When the news that Mammoth had lost its bid to the state Supreme Court to review the airport lawsuit finally came down Wednesday afternoon, it was as expected as it was deeply disappointing.
The court typically only hears about five percent of the cases that reach its doors. But Mammoth had hoped to buck that percentage, arguing that the outcome of the case would negatively affect the ability of cities and counties across the state to do business with developers.
But the Court didn’t see it that way.
(The Supreme Court only hears cases on appeal, and those that it believes have statewide implications).
The decision leaves the Town the onerous problem of how to come up with some $30 million, the amount of damages awarded to private-side airport developer Terry Ballas by a Bridgeport jury several years ago.
“It’s sad, it’s just deeply sad,” said Mayor Skip Harvey. “Even though we expected it, given the percentage of cases they take, it’s still very disappointing.”
The fact that all of California’s 58 counties and all of its cities agree with the Town’s basic legal argument made him question even the justice system itself.
“An attorney friend of mine from Southern California said, “They aren’t just interpreting the law, they are changing the law to something totally different than it was before,” he said.
The Town has argued all along that actions and communications taken by Town staff regarding the development agreement with Ballas were not binding, unless the Town council approved those actions.
The courts, one a jury trial in Bridgeport, then two rounds through the district appellate court, and then the state Supreme Court, have said, no, the Town broke a binding agreement with Ballas when it did not allow him to develop the airport according to the development agreement conditions.
The denial of the Town’s petition to the state’s highest court effectively ends all possible legal options for the Town.
What’s left now is how best to actually settle the case, in a manner than least impacts the town and its residents and visitors.
“We’ve been looking at our options all along,” said interim Town manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez. ”We’re The next step is to convene a group of people to act as negotiators between the Town and Ballas’ Mammoth Land Acquisition corporation.
She said she was not at liberty to go into detail about who the negotiators will be but did say the group will include an “outside perspective” and “expertise in the area.”
“Once we have completed an evaluation of what we have and what we can afford to pay, then we go to their side and see what they think of our offer,” she said.
There are two main issues to consider, she said.
One is time. In other words, how long will the Town have to meet its obligation to Ballas?
If the money is paid out slowly, it will not be as hard on the Town as if it must be paid out quickly. If the negotiated settlement leaves the Town paying it out quickly, those years could prove more challenging.
The other is cost. How much will Ballas and the Town finally agree is both affordable to the Town and satisfies Ballas. Interest rates are another factor, too.
“It’s like your household budget,” she said. “It’s a matter of what you can afford and how much time you have to pay for it.”
She said that no matter what, the Town is not going to stop providing those services considered.
“There are legal protections for municipalities that protect necessary services,” she said.