Mono County’s Sheriff Ingrid Braun warned of a massive exodus of people escaping Covid-ridden Southern California for the serenity of the Eastern Sierra last year. Short of spike-strips on Hwy. 203, there was not much that could be done to stop it. But, now the Town of Mammoth Lakes is planning to mitigate the second wave of Southern California residents, or at least try to.
At last week’s Mammoth Council meeting, Town Manager Dan Holler was kind in his analysis of one of the issues: folks “dispersed camping” in the Vons parking lot. “These people are used to congregating in large numbers to party,” he explained. When Mammoth Police Department tries to move them along, they do just that—they move to another parking lot. Bless their little hearts, they just don’t realize the Eastern Sierra isn’t just like the Strand that runs through the South Bay beach towns.
While all the issues couldn’t be dealt with in one Council meeting, the members approved Holler’s solutions along with funding to the tune of $400,000 to support the effort.
Near the top of the list were additional trash bins and porta-potties, specifically at trail heads.
Additional staffing included two part-time Parks Division employees and a Code Enforcement/Community Services officer. Mammoth Police Department Chief Al Davis assured the Council the focus would be on education first, followed by warnings before citing the worst of the offenders. “We need more coverage on weekends,” he said. With the current PD staffing, assigning an officer to Reds Meadow and the Lakes Basin would reduce coverage in the town.
To help mitigate cars parked on the roadways, Council intends to help Eastern Sierra Transit with funding for a bus concentrating on shuttling people between Reds and the Lakes Basin on weekends as well as additional staffing. However, it’s the additional staffing that may be the larger issue. ESTA’s staffing is down to 33-percent of pre-COVID levels.
Councilmember Kirk Stapp predicted workforce issues early on, anticipating laid-off workers would be forced to leave the area.
The Mammoth Host Program has been a life-saver, but more Hosts are needed to work on the educate-the-tourist side of things. Council allocated $100,000 to help with the program. “They’re critical,” said Mayor Bill Sauser. “But they’ll be out grown the way things are going.”
With the tsunami of tourists northbound on U.S. Hwy. 395 still to crest, maybe spike strips may be the only alternative.