In the face of near-unanimous public opposition, Mammoth Lakes Town Council extended the moratorium on the issuance of nightly rental permits at its special meeting on Wednesday in Suite Z.
The moratorium will now be in effect until May 31, 2024.
Council has the option of extending the moratorium one more time after that for a period of one year.
Again, the scorecard was Wentworth, Bubser, Rea and Rice in favor of the extension and Bill Sauser opposed.
Members of the public who spoke Wednesday talked about the very real and immediate damage the moratorium has caused to property values and the local economy.
Realtor Cynthia Fleming said one local seller just took a $100,000 hit on a sale price as a result of the moratorium and the concomitant uncertainty surrounding it.
Five Star Lodging Owner Jason Herbst said the moratorium has had the residual effect of being an economic moratorium as well. Pointing to the discussion from the October 18 meeting where the moratorium was first enacted, Herbst said, “The [financial] harm is no longer hypothetical. It’s real.”
Please don’t artificially depress the economy in a place where there are enough depressive influences, added Diane Stilwell of property management company 101 Great Escapes.
Then there are those with heretofore valid permits who are now in a jam thanks to an overlooked technical issue.
Ah, the law of unintended consequences.
Not the finest moment for Town Staff, particularly Town Attorney Andrew Morris.
The issue, explained Town Finance Director Rob Patterson, is with the Town’s Municipal code, and its definitions of what an STR operator is.
The operator, he said, can either be the owner or a third party (management) company.
And this operator status is not transferable while a moratorium is in effect.
The upshot is that this locks owners into their respective management companies for the duration of the moratorium.
But there are a few owners, like Tracy Kryger, who are even more stuck. Her “operator” [management entity] has exited the business, so she is left without an operator or the ability to obtain one.
To fix this quirk in the town code would require about sixty days.
But that would mean shelving the “emergency” moratorium – Council doesn’t want to do that, fearing there will be a run on the Town offices of people seeking STR permits if they do.
*Keystone Cops stuff. Analogy: It’s like Council announced to the world that the bank is insolvent. They followed that up by wringing their hands and locking the bank doors, because they fear there’ll be a subsequent run on the bank. They seem to think if they keep the bank closed long enough, there won’t be a run on it. Reality is, they’ve guaranteed there’ll be a run on it.
So the solution in Council’s eyes, it appears, is to express “chagrin” at the unintended consequences (Bubser’s word) caused by the moratorium, and that “nobody intended for anything bad to happen.”
Which is probably what the Captain of the Titanic was telling passengers right after hitting the iceberg.
But Bubser announced, in defense of extending the moratorium, that “We’re doing something … we’ve taken this step and now we need to see it through.”
She told staff the whole shebang needs to wrap by February so some sort of policy can be enshrined into code by the May deadline.
Councilmember Rice told those in attendance that council not only represents them but everyone else in town – the suggestion of a silent majority in support of her position.
“Others in town aren’t fortunate enough to be able to be here,” she said.
Councilmember Rea echoed, “I took this job to help people not in the room tonight.”
In his dissent, Councilman Sauser said, “I have yet to hear an argument … where a moratorium would result in one less person living in their cars.”
As Teri Stehlik of Seasons Four said in public comment, “All of what you’re asking [in terms of policy discussion and implementation] can be done without a moratorium.”
Post-meeting, Broker/Realtor Matthew Lehman had this to say about the moratorium’s economic impact.
“I understand that Jeff Warwick had a deal or two fall out because of this moratorium and I understand Cynthia Fleming did as well. I’m sure there are more.
My experience thus far has been that the moratorium has discouraged people from making offers. And in one particular case it’s hurting a local that has decided to leave Mammoth – because he is now losing equity in his unit. This is a person who worked on the Mountain and had a second job.
My office originally listed a condominium at $545,000 which was comparable with the most recent sale on the listing date. We now have the condominium listed at $485,000. It’s not evident yet how much of this is because of the moratorium and how much is due to interest rates finally catching up with the market.
