A SLOG IN THE FOG
Mammoth Lakes Town Council continued its laborious slog towards a renewal of the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) at its meeting Wednesday.
It held a required hearing on the matter, and then voted to approve the introduction of an ordinance to renew the TBID for a period of five years.
Mammoth Lakes Tourism had been seeking a ten-year renewal.
The details of the renewal remain in flux. As well as the terms of the MLT contract with the Town for next year.
The sticking point is not renewal – all parties recognize the importance of marketing to a resort town’s very existence.
The question is, ‘How much to spend on it.’
The usual suspects (Longtime MLT board member John Morris, MMSA President Ron Cohen and MMSA Senior Vice-President and MLT board member Eric Clark) argued for the status quo. Which is TBID revenue (generally consisting of 1% lodging tax, and 1.5% tax on restaurants and retail) plus $2 million from Measure A (which dedicates approximately 1/5th of Transient Occupancy tax revenue to marketing, housing and transit).
This equates to more than $9 million a year.
Former Councilmembers Matthew Lehman and Michael Raimondo and former Planning Commissioner Dawn Vereuck believe MLT should live on TBID alone and that the $2 million from Measure A should be redirected to housing.
A new voice entering the fray on Wednesday was John Farber, who owns Giovanni’s Restaurant and The Stove with his wife Victoria.
They, along with Stu Need of Lakanuki, Ed Hurley of Burgers, Joanie Schaller of Roberto’s, Patty and Jessica Manning of the Mammoth Tavern and Tom Cage of Kittredge Sports, co-signed a letter (read into the record by Farber) which advocated for Measure A money to be pulled from MLT and redirected to other community needs.
The letter (reprinted in this issue on page four) equated the Town’s zealous marketing budget to “smashing ants with a sledgehammer.”
The challenges right now are staffing and workforce housing and community services, said Farber. Who added that we’re at a new crossroads where we need to focus on improving the lives of those who live and work here.
Councilmember Chris Bubser noted that the letter submitted to Council for Wednesday’s agenda item ran 28-5 in favor of pulling Measure A funds from MLT.
This is how Council weighed in.
Rea wants to pull A funds from MLT for at least one year.
Rice said she’s seeking a “sweet spot” because the Town’s spending priorities have been imbalanced for too long and the average resident’s quality-of-life has declined.
Sauser, an MLT board member, supports the status quo.
Mayor Wentworth channeled King Solomon and suggested the $2 million from A to MLT be reduced to $1 million.
Bubser suggested people might feel better about the whole thing if they could understand how the $2 million in A dollars were spent by MLT.
During public comment, MLT Board Chair Jeremy Goico definitely won the award for most creative logic.
Goico said spending $2 million from Measure A on MLT “is an investment in workforce housing.”
The implication being marketing will drive business and raise revenue which can be spent on housing.
*Hmm. But you could just spend the $2 million on workforce housing – that would also be an investment.
The petulance award should go to MMSA President Ron Cohen … During the TBID renewal process, Cohen signaled that MMSA would be willing to pay an extra 0.5% on ticket sales (not season pass sales) to be dedicated to infrastructure improvements if the TBID was renewed for ten years.
When he saw how the conversation was going, Cohen said maybe this extra half-point should go away.
On Wednesday, Cohen said, “I’m not trying to take a hard position and leverage people … It’s not off-the-table yet.”
But if Council reduces its Measure A allocation to MLT, Cohen implied the half-point won’t be added to the stew.
Meanwhile … the happiest people in the room were undoubtedly the public employees.
As long as folks are fixated upon whether MLT should spend $7 million versus $9 million on marketing, they’re not focused upon the Town’s skyrocketing labor costs.
The Town has seen a 36% increase in salaries and benefits from FY 2020-2021 to what it’s budgeted for FY 2023-2024.
In real terms, they cost approximately $4 million more while the powers-that-be are arguing over $2 million.
The MLPD’s projected budget for next year is $5.8 million.
I have personally questioned the heft of MLT’s budget for so, so long, and yet, this whole argument feels somewhat dated now. Consider:
Because MLT’s budget has been reduced by about $1 million within the past four years while inflation has surged, these twin factors have served to right-size the marketing budget to some extent.
MLT is sitting on some reserves, so I think the organization would be fine this year if it went without Measure A. Or had its A allotment reduced by another $1 million.
When asked what would be the impact of, say, a $1 million trim to his budget, MLT Executive Director John Urdi said Thursday, “We would work within that amount and do what we can to keep the town productive.”
My feeling is that MMSA’s grand gesture (the extra half-point on ticket sales) should go towards air subsidy, which overwhelmingly benefits the ski resort.
I don’t think MLT should be in the infrastructure improvement business. That’s the Town’s job.
A one-year moratorium on A for marketing might make sense because I think the Town’s winter repair bill is gonna come in way higher than it expects.
The plan should be to restore the $2 million in 2024-2025.
I would not automatically allocate the A money to housing – unless that was tied to an initiative to move the bulk of parking for the remaining phases of the Parcel off-site.
Perhaps I suffer from recency bias, but I just finished Henry Grabar’s “Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World” and am a convert in the sense that in-fill development in a four-square mile town should not be wasted on residential parking.
Additional units/green space/more appealing architectural design/less dense, less tall buildings/greater investment in transit should be prioritized.
The first phase of the Parcel includes approximately 70 understructure parking spaces. The developer, the Pacific Companies, told The Sheet these spots cost $50,000 per.
The Phase II parking plan calls for 219 parking spaces for 148 units.