17 years, during which time he was the co-producer of the movies Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Blue Velvet, in addition to working as David Lynch’s production assistant for the Twin Peaks television series.
“David is the funniest person you’ll ever meet- a true artist,” said Wentworth.
Wentworth grew up in Washington, D.C. and says he’s a “refugee of the east coast.” Surrounded by politics his entire upbringing, he took a hard left into the art world. “I grew up in politics. I grew up around policy. Both my father and my stepfather were journalists and my mother worked in the White House for a brief stint in the Reagan administration. So I was marinated in that culture. And then I took a much needed detour through the things that really matter in life: arts and culture,” said Wentworth.
By 2000, Wentworth decided that he wanted a change from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Since he’d been skiing since he was four years old and frequented Mammoth Mountain often, he decided to move to Mammoth on July 4, 2000.
He became involved in Mammoth politics in 2006. “For me, the inciting incident had to do with public access to the Sherwins in 2006; it happened when the town decided that it was a good idea to build a private gate on a public road to try to manage backcountry skiing access to the Sherwins. The neighborhood out there didn’t like visitors traversing through that area, so they decided to go ahead and just put a private gate on a public road.”
Wentworth fought for the public’s right to access the Sherwins through the road and won.
The situation kicked off Wentworth’s founding of MLTPA, or the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation.
Wentworth worked to build MLTPA from 2006 until 2014. During that time, Mammoth completed planning for the entire Sherwins area and got a new trail system master plan completed for the town. MLTPA also led the campaign to create and pass Measure R and Measure U, two special tax measures devoted to recreation, mobility and arts and culture in Mammoth. Since these tax measures were established, tens of millions of dollars have flowed into Mammoth, helping to create the Mammoth Lakes Trail System and Office of Outdoor Recreation.
In 2014, Wentworth decided to make his first run for Town Council and won. He was reelected in 2018.
Wentworth says that he hopes to maintain and enhance the momentum of the work he’s done over the last eight years. “The first priority, obviously, is housing. But it’s very important to know that we have a unique and very aggressive community housing program already underway. This is what we’ve been working on for at least the last four years. And I’ve been a member of the council that has put this program in place,” he said.
Wentworth also highlighted the importance of him being re-elected as the only council member who votes on community housing: “When the council votes on these issues, there are only three of us voting on them. Because Bill Sauser and Sarah Rea have conflicts of interest. So it’s just me and Lynda Salcido and Kirk Stapp. And Kirk isn’t running again, and Lynda is leaving to become a Mono County Supervisor. I’m the only one running again. The need for my continuity in leadership cannot be overlooked. Frankly, it would be kind of irresponsible of me at this point to say, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna walk away from this’. These are complicated programs. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars. The Parcel is about $80 million, with the public money and grants coming from the town that we are investing in. It’s the real deal. And I’ve been on this since the beginning. I think it’s critically important that someone with my experience gets back on that council to maintain the continuity to keep this program moving forward.”
On the topic of hiring the next Town Manager, Wentworth said that it needs to be “somebody with multidisciplinary experience; 75% of the land within our municipal boundary is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. We need somebody who understands the federal side of this- who understands the Forest Service, and who truly understands how federal agencies work. We’re also going to need somebody who has an understanding and awareness of how to work regionally. The state of California is investing billions of dollars into rural parts of the state, so we need to have a Town Manager who knows how to work with other jurisdictions and counties in our region, to help acquire this money that could benefit our community. This Town Manager also needs to know about real estate development. They need to know about resort development. And they need to know about rural communities, and the needs of workforces and communities in rural areas that are dealing with the challenges of growth as a destination resort.”
Wentworth went on to say that he has no specific names in mind of who this person should be, but that he sees no problem with looking outside of the Mammoth community during the hiring process. “We need to recruit nationally, even internationally, to bring to review and to interview a wide range of candidates, given the unique and compelling opportunities that are now here in Mammoth Lakes. Who knows, we may hire from within, we may hire from a neighboring county too. It could be somebody Wentfrom anywhere. But we are in a position to absolutely triple down on the value and the future of this community. This is our time, this is our moment. And we have to step up to it.”
When asked about the Community Recreation Center (CRC) currently being built, Wentworth says that the project is justified, despite its hefty price tag of around $15 million. “When you look at it right now, it looks like a mess. But that’s not how it’s going to stay. I’ve supported the CRC all the way through; we first looked into just putting a roof on the existing ice rink, but after looking at the numbers in cost for doing so, it wasn’t that cheap. The town also doesn’t even own the land that that rink was on. To be responsible with taxpayer money, why would we spend millions of dollars to build a piece of infrastructure on land that we don’t own? So we decided, we’re going to move this ice rink to Mammoth Creek Park West. Then we decided that it made sense to raise the bar by making it a year-round facility; we have camps all summer long with thousands of kids. We chose to make a sprung structure because it was cheaper and still served the municipal purpose of the building. We also couldn’t foresee Covid-19 and its supply chain/construction nightmares all over the world. At the end of the day, in 2023, we’re going to open up that facility. And if we had said, ‘we’re going to spend $20 million and we’re going to do sticks and bricks’, it would have cost twice as much.”
Wentworth concluded the interview by saying, “The thing to keep in mind is that the amount of money that flows through the town on an annual basis is a significant number. We’re talking about $85 million a year that flows through the budget of a town of 8,000 people. Who are the three people, of the six candidates running, who have the experience, the background and the judgment to lead an organization with approximately an $85 million worth of money flowing through it? There are 3 spots. 6 candidates. Really think about it. Who are the three people that we as a community want to see working with Bill and Sarah for the next two years? That is the question.”