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The Settlement

August 24, 2012

Mammoth finally settled its lawsuit with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition this week. Our immediate response was a sense of relief, and we weren’t alone.

All over town, our citizens talked it up, not knowing, really, what the terms of the settlement actually are. We don’t know either, but we know enough to sense that it is not a victory.

Rather, the settlement is wrapped in the clothing of defeat. Our battle flags in this matter now are furled, never again to be unfurled. The settlement and its complicated aftermath represent a sorry chapter in our little town’s short, little history.

When people write the history of Mammoth in the years to come, they may very well recognize the years between incorporation (1984) and the MLLA fiasco (2012) as the Years of Innocence. It was a time of rapid growth, ending with a single, crippling defeat that ended our childhood phase altogether.

It was not that we were irresponsible. This was not like the Orange County, Vallejo, or Stockton cases. All of those were based on truly egregious actions by towns and cities that should have known better and were much better equipped, in terms of history, to govern a municipality.

In Mammoth, we made a number of mistakes in the beginning and counterbalanced them by small victories in building this place. We had no models other than our own collective imagination. Nobody should ever apologize for that.

And then came MLLA—a small case, really, that didn’t seem like much at the time but in the end left us at the edge of the abyss.

The town lost every court case it had with Terry Ballas and MLLA—Superior Court in Bridgeport, the state appeals panel, and the California Supreme Court.

The legal situation and its associated costs—$43 million— threatened to undo the town entirely. Were it not for the heavy hand of an outsider—Marianna Marysheva-Martinez—we might have drowned.

The case revealed to us that there is no such thing as a “small” decision in municipal government.

Thus our sense of relief stems from the end of a single, solitary battle that has left us guilty of 15 years of documented self-deception, bad management, bad politics, and the bitter taste of our own hubris.

It undid years of diligent work by hardworking people who saw a vision for Mammoth Lakes and who did their very best to make policies to match the vision. We were never wrong in that. We made one really big mistake. In its aftermath there is enough blame to heap on just about everyone associated with town government.

As we enter a new phase of the history of Mammoth, we’d like to think we’ve learned enough to advance—cautiously, this time—from infancy into some sort of maturity.

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