Wilbrecht: Keeping Whitmore open would be 'pocket change'

If there is a model for an even-tempered civil servant, it might be Mammoth Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht.

But near the end of last week’s Town Council meeting, the normally unflappable Wilbrecht just about came unglued over the issue of a possible closure of Whitmore Park and its centerpiece, the Whitmore Pool.

In all, the proposed reduction would total $57,416 in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and $177,764 in 2013-14.

But to keep Whitmore Pool open by using Measure R funds, Wilbrecht said, was mere “pocket change” when stacked up against the amount of voter-approved recreation tax money the council has approved in the Inyo National Forest.

“If Whitmore Park and Pool were on forest land, and it was called a trail, you’d be funding it,” he said in his pointed remarks. “We’ve spent more than a million dollars in the Forest since Measure R has been approved, on lands that we don’t own and we don’t control.

“We freely spend money in the Forest that is managed by some other entity.

“So in my mind, we own the land (at Whitmore Park)—or we have the land—and I don’t see the supplanting in the same sense, because we’re supplanting the federal government.”Wilbrecht, who chairs the Mammoth Lakes Trails Coordinating Committee, appeared to have caught the council off-guard, since there was no counter-argument from the dais.

For the council, as well as other members of the town government, including the recreation commission, the idea of “supplanting” existing recreation infrastructure by using Measure R funds has been sacrosanct.

Over the years, and particularly since the announcement of the settlement agreement with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition (MLLA) and the so-called Ballas Entities, the very definition of “supplanting” has been at the center of the Whitmore debate.

Under the current proposals for a restructuring of town finances, the park (which includes the ball fields) and the pool have been on the hit list. The argument for the cuts is that Measure R funds cannot be used to “supplant” an existing facility.

Wilbrecht called that into question in something short of a rant, but well past a non-judgmental analysis.
“I was your old Parks and Rec director back in 2000, and so I have affinities and a lot of strong feelings about it.

“In my mind, we’re supplanting now, and if that’s the rule, we’re spending money on existing infrastructure.

“Miles of trails is part of our trails system plan, so it’s all built. It’s there. We spend money, and we spent a million dollars in planning money without really turning dirt in the past three years.

“So for us to spend $168,000 or $200,000 or whatever it might be, to me, that was kind of pocket change relative to the idea that if it were on forest land and it was called a trail.

“We just spent $300,000 today where you (the council) approved a list of projects for $300,000 on federal land and because our trail system is part of that system.

“Why not spend money on town stuff? That’s a kind of personal deal. I think it’s a paradigm that we’ve created for ourselves.”

After the meeting, Wilbrecht drew a sharp rebuke from John Wentworth, the executive director of the currently cash-strapped Mammoth Trails and Public Access Foundation (MLTPA).

MLTPA has pushed for top-of-the-line wayfinding systems (much of which is now in place), and for volunteer efforts in trails maintenance. It also successfully pushed for an up-to-date web-based trails system, also now in place.