New $450,000 sign system gets Planning Commish OK


Would help wayward visitors find their way

The scene was just about as familiar as you can get around here.

A couple arrived in a rented car in the parking lot at The Plaza strip mall along Old Mammoth Road.

“Where is the Visitors Center?” the man asked, in a thick (German?) accent.

“Gosh,” said the Local, “nowhere close to here.”

“But that is impossible,” the visitor exclaimed, and then pointed to his smartphone. “The Visitors Center is here!”

“Sorry, but you’re about a mile and a half off.”

“Impossible,” the indignant visitor said. Still staring at his smartphone, he screeched off to somewhere else.

That kind of scene has bugged Mammoth’s planners forever.

Last week, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission took a step toward fixing that kind of thing by voting to accept a “Municipal Wayfinding and Community Messaging Program,” to be built to the tune of $400,000 to $550,000 in a tiered implementation plan that has yet to be determined.

Where, exactly, such funds would come from is equally fuzzy, made more so by Mammoth’s current fiscal climate.

The town staff, in its recommendation report, indicated Mammoth might fund the project by using money from various grants, and that it would submit an application for Measure U funds, which include but are not limited to, transportation issues.

In addition, the staff indicated “private funding may be available … to implement portions of the project, particularly with respect to the proposed district identification markers.”

The notion of proper wayfinding signage has been around for a long time—at least since the adoption of the town’s General Plan in 2007.

A wayfinding system also found itself in the middle of the recently released Eastern Sierra Innovation and Prosperity Report, released last month by the Sierra Business Council.

In September 2011, an effort toward providing decent signage went to the Town Council, which approved a tentative scope for a program, and in April, the town selected MERJE Design, of West Chester, Penn., outside of Philadelphia to draw up the plans.

That is the plan that came before the Planning Commission last week.

The plan as it stands now is all about unlighted signs, which won’t exactly help our digitally oriented German friend, relying on smartphone mapping. But for the digitally impaired, the commissioners—Elizabeth Tenney, Dave Harvey, chair Rhonda Duggan, Mickey Brown and newcomer Collin Fernie—accepted it with only a few minor tweaks.

Asked if any of the signs were to be lighted, given that many of our visitors arrive in the dark of winter, navigate through in the dark and snow, Duggan said the commission hadn’t really thought about that.

Asked if there were a digital component to the wayfinding system, given the fact that many people use smartphones or automobile navigation systems, the commission acknowledged there was no such component.

What the planners signed off on is a color-coordinated signage system that divides the town into districts (Downtown, Snowcreek, Sierra Star, The Village), subdivides the districts into destinations (such as Mammoth Mountain Ski portals, the Hayden Cabin museum, the Lakes Basin, etc.), and clear directions to emergency spots (police station, hospital).

The commission voted to begin the wayfinding system by building vehicular signage first, then laying in the other parts of the system by “layering” the functions—pedestrian, shopping, education and so on.

There is a lot of wiggle room in the plan, both in terms of the overall scope and in the funding. The MERJE plan identified several elements, such as district identification markers and park signage, as optional, knocking down the overall cost by $200,000 to $300,000, for example.

But for the most part, Mammoth finally has a blueprint to solve what many believe to be among its most vexing problems: how to help direct visitors, once they arrive in town, to where they want to go.