'Mammoth Lakes Recreation' on track


After seven months of planning, the citizens’ group in charge of creating a non-governmental organization to manage Mammoth’s recreation assets will hand its final report to the Town Council on Feb. 19.


If the council votes to accept the report, it will effectively authorize a fourth non-governmental organization (NGO) in the form of Mammoth Lakes Recreation, to shoulder responsibilities associated with recreation in almost all its local facets. 


“Most of these [recreation] ideas, you’ve kicked around for ages,” said Carl Ribaudo, a Lake Tahoe-based consultant whose firm, the Strategic Marketing Group, facilitated the long process. 


Speaking at a Mammoth Lakes Recreation Steering Committee meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, Ribaudo added, “What you guys are doing now is making it tangible.”


The council itself, and the audience at the 6 p.m. regular council meeting, might have something to say about that, though, as Mayor Rick Wood acknowledged Monday before the committee moved the proposal along.


“I shudder to think about explaining this to someone who has not been in on it for the past seven months,” he said, only half-joking.


Wood, who made the creation of Mammoth Lakes Recreation (MLR) a top priority on his personal political agenda this year, said with the proposal moving forward, the Town Council is now in a position to make it a reality, beginning July 1.


“This isn’t the end of the process,” Wood said Monday, “but it’s the end of this phase.”


As currently designed, MLR would be structured somewhat along the lines of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, another NGO that handles tourism marketing for the town.


It also would join the Eastern Sierra Transportation Authority (ESTA) and Mammoth Lakes Housing, active NGOs currently working alongside the town government to provide services.


As proposed by the nine-member committee, MLR would begin with an annual budget of $1.7 million, split between Measure R and Measure U tax funding. Michael Ward, an associate in the Strategic Marketing Group, estimated the “recovery process” would be two to three years.


MLR’s tasks, according to the committee’s report, would be to oversee all or parts of recreation projects involving capital facilities, such as finding long-range funding for such things as a permanent outdoor performance venue and an indoor recreational facility; trails management, and performing arts.


It also would have its hand in forming public/private partnerships, education outreach, product development, and give support to municipal recreation programs that currently are managed by the town’s Recreation Department.


It also would define more clearly how Measure R and Measure U funds should be brought to bear, historically a volatile subject both at the town government level as well at the Recreation Commission, which has managed those funds until now.


The underlying idea, Wood said at a meeting last month between town representatives and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area executives, is to move management of the town’s recreation assets apart from the traditional political process, much as the town has off-loaded tourism, transit and housing from ever-changing political vicissitudes.


“There are many good reasons for this,” Wood said. “I’m more excited about this than any piece of legislation in some years. This is a great opportunity for the town, and a good opportunity as well for the mountain, to collaborate with a non-governmental agency on the variety of recreational things that are going on. 


“There are a lot of details in it, but I feel very positive about the direction the committee is going, and the buy-in, now, of those who were very much against it in the beginning.


“This is going to be a good thing for the community. It will keep [recreation] away from the politicians. It will let us make policy and make overarching goals, and then let an entity go out and do what it needs to do to deliver stuff to the community.”


The buy-in, even among the committee members, was not a slam-dunk though, even as late as Monday afternoon.


“A lot of these concepts are very fuzzy,” Mammoth Mountain vice-president Ron Cohen said during the meeting.


Cohen’s comments were echoed around the room, but they were not enough to stop the process so much as to generate discussion in a more granular way.


In response, both Ribaudo and Ward said they will tweak the proposal, adding more specific language that may help in a fuller understanding of MLR’s missions and goals.


With a re-write on the way, the final approval of the document by the steering committee would be the only agenda item for a meeting on Feb. 10.