August 28 2012

Economic Consequences of the Closing of June Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, CA

KEEP IT OPEN Logo by Todd Robertson

June Mountain is located approximately 20 miles (31 kilometers) north of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. Opened in 1961, the ski area provides the economic epicenter of June Lake, CA, a small, unincorporated community in Mono County. Unfortunately, on June 21, 2012, the day that the mountain was supposed to open for summer activities, the CEO of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA), Rusty Gregory, announced that June Mountain would not open for the summer or for the 2012/2013 ski season and would remain closed for the “foreseeable future.” The closure of this economic staple has devastated the local population while uniting individuals and groups in a common struggle to keep June Mountain open. For economic development, urban planners, and environmental non-profits this is an important modern design case study.

The community of June Lake, California is home to approximately 630 people. The residents rely on tourists who come to the area to ski in the winter and fish in the summer. Located in the rural area of Mono County in the Eastern Sierra region of California, the community suffers from the same seasonal, temporary, under-employment as surrounding and similar tourism-based communities. The Keep June Mountain Open Coalition formed almost instantaneously, in an act of unity, with the goal of reopening June Mountain. The coalition includes members from the June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), the Save June Mountain Facebook group, the Friends of June Mountain, and the general public. A letter writing campaign was started in an effort to inform California senators about the issues surrounding the closure of this economic necessity and the speculated impacts.

Some of the economic impacts include:

  • The loss of $200,000 – $250,000 in transient occupancy taxes for Mono County;
  • Increased unemployment and underemployment (30% of the neighboring elementary school students already have parents who have been directly affected);
  • The closure of other businesses due to a decreased tourist volume;
  • Telecommunications risks since all servicing communication towers are located on top of June Mountain.

Additionally, the community is concerned that once the mountain closes, it will be extremely difficult to recover and rebuild the patronage once, and if, the decision to reopen is made.

While the community of June Lake is “galvanized” in this effort to reopen June Mountain, like they never have been before, there are some serious issues and difficult steps that need to be addressed. First, the Mono County Board of Supervisors should fund an Economic Impact Analysis. These studies are conducted all the time, most often when large corporations hope to open their doors in new communities. They address issues such as employment, wages, infrastructure, and community benefits. A comprehensive study of this caliber would put hard numbers in the hands of the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition and explain, in detail, the actual impact that closing June Mountain will have on June Lake, CA and the surrounding communities.

June Lake, CA

June Lake, CA

Secondly, more pressure needs to be put on the Forest Service to issue a letter of noncompliance regarding the Special Use Permit that the ski area obtained to operate on public Forest Service land. Since “The Agency’s special-uses program authorizes uses on NFS land that provide a benefit to the general public and protect public and natural resources values,” the Forest Service may suspend or revoke the permit in whole or in part “For failure of the holder to exercise the privileges granted by this permit.” Why they haven’t done so yet is critical for the community to understand if residents want to see June Mountain open for the 2012/2013 ski season.

Lastly, the Keep June Mountain Open Coalition needs to do more than repeat the need for more specific June Mountain marketing to MMSA and develop concrete ideas regarding advertisements, special events, and a comprehensive marketing strategy for the June community. Not everything needs to be based around the ski area. June Lake is a beautiful area, with a lot to offer, and could draw many tourists for fishing derbies, music festivals, and street fairs. The June Lake Loop Chamber of Commerce and potentially a new June Lake non-profit organization need to put their ideas on paper and make these dreams a reality.

Do you think it’s fair for one company to have a monopoly over major tourist industries in an undiversified economy? What would you do to help save the town of June Lake?

For more information and up-to-date notices, visit the Save June Mountain Facebook page or check out the Friends of June Mountain website here: http://friendsofjunemountain.com/?q=node/9.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Patricia Kent

Patricia Kent wrote for The GRID between October 2011 and October 2012. During this time she was a graduate student in Community & Regional Planning with a concentration in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico. She was also a recent transplant to Mammoth Lakes, CA. Her interests ranged from political theory and public policy to sustainable tourism. A strong advocate for participatory planning practices, her studies focused on community capacity building and economic development. She believed in fostering entrepreneurship in communities. Currently, Patricia is working on economic sustainability policies that benefit both the preservation of the Eastern Sierras as well as the ever-increasing tourist population.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 at 5:05 am and is filed under Branding, Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “Economic Consequences of the Closing of June Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, CA”

  1. David Strelneck Says:

    Some additional deep impact of how MMSA (Starwood) has approached this:

    * The small regional school which serves not just June Lake but also the towns of Lee Vining and Bridgeport(and some Mammoth students) is being hit hard by this, which reverberates deeply through the entire county. The departure of school age families who must now seek reliable winter jobs elsewhere is already disrupting local labor markets, as small business owners are facing staffing problems that are unique to this kind of fragile economy.

    * Starwood Capital and their CEO, who has visited and stayed in June Lake before, is an important player here — given their responsibility over MMSA operations and finance and their very public statements of community stewardship. The way this June Mountain action was approached (and aggressive statements by the Mammoth Mountain CEO to the Forest Service) contradicts their public statements on corporate intent and mission, and undermines trust in the long term, which will likely have economic and community consequences in wider Mono County and perhaps well beyond in terms of Starwood’s reputation.

    * The recently re-activated Lee Vining Schools/June Mountain ski race team, which was well-known in the Western US years ago and the community has worked hard to recreate over past several years, suddenly has the rug pulled out from under them. They now need extra support to maintain the race team (to ski at Mammoth?)

  2. Johnny Palazzotto Says:

    Does Mr. Gregory, Mammoth Mountain, CEO and Starwood have anything to do with the condo development the June Lake community opposes? If so, could this be retaliation for the community opposition?

  3. Patricia Says:

    David, Thanks for the comments and insight. The additional impacts that you have noted are important to remember. It continues to amaze me how corporations can say that they are dedicated to community stewardship and then pull the rug out from underneathe the very communities they are “stewarding.” It’s very political and I hope that Starwood recognizes the misteps. Do you know if there have been any actions in an attempt to get Starwood’s attention on these community-wide issues?

  4. Patricia Says:

    Johnny, Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure if Starwood or Rusty Gregory have anything to do with the conodminium project you mention. I know that the community of June Lake has done expansive research and visioning for their community and I’m not sure where new development fits into their ideal. This would be a good question for someone on the June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee which meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the June Lake Community Center. You can see more information on their website here: http://monocounty.ca.gov/rpac/june-lake.

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