Council looks at Mammoth’s recreation future

$50K consultant’s study on table

At long last, the crux of one of Mammoth’s more vexing questions is in sight.

The Town Council at its latest meeting took up the four-year-old idea of creating a Mammoth Lakes Recreation entity, similar in structure to Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Mammoth Lakes Housing, and Eastern Sierra Transit—a non-governmental organization (NGO) that administers tourism-related spending on behalf of the town.

“It’s time to decide if this is a ‘go’ or a ‘no-go,’” said Stuart Brown, the town’s recreation director. “The Recreation Department is eager to participate in a public discussion with all local recreation user groups on how the town can effectively and efficiently enhance recreation in Mammoth Lakes.

“The town is supportive of a process that is about the community, is for the community, and has the best interest of the recreation community in mind.”

Or, to put in the direct words of the agenda bill before the council,

“Is there a need for Mammoth Lakes Recreation?”

To answer these questions, the council on Wednesday, June 19, received an agenda bill that would take $50,000 in Measure R money and funnel it to a consultant, the Strategic Marketing Group, “to facilitate the discussion.”

The North Lake Tahoe consultants, last used by the town in the creation of its RECSTRATS initiative in 2009-2010, would study the question and come back with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdict.

If it’s thumbs-down, Mammoth Lakes Recreation, or MLR, could die a quick death. If it’s thumbs-up, there will be additional work in setting up the NGO-like entity, then funding it. On the other hand, the consulting group might recommend something in-between.

Council member Rick Wood, who took over as Mammoth’s mayor as of Wednesday, was strident in supporting the creation of MLR, and in an interview before the meeting, he minced no words.

“I have a fairly aggressive legislative agenda, and it starts with MLR,” Wood said.

“We have successfully outsourced transit, tourism, and housing and it’s now time to outsource recreation for [a few] reasons. One is that I think municipal recreation is what towns should do, just as they should fill potholes, but that we should outsource that to an entity that can do it less expensively.

“Secondly, MLR would figure out how to properly spend Measures R and U funds, and third, and most importantly, provide the link between what we have to market, and marketing itself.

“In the end,” Wood said, “you can do all the marketing you want, but you’d better have something here. You’d better have a product, and the product is typically in recreation. That could include special events, but you have to give people a reason to come here, and I don’t think we’ve done that well enough. I think the opportunity to outsource that, and put it into a nonprofit organization, is a terrific idea.”

Wood acknowledged that he might face an uphill battle in pushing through Mammoth Lakes Recreation, but with just one year left in his term—he said he has no plans to run for re-election in 2014—he will draw a line in the sand.

“I can basically say to the world, this is what I want to accomplish,” he said. “I have an obligation as a political leader to just say it. This is what I want. So I’m going to say it, and I’m going to push people along. I’ve talked to the recreation commissioners, and I know there is going to be resistance to this, as you’d expect, but that’s an important legislative agenda item for me, and what goes along with that is how we spend R and U revenue.”

At issue is whether the town should create another layer of bureaucracy to manage the myriad number of facilities—everything from the Whitmore Pool, Ballfields and Track to the ice rink—to organizing programs such as summer camps and sports leagues.

On one side of the equation is the idea that the town cannot manage its recreation effectively under the current setup. On the other side is that it can.

Alongside the central issue are thornier issues, such as what part organized labor would play in a new matrix, and if Measure R and Measure U tax money—and how much—would come into play.

Already, the issue of forming something like a Mammoth Lakes Recreation entity has had a long and complicated life.

It began with the formation of the Mammoth Regional Recreation Council, and then proceeded along a twisting path that included stops along the way for a Council Recreation Reorganization Subcommittee, a Recreation Strategy Steering Committee and most recently, a council-approved formation of a “Mammoth Lakes Recreation Steering Committee,” consisting of 19 separate organizations and/or representatives.

In the agenda bill presented Wednesday, the council was to decide if the consultant should forge ahead with a five-step study that could quickly devolve to four steps if a Mammoth Lakes Recreation entity gets a thumbs-down.

The leading consultant, Carl Ribaudo, worked closely with the community to produce the RECSTRATS report and, as a result, has a solid understanding of the town, the surrounding landscape and the challenge for recreation here generally.