Letter to the editor: Air service, but…

Mono Supervisor Byng Hunt to Town Council: “I’m disappointed and embarrassed that this Town Council will use Measure U for air service although I am a full supporter of air service to Mammoth Lakes.”

Air service subsidies to major airlines may or may not be a reasonable and rational approach to air service.  It remains, in my mind, an open book for discussion.  Air service subsidies can bring convenience and economic value to us in the short term, but I worry about the sustainability of the effort in the long term.   Major airlines can “pull the plug” on us at most any time based on their business models, and things like bad weather, poor external economies, drought situations, airline operational problems, etc….things that we have very little control over…..could turn our short term investments into wasted efforts.   As a small resort town, we need to remain fiscally prudent and flexible, and this subsidy endeavor can place us at troublesome risk.   I suppose it is the conservative voice in me that questions whether public tax dollars should be used for these subsidies, when private financial support might be able to do the job.  I recognize the indirect economic benefits to the community as an argument to use public sector tax support, but I am also extremely aware of the financial straights that our local government agencies are facing over the near and long term.   It is because of this, that I would ask the players that stand to gain the most from air service subsidies to pony up and supply the funding needed for those subsidies, such as the Chambers (business community) and the lodging folks.  Asking the Town and the County to throw tax money into the mix is jeopardizing funding that may be needed for basic public services and obligations, and maintenance of sound financial reserves for hard times.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I recognize and support air service to Mammoth Yosemite Airport as a valuable tool for making our region more accessible and convenient for visitors and locals alike.  It is simply one more way to get here.  The economic value to local businesses and residents has been researched through recent studies and surveys, and we are presently reviewing the results.  While the purchase of the airport from the County back in the early 90’s has seemingly led to nothing but problems and frustrations, I have always supported the general idea of public airport access to Mono County.   I was a member of the Town Council that approved the airport development agreement with Terry Ballas in 1997, when I thought the economic potential that the airport development could bring to our struggling rural tourist economy was important.  While I always believed that the Bishop airport would be a better choice for a regional airport for a number of reasons, I supported Mammoth Yosemite’s development as an effort to make us a better and more competitive recreational resort.  Successive Town Councils and a few ambitious local business interests undermined the potential viability of that development agreement, and is another whole story that has unfortunately led to the potential bankruptcy of our little urban paradise.

But the value of air service to our Town and region still remains very important, and I will continue to work to sustain the effort as long as it is done in a reasonable and rational way.  Over the course of the next few weeks, several meetings will take place to consider the complicated issue of air service subsidies.  The Eastern Sierra Air Alliance meets this week to digest creative ideas on the situation, and later this month, the County will reconvene the Tourism Commission’s air service subsidy subcommittee to develop ideas to present to the full Board of Supervisors during our upcoming budget hearings in August.  My personal views, which I intend to discuss at these meetings, is that local businesses have to pony up funding to some degree, and that if County tax dollars are used for an airline subsidy, that the county get something for the public money expended (beyond the perceived regional economic benefits) – such as a series of airline seats available to local businesses and residents at reduced costs.  Also, when negotiating with the airlines, we will need more than just the Mountain at the table; the County, Town and business folks need to supply their input, which, hopefully, will be generated through the Eastern Sierra Air Alliance.  We can thank Rusty Gregory for “carrying most of the load” recently, and especially over the past winter seasons.  But, it cannot be forgotten that Mr. Gregory was an instrumental player in the airport development agreement fiasco that has played out over the last decade and has led to our Town bankruptcy, and that his current “financial crisis” was probably due in good part to poor management decisions as well as unforeseen weather problems and the general recession.  Closing June Mountain next winter will probably do more damage to our region than temporarily losing or reducing airline service.

I would also submit that finger pointing and insulting County Supervisors at public meetings is not the way to gain support for important business issues.  There is a certain civility and respect that needs to be maintained in the course of public dialogue.  It was truly a disappointing show of good character by both Rusty Gregory and Tom Cage at public meetings last week, but goes to show the stress that is currently being endured by our business community.

Good citizens of District 5, and the County at large, please let us know your honest feelings and insights regarding airline service and airline service subsidies.  I stand ready to represent what will hopefully benefit us all in the end.

