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It is rare for a group of candidates to elicit a Kumbaya moment, but at least some of the candidates at Monday’s Mono County Supervisor Forum might have done it—at least a little bit.
District 3’s Tim Alpers might have said it best:
“Back in the 70s, it (the county and Town) was like cowboys and aliens,” he said, to much audience laughter.
“But when the January 1997 Walker Flood hit, immediately, the town of Mammoth Lakes mobilized and within hours, there were loaders and graders and all kinds of stuff moving up the highway to Walker. And you know, if Mammoth had a major catastrophe, North County would be there for Mammoth.
“We have more in common than we have differences.”
“We are all in this bucket together,” said District 4 candidate Tim Fesko. “These are very exciting times. I was an advocate of the starburst pattern (a redistricting option that would have given all five supervisor districts a portion of Mammoth) and when I spoke to Napa supervisors who had done this, they said was a good thing (although also) a challenge, yes.”
At the heart of the shift, the candidates said, is necessity—necessity born of the economic challenges facing both governments, especially Mammoth.
But within that necessity, they said, is a possibility of a true transformation for both the Town and the county, a way of doing business where both can thrive.
It is no longer possible for either the Town or the county to “go it alone,” they said.
Redistricting has now given four of five supervisors a chunk of Mammoth residents in their districts (it was three of five prior to 2011).
State budget cuts to the county and far more drastic ones to the town (to pay for the $43 million MLLA judgment) mean the old paradigm of competition and alienation between the county and town is no longer possible.
The seven candidates include Fred Stump and Hap Hazard in District 2; Tim Alpers and Vikki Bauer in District 3; and Bob Peters, Tim Fesko and Jan Huggans in District 4. They met for two hours Monday evening in front of a packed room at the Mammoth Lakes Town Council Chambers.
Brent Truax, the president of the Mammoth Chamber of Commerce, moderated the forum.
One by one, the candidates tried their hands at wowing the audience, or at least catching its attention.
“I might get killed for this, but do we really need both a police chief and a sheriff” said Bauer, of Lee Vining. “and with marketing, do we really need to duplicate efforts?”
Maybe it’s time to talk about combining departments, she said—a call that Bridgeport’s Peters also was interested in pursuing.
Fred Stump, of Crowley Lake, said it might be time to get a more formal town and county liaison in place—someone or something that allows for constant communication between both entities.
But it wasn’t all talk about unity. Fesko delivered a challenge:
“I’ve heard a lot of complaints (while campaigning in Mammoth) from residents about why do we have to pay for the actions of the Town Council?” he said. “Well, unfortunately, you elected them, they lost sight of the ball so now, you need to move on.”
Here are a few responses to three questions asked at the forum:
Should the county subsidize yearlong air service at Mammoth-Yosemite Airport?
Peters: Yes, I’m not privy to the numbers being generated, but my job is to support economic subsides that will continue to promote growth. I would like to see it capped.
Fesko: “No. It just opens up a Pandora’s Box.”
Alpers: “A lot of people in the district come down and use this airport. How do you decide what is fair? How do you try to quantify it? At what point in the name of saving money do we damage our quality of life? But yes, we need to track the money. What is it doing to promote the transient occupancy tax (TOT)?”
Bauer: “We didn’t know when we started that it would be a moving target—that the request for subsidies would grow each year, like they have in the past two years.” Hazard: “The bottom line is I see Mammoth Mountain Ski Area with a bad contract with the airlines.”
Stump: “Mammoth is the economic engine that drives the county but I think the level of subsidy should be driven by the data. It’s also true that the road to the airport is a county road, so we already do contribute to the airport. That is a subsidy.”
On tourism spending at the county level—Is it adequate?
Fesko: “I’d like to see three percent of the TOT generated in each community go back of these communities. The people decide what they need and then there needs to be accountability.”
Bauer: “Mainly we need to not duplicate efforts, take both organizations, maybe combine the two.”
Stump: “I’m hearing a greater need for creativity and ingenuity, there is already plenty of experience at the town and county.”
Peters said he was instrumental in getting the 1 percent of TOT collected in the county on a previous ballot measure that funnels TOT toward marketing the county. “It has made our county work, including building us a killer website that has been really, really effective.” He said he was in favor of more investment in promoting tourism.
On the gold mine proposed for the Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area
Hazard. “I believe there is a compromise out there (that would preserve some of the Bodie Hills in a Wilderness Study Area protection level and allow for a gold mine in a section of the Bodie Hills). I said that (Cougar Gold, the mine proponent) were snake oil salesmen and I still believe that. I know this would be nice for the north end of the county but our future is in protecting our lands, and it’s very difficult to get them (Cougar Gold) to talk to us about how many jobs would be created.”
Stump: “The social issues were never addressed. The public safety issues were not.”
Bauer “I am interested in a (different designation like a) National Park stamp … or a state park partnership.” She said that these agencies get a lot of money and attention and the something like this might work for the Bodie Hills area.
Alpers: “I’ll get straight to the point. I do not support gold mining anywhere in this county.”
Huggans: “I’ve been in favor of dropping the WSA designation. It’s very hard to work with that designation, trying to improve roads, or look at any proposed development.”
Fesko: “The Town of Bridgeport is hurting, those people are hurting and they are looking at anything that might help them out. The big question is what kind of a mine is it going to be? We don’t know. The long and short of it is we know there is going to be a bust, there is always a bust, but what will happen after?”
Peters: “There are two bills, H. R. 1581 and S.B. 1087 (calling to release the Bodie Hills from WSA status). If they pass, we will have to see how the BLM will manage the place for everything. We want the Bodie Ghost Town protected with all the existing regulations.”
There were also questions about the paramedic program, the proper ratio of county versus town property tax apportionments, and many more, before the forum was done.
The election season is winding down in many ways. The vote by mail request deadline is May 29. The deadline to register to vote in May 21. Election day is June 5. For more information about voting in Mono County, go to: www. http://www.monocounty.ca.gov/departments/elections/elections.html