Skeptical Council gets look at Lehman's Economic Stimulus Package

When Matthew Lehman gets a hot idea, he sure doesn’t waste much time between “floating” it and kicking it into action.

Mammoth’s councilman and Mayor Pro Tem suggested two weeks ago that Mammoth should perhaps devise some sort of “economic stimulus plan."

By Wednesday night’s regular Town Council meeting, he had legislation on the table in the form of a plan prepared by the town staff. He also had a list of immediate action items, delivered by letter. Lehman had to be out of town for Wednesday’s meeting and so was not present.

Instead of a mere suggestion of an economic stimulus package Lehman, a local real estate broker, asked the council to consider a rollback or temporary suspension of

• Development Impact Fees
• Housing Mitigation
• Building Permit Fees
• Planning Permit Fees
• A requirement setting a quota for hiring local labor.

Lehman’s proposal did not require action of the council Wednesday night, but he asked for another meeting within a week.

What it did, however, was place into focus a piece of legislation that could have immediate and long-range impacts on the local economy.

DIF helps bolster the town’s general fund to pay for infrastructure such as roads, sewers and so on.

To lose these fees, the town essentially would be subsidizing itself through the use of the general fund.

The council received the proposal cautiously.

“I need to know a little bit more of what the impacts of these moves are going to be,” said Councilman Skip Harvey.

“We still have to pay staff. We still have to take care of the infrastructure of our town.

“I don’t want to be in a position 10 years from now where we have crumbling sewers and roads that are even worse than they are now, and with people saying, ‘We have all this new development going on, so how come these things haven’t been fixed?’

“We need to know up front what some of the effects of this are going to be.”

Councilman Rick Wood also said he was not prepared to act on the legislation too quickly.

“Essentially he (Lehman) has concluded that we need to do this in one week. I’m not supportive of that because I’m not sure that it is going to be well thought out if we do that.”

Wood recalled advice he received some years ago from Peter Deniston, a real estate advisor to Intrawest and Mammoth Mountain.

“Peter always said that the fees you impose, whether housing or DIF or permit and planning fees need to be just below the level of tolerance of the development community.

“That level changes over time. The tolerance level in the good days was a whole lot higher because the projections for profit were different than they are under the circumstances we find ourselves now.

“I’ve always thought that the fees ought to be a sort of a moving target – that we need to be flexible.”

The proposed legislation is based on similar actions undertaken by the Mono County Board of Supervisors, Lehman said in the proposed legislation.

The council received an eight-page report on Lehman’s proposal, and the discussion itself was placed at the very end of the meeting – No. 11 on a busy 12-item agenda. That gave the council all the time it needed to discuss it, until they finished up at 9:38 p.m.

Lehman has suggested creating an economic development group comprised of a cross section of Mammoth’s business community that could consider priorities and other related strategies.

What the plan would look like is under discussion, but one of the more intriguing aspects is one that calls for a moratorium on practically all fees. That sets what is, in effect, a “limited time offer” to jump-start projects.

Another scheme for relief might be on a first-come first-served basis.

Moving forward, the town staff, led by community development director Mark Wardlaw, asked the council to consider three main questions.

Should DIF fees be waived all or in part for a certain period of time?

Should affordable housing fees be waived all or in part for a certain period of time?

Should planning or building permit fees be waived for a certain amount of time?

The council took a fourth tack, which was to do nothing at all.