It’s my understanding that after I left the meeting last night, Amanda Rice decided that most of the letters and feedback from the public was my doing. I don’t think she really wants to take responsibility for the fact that this is just a bad ordinance.”
The Sheet then followed up with Jeff Warwick. He said he lost two sales as a result of the moratorium. A third sale was salvaged, but not before the sellers dropped down $52,000 on price and the agents agreed to forfeit a point on commissions.
What frustrates Warwick, who has been in local real estate for more than two decades, is that “They’re trying to manipulate something here that the market would take care of itself.”
A couple things I thought about in post-meeting reflection.
I think another unintended consequence of the moratorium extension will be to put the school district’s $70 million bond measure at risk in the March election.
Given Mammoth’s Council has effectively devalued a broad swath of property in town. I would posit that affected property owners will balk at punishing themselves further.
The bond measure, of course, contemplates raising money for teacher housing. The irony!
Prior to the moratorium agenda item, Council heard an update from Mammoth Resorts CEO Ron Cohen about the Main Lodge Redevelopment.
No draft proposal has been unveiled yet regarding housing mitigation.
The project is expected to generate 237 new employees.
The project does not include plans for on-site employee housing.
In terms of height and mass, portions of some proposed buildings could reach as high as eight stories.
A few things that drew my attention this week.
Saw a front page story in the Wall Street Journal titled “American Dream Has Turned Elusive, Voters Say.”
Only 36% of voters in a new WSJ survey said the American dream still holds true, down from 53% in 2012 and 48% in 2016.
The most troubling: “The Amrican dream seemed most remote to young adults and women in the survey.
Only 28% of women said the ideal of advancement for hard work still holds true, as did 48% of voters age 65 or older but only about 28% of those under 50.”
I wandered over to Gillespie Distributing in Bishop this week to chase a rumor. I’d heard that Gillespie had gotten stiffed by the Bishop Rite Aid, which recently closed as part of Rite Aid’s long, painful journey into bankruptcy and oblivion.
Turns out that all’s square – but there were a few bounced checks along the way to rattle the nerves.
So here’s a peeve.
I receive a postcard, a nice laminated postcard on thick card stock, from Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT).
I receive it at both my Mammoth post office box and Bishop home address.
The card advertised flight discounts for upcoming winter air service.
I thought to myself, “Damn, that’s gotta be pretty expensive to send a card like that.” I soon learn from MLT Executive Director John Urdi that the one-off postcard cost $5,000 to produce and distribute.
Via text, I tell him this seems pretty damn inefficient.
For the price, he could’ve run a half page color advertisement in this paper for 12 weeks. And not only would he get the 5,000 in physical distribution from Lone Pine to Lee Vining, but he’d get the 400 on the susbscriber mailing list and the 3,000 hits a week from online readers.
What’s interesting to me is this: MLT pretty much constantly pounds the table about data and metrics and user “impressions.”
And yet in this case, I’m told they preferred reaching people via post as opposed to newspaper, because with The Sheet, “It would get visitors trying to access these discounts and likely cause issues … direct mail to the people we want to reach is a rifle approach versus a shotgun.”
And in that very moment, I realized why we have a 15-year record of utter futility in building a commercial air service program.
Because we are too worried about which butt is in the seat, versus a philosophy of any old butt.
I think MLT has to come clean and give the taxpayers some sort of understanding of the sliding scale of airline seat subsidy.
In other words, how much does a discounted seat cost the taxpayer?
How much does an empty seat cost?
Does the airline give a damn whether a seat is filled or not, subsidized or not, as long as it gets paid?
Is MLT working for us, or them?
I have never been turned down for business before because there was a risk I might generate too much of the “wrong” business.
As if to rub my nose in it, the next week, MLT sent out a second postcard which promoted a QR code for a community survey.
Because for sure they want to downplay a survey. The goal: Low response, which would magnify the impact of surveys filled out by MLT staff and boosters.
It’s all a racket.