Unanimous vote by Town Council for ‘Mammoth Lakes Recreation,’ despite concerns of Forest Service

The Mammoth Lakes Town Council this past week authorized the formation of “Mammoth Lakes Recreation,” a non-governmental organization that would oversee nearly all aspects of recreation in the town.

The formation of the new NGO, which Mayor Rick Wood called the most important piece of legislation in Mammoth since the founding of Mammoth Lakes Tourism in 2010, is scheduled to lift off on June 1.

Until then, a “transition formation board,” working alongside Town Attorney Andrew Morris and Town Manager Dan Holler, will act on a draft of tasks, including the assembly of a board of directors, development of bylaws, legal filings required by the State of California and the hiring of an executive director.

The council passed the legislation unanimously, over the objections of several residents who spoke during the public hearing on the matter, and over the concerns of the U.S. Forest Service, which last summer finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to form a partnership under the umbrella of the Mammoth Lakes Trail System."

Speaking on behalf of the Forest Service was Jon Kazmierski, the recreation manager of the Mammoth ranger district.

"It's very shocking to see to the Town of Mammoth Lakes, considering what some members of the public have characterized as abrupt changes to the managment structure of the MLTS, and the Forest Service wasn't really involved in discussions of the implications of these changes before moving forward with the agenda bill tonight," Kazmierski said.

"We understand there will be a transition phase of MLR," Kazmierski said, "but it's difficult for us to understand exactly what we may be getting into if you take this route."

Others, such as Recreation Commissioner Pat Agnitch, and Julianna Olinka of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation, said the formation of such an NGO needed more time to vet some of its more vague aspects.

The overall task of MLR is big-picture oriented in such areas as managing funds aimed at creating things that residents here have identified as important aspects of Mammoth’s recreational future: an indoor recreation/performing arts center, a permanent outdoor events venue and a replacement for the aging Whitmore Pool.

The new entity also would provide a cohesive vision for the expenditure of Measure R and Measure U tax revenue.

In addition, it would identify and solidify relationships with recreation partners such as the Inyo National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the National Park Service.

The town, meanwhile, would retain control over so-called “municipal recreation,” such as maintenance of the town’s parks and its recreation programming, such as summer sports camps, the municipal ice rink, and so on.

The five-member council, which met in regular session on Wednesday evening, Feb. 19, thus steered the town into the formation of its fourth NGO, which will join Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Mammoth Lakes Housing, and the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority as outsourcing entities in key municipal areas.

“I believe that this is the final leg of a four-legged table,” Wood said before the meeting. “It fundamentally changes the role of government. It allows the town to deliver and manage its core services—public works, public safety, community development and finance, and municipal recreation.”

In also relieves the council of micro-managing recreation, as well as transit, housing and tourism, he said.

“I see this (MLR) as the final piece, It’s terribly exciting. We’ll function differently. It changes the role and function of the council in these matters.”

The legislation in front of the council in its Wednesday meeting froze all recreation planning, along with processes having to do with Measure R and Measure U tax funding, until the new NGO is in place.

Organizations and projects that already have been approved for Measure R and Measure U funding would be protected in the meantime.

Both Town Manager Dan Holler and Recreation Manager Stuart Brown, who wrote the final legislation following 10 months of discussions by an MLR Steering Committee, were measured in their exact language describing the bill.

“While not everyone involved is fully convinced that MLR is the right step or is ready to move forward,” they wrote, “there is strong consensus that the MLR concept can bring a renewed focus and begin to complement the plans and strategies that will enhance our recreation brand and experiences.”

Before MLR can begin operations, however, the council had to consider several factors, including putting its stamp of approval on spending $7,000 in Measure R tax money for start-up fees, and agreeing to fund MLR with tax funds until such time as it can be self-sustaining, estimated at between three and five years.

In addition, the council had to approve the formation of a committee to search for an executive director of MLR, as well as find people to occupy seats on its board of directors.

It also would move forward in creating a vision/mission statement, developing bylaws, approving an organizational structure, nail down the relationships with existing recreation entities and agreeing on the June 1 timeline.

In the legislation before the board on Wednesday evening, both Holler and Brown recommended that the organization follow the organizational structure of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, the NGO headed by John Urdi and its board of directors.

All four NGOs are accountable to the Town Council.

In forming MLR, the council put its approval on a process that began last October. The Strategic Marketing Group, headquartered in North Lake Tahoe, facilitated the process.

Under the proposal before the council on Wednesday, the new “transition formation committee” would set up the structure.

The members of that group are Wood and Council Member Jo Bacon, along with Teri Stehlik and Betsey Truax of the Recreation Commission; Colin Fernie of the Planning Commission; Urdi; John Armstrong of Eastside Velo; and Danna Stroud of the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association.