Mono Supervisor Byng Hunt

Mammoth Lakes



35 Responses to Letter to the editor: Air service, but…

  1. You be the judge July 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Well put Byng. Reasonable people have understood your position from the beginning.
    I wish everyone in local government and the business community had the honesty and integrity of Byng Hunt.
    But watch for the usual government-haters to rear their ugly and unreasonable heads anyway.
    Lots of judgement going down today.

  2. Fed Up July 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Gotta love the rights of free expression.
    Thank you Supervisor Hunt for stating your real intentions.
    Let me tell you some real facts as you seem to have a disconnect.
    First this county survives on tourism correct?
    The major boom we had was aided along because a major company came to Mammoth and created development. This development grew in large part that the area was to have air service. I suppose none of you out there earned any money or had a job due to the growth our area has gone through.

    SO quit your crying and get to the table and help make this work!

    • Somethings will never change July 21, 2012 at 11:15 am #

      It seems to me what made this ski town (anybody know the prediction for snowfall next season?) is the willingness of Californians from the South to hop in their cars and drive to their ski mecca every winter.
      This will never change.
      In a bad economy only the wealthiest can afford to save a few hours and fly rather than what the majority will always do – drive.
      And it also seems to me, that when given the choice, the wealthy are choosing areas that offer much more: Art, theatre, culture, the bon vivant experience.
      This is what Mammoth should be focusing on.

      • Trouble July 21, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

        Somethings will never change- focusing on art, theatre and whatever you consider culture to be sounds like another waste of money to me. Try offering special packages to bring the skiers here. Stop focusing on the top 2 %.

        • Pander to the money July 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm #


          But its the top % that has all the money today. The other more established mountain communities have figured the problem out. Snowboarders don’t feed the overall economy. The rich do.
          Why do think Deer Valley (that prohibits snowboards) is always rated #1?

          • Smart business July 23, 2012 at 10:25 am #

            Each year Deer Valley, a high-end resort located just outside Park City, conducts a survey that includes questions about allowing snowboarders on the mountain. This year approximately 1,500 Deer Valley guests were asked to rate on a scale of one to ten “To what extent would a decision by Deer Valley to permit snowboarding on its mountain affect your desire to visit in the future?”

            “It overwhelmingly comes back negative,” says Deer Valley Director of Marketing Colleen Reardon. “We have this really strong niche. It seems like we get stronger in that positioning instead of weaker, which is why we keep asking the question. Ultimately we want to provide our guests what they’re looking for.” As a private company, Deer Valley won’t release exact figures, but Reardon adds that approval of the ban is “in the 90 percent range. We don’t see it changing any time soon.”

          • Trouble July 23, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

            Pander- your comment sounds like a trickle down theorist in denial.

      • JeanGenie July 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

        Perhaps bears performing in an Opera House? Where are you going to get this culture? Import it from France? We are too isolated, and that is not why people go skiing, that is why rich people go on trips that may include skiing.

        • Business venture July 24, 2012 at 5:32 am #

          The vast majority of skiiers that prefer Deer Valley are from …
          you guessed it … California not “imported from France”.
          Find a way for wealthy Californians to ski here and the problem is solved. But I don’t think Gregory would ever change anything. He’s making dough. And if he doesn’t … let the citizens of Mammoth foot the balance he needs.

  3. lou1@yahoo.com July 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks Tom.

  4. cat July 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    1. Tom Cage is vested at the Airport with his rental car business. I honestly take his word with a grain of sand.

    2. The TOML is supposed to be insolvent (unable to pay debts/services), how then are they able to come up with 300+k at a meeting for the airport overnight?

    3. I have no faith in ether Tom Cage or the TOML counsel.

  5. Ken Warner July 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    The people of Mono County do support air service at MMH in the American Capitalist way — by buying tickets. Urdi’s Measure U Test Application stated that 14% of sold seats was for resident use. That based, “…on independent research conducted by C.A. Walker Research Solutions.”

    Fourteen percent of the sold seats is no small subsidy. And it conforms to our capitalist way by buying a viable product. If your product is not viable, then people won’t buy the product and you either change the product to gain market share or you go out of business. That’s the American way.

