New issues emerge at Council candidate forum

With just one week until Election Day, the eight candidates for Town Council threw a little more gas on the fire this past week, introducing new campaign issues at a candidates forum at the Forest Service Auditorium.


Working under new rules and moderated by local businessman Tom Cage, the candidates on Tuesday, May 27, offered a variety of new ideas at the forum, which was hosted by the Mammoth Forward civic action group, the Mammoth Young Professionals Group and the Mammoth Leadership Forum, another home-grown civic action group.


Among the topics that emerged from the rat-a-tat format were:


The introduction of a town-wide ban on plastic bags (unanimous support).


Helping solve the conundrum on involving the town’s sizeable Hispanic community in civic affairs, which drew considerable discussion, with no solutions offered.


Changing the town government to a “strong-mayor” system, led by an elected Mayor, which divided the candidates into split opinions.


Purchasing Sam’s Woodsite as a permanent outdoor events venue 

(another split).


Tweaking the town’s Development Impact Fee structure (varying opinions, all centered around “yes”).


Solving the upcoming issues associated with a new solid waste facility (the Industrial Park location earned a collective thumbs-down)


Re-visiting the 2007 General Plan, which was last updated in 2009, to make it more in line with current economic and environmental conditions, such as the impact of global climate change.


Selling some of the town’s real estate assets, such as the Bell Shaped Parcel or the Community Center Park to help pay down debts incurred by the town’s legal settlement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition.


On the side, topics such as the impacts of the proposed ORMAT expansion came up, as did creating an outdoors event venue on the site currently occupied by the Mammoth RV Park on S.R. 203, across the road from the Forest Service/Mammoth Lakes Tourism Welcome Center.


Old chestnut issues, such as airline subsidies, Measure R distribution policy, development incentives, single-family home rentals and increased police staffing, along with increased cooperative efforts among the county, Forest Service, and the amorphous “accountability” topic, received fair play.


Also garnering considerable attention was the more topical issue of why some of the Lakes Basin was gated during last weekend’s unusual, snow-free Memorial Day Weekend, which drew across-the-board criticism from the candidates, as well as members of the audience.


Attendance was about as big as the organizers expected, with audience members who filled the 164-seat auditorium to about three-quarters full.A video of the forum will loop on Channel 12 until election day.


All of the candidates attended, giving some of the audience members their first looks at candidates Shields Richardson, a small business owner and heavyweight real estate broker, and 30-year-old Colin Fernie, the youngest candidate with experience in business as well as work with the town’s Planning and Economic Commission and Mammoth Lakes Recreation.


Both attended the first of three candidate forums on April 15, but then interrupted their campaigns with vacations and absences that were locked in well before the campaign began.


Completing the bill were the other six candidates, Elena Blomgren, Karen Sibert, Ken Murray, Deb Pierrel, Cleland Hoff, and John Wentworth.


The two-hour forum, which was interrupted by a five-minute break, moved quickly and on time under the experienced direction of Cage, a veteran at moderating political events.


The forum also introduced an imaginative format.


It opened with rapid yes-and-no questions from Cage, who introduced a fair amount of humor to the opening. Dress code for council members? Roundabout at Meridian and Minaret? 


The second section of the forum, which restricted the candidates’ answers to a time limit but which allowed for rebuttals from other candidates, invited audience members to ask questions or to submit questions anonymously.


After the break, the candidates fielded more questions from the audience, some written, and then turned to the most imaginative part of the evening—when candidates could challenge other candidates on their positions.


That end of the format seemed to catch all of the candidates by surprise, and drew no questions at all from Hoff, Sibert, Blomgren or Murray.


Nothing overly divisive came out of those exchanges, although it gave the candidates a chance to show their cards in a confrontational opportunity.


Near the end, an audience member challenged the candidates to name the very first action item they would take as new Town Council candidates. That question also seemed to hit the candidates by the flank.


Hoff: Ban the plastic bags


Wentworth: Set top council priorities for the coming year.


Blomgren: Set in motion policies for more middle-class housing through Mammoth Lakes Housing.


Fernie: Establish a “first hundred days” agenda that would address density codes for new development, and ditch temporary tent-sale signs. (Cage, at this point, jumped in, reminding the candidates to ditch their own political signs after the June 3 election).


Sibert: Clean up blight in the town and set economic policy.


Pierrel: Change the format of the Town Council meetings to a more Town Hall-like configuration.


Richardson: Establish a cross-agency “team” to create a shared vision, with participation from the county, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and so on.


Audience members said afterward they were happy with the event, and even Cage, from the podium, congratulated the candidates for their performances, which, he said, were much better than their first time out of the gate, in mid-April at a Chamber of Commerce forum in Suite Z at the town offices.


The last candidate forum for Mono County supervisor candidates was scheduled for Wednesday evening, at Rafters.


This weekend, the candidates announced through social media and advertisements their own events, such as cookouts, meet-and-greets and other planned mini-events.


Next Monday will be the last, frantic day of campaigning; Tuesday is the election itself and on Wednesday, the weather-worn signs will come down, and Mammoth’s great political noisemaking should recede to something the citizens have not heard in quite a while.


That would be the sound of silence.