    So if you want more public support for air service, here’s my suggestion how to increase the public’s subsidy: make more effort to meet the needs of people of the Eastern Sierra. One flight to LAX may be useful to some people. I haven’t been to LA in 20 years and have no need or intention to go there. I do go to Reno 5-10 times a year to get medical services that Mammoth Hospital doesn’t provide and go to Costco and a random trip now and then for car service etc. Reno is a place where many of us go to regularly.

    And with our large Hispanic and migrant population from South of the border, one would think a regular flight to San Diego would be a convenience.

    Now a shuttle flight that starts in San Diego, flys to LAX, then MMH, then Reno and then SFX and back through the same airports seems like it would be a logical route that would serve many more people in the region than just one flight to LAX. Seems to me that would generate more support from locals in the form of ticket purchases which then reduce the expected subsidy needed.

    Public money for empty seats is just a bad deal for the public. Offer the service that is needed by locals and the support will come.

    • Trouble July 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Ken-I like your thoughts on the route you suggest.

    • John Starts July 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

      Wow……we had a Reno flight ….it was empty, so it got canceled, Reno to Mammoth was and is a stupid thought, however did you ever use it once to support it? We also HAVE a San Diego flight in the winter , have you ever used it once to support it?

      • Ken Warner July 20, 2012 at 11:08 am #

        Right, there was a flight to Reno in 2009-2010. 115 flights during that Winter. I can find no data as to the utilized capacity of that flight and I can recall no particular need to go to Reno between Dec. and April of that Winter

        I also have no reason to go to San Diego. But maybe others do.

        If you are going to use my travel habits to justify routes into MMH, then the all air service would be canceled.

  6. Jay Wheaton July 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Well put Mr Hunt. I have a home in north county our road does not get plowed all winter long, we do not complain because we are a minority in the county. Now to my point ! I would prefer my tax money go to infrastructure services that the county provides rather than air service. When we need our road plowed do you think Rusty or Horizon cares I think not . I am in favor of air service but not at the expense of basic services. My vote Mr Hunt no county money for air service.

    • Fed Up July 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Air subsidies or guarantees are going to be a part of life for areas like ours. Someone is going to have to pay them.
      Those of You folks who do not want air subsidies and do not want to take a seat at the table to figure out how to deal with them better not use the air service. You better not let you family or friends use it. Other wise you are stinking hypocrite .

      • hisierragal July 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

        dear fed up,
        I don’t use the air service
        I don’t believe my tax money should go to a private company in order for them to operate in this area just so a few people can have the clientele they believe will make them rich…..
        sink or float
        like the rest of us
        and/or show us how this expenditure helps every one of us who has to pay into it
        even though we never use it
        that is what I put on the table

        • Ken Warner July 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

          I’ve asked and asked for a full and complete cost/benefit analysis of the airport and what money it brings into Mammoth. Nobody seems to be able (or willing) to do that. All we get are “estimates” like those in Urdi’s presentation on Jul. 11.

          If you look at Urdi’s presentation, only 1/3 of the dollars spent by people flying in can be classified as money that wouldn’t have been spent here anyway by people who would have come up here anyway. And that money isn’t yet enough to cover all the costs of the airport. So the airport is going to be a net loss for Mono County and Mammoth Lakes for a while. Maybe forever.

          All the people who want the airport are willing to make brave and convincing speeches but nobody seems to want to just talk the basic economics.

      • Big AL July 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

        Oh get over it already fed up .. lol … subsidies and guarantees are not a part of life here in our area, only if people let them be. You can keep your hypocritical comments, just because some people see the truth of the matter doesn’t make them hypocritical as in your eyes.

        People can come to the table and talk about how they don’t see giving tax payers dollars to companies to protect their profits as the right thing to do. Just because it doesn’t go with your agenda to give away tax dollars to try to coax people to Mammoth.

        Notice I didn’t include the other word you included with hypocrite?

        Whether or not people who are against giving away tax dollars use it .. doesn’t matter .. they might need to or want to use it at some time.
        whether or not the air lines do it the right way, and take some loss in this time as well or if they take free operating expenses from the people of Mono County and Mammoth Lakes.

        • Mark July 23, 2012 at 10:10 am #

          (subsidies and guarantees are not a part of life here in our area,)

          The local economy is subsidies by the stocking lakes and streams with an invasive species, which guarantees tourist will come and spend their money in the Eastern Sierra.

          Eastern Sierra Transit is also subsidized by the Feds.

          The $15 bus ride I recently rode from Yosemite Valley to TOML is also subidized or it would not exist. btw, I was the only one on the bus.

          Without subsidies there would be no public transportation in the Eastern Sierra.

          Don’t tell me it’s not part of life here in the Eastern Sierra. 😉

          • Big AL July 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

            Mark .. Eastern Sierra Transit is a county run business if I am not mistaken? I’m not sure about the bus you rode in on, it most likely is some sort of government operated program, I could be wrong there .. but you comment about the stocking of fish (invasive species). That is not subsidized. It is paid for by license sales and revenues from fishing licenses that people buy from the state. How do you figure that is a subsidized program?

            Don’t tell me subsidies are part of the community other than the fact that they are usually brought forth through businesses wanting to rake in some free cash. The EST is subsidized by the Federal government, yes, but it is not a private business like Alaska air who is in the business of making money for flying people places. So show me some better comparisons, other than the bus you rode in on, which .. might be a private company, I am not sure.

      • JeanGenie July 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

        when I checked how much it cost to fly out of Mammoth I said no way. So count me out too.

  7. cat July 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    FED UP,

    NO MONEY FOR FOR AIR SUBSIDIES! And I am planning a flight next week!

    • Fed Up July 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

      As I said typical hypocrite

      • Big AL July 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

        As I said .. fed up .. there you go throwing the word around.

    • Big AL July 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

      LOL cat

    • Want to Vomit July 22, 2012 at 9:04 pm #

      I hope you paid the higher price so Mammoth won’t have to subsidize your fare.

  8. MJA July 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    It is only folly that some would want to throw more money into the hole that sunk the ship.
    But it is public money and rather than asking the captains, those responsible for running you aground, I think it best to ask everyone on board, don’t you?


  9. Ultimatum July 23, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Sounds to me, the Chairman and CEO of Mammoth Mountain is holding the town hostage. “Cough up the dough (for air service) or I’ll close down everything!” Shouldn’t he and his rich partners be doing the coughing?

  10. Ken Warner July 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Have you all read this?


    • MJA July 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

      Thanks Ken,

      That is how I see it too.


  11. Tourbillon July 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    The letter in your link contains nothing about Rusty Gregory (of whom I am not excessively fond) except a re-hash of unsworn statements from The Sheet several months old. Nothing in the quoted portions of the court decision, i.e., the actual evidence in the letter as opposed to the gossip repeated in the letter, mention Gregory at all. More importantly, the development agreement was signed by elected officials (or their managers) and not by Gregory. Maybe he influenced them, maybe not – but the mirror should be turned to face the electorate. It was the elected officials, chosen by the voters, who blew this. Whether they were influenced by Rusty Gregory, or by global warming, or by Jupiter being in the seventh house and Venus aligning with Mars is irrelevant to their culpability, and by extension to the voters’ culpability.

    The letter in your link demanding to be let off the hook by making Rusty Gregory pay for the entire judgment is just more pusillanimous whining which has apparently been inbred into the DNA of the eastern Sierra ever since Mulholland did his thing. We’ve become masters of the blame game but not masters of our destiny, which incidentally are flip sides of the same coin.

    • Big AL July 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      I agree Tourbillon, elected officials acted on this whether or not Gregory was involved, they could have said no.

    • Ken Warner July 24, 2012 at 10:04 am #

      I think the “court decision” was a suit by MLLA claiming damages for the town’s elected and unelected officials (i.e. the city managers) reneging on development contracts.

      How those people came to the decision to renege on those contracts was not part of the suit and certainly was not common knowledge at the time.


      “So, the questions remain to be answered. Has there been a serious discussion about the liability of Rusty Gregory and Charles Long to the judgment; an action against either or both to indemnify the Town against the judgment?

      If all of the above is true, and no such discussion has taken place, why does Mammoth have elections for the Town Council? Why not save that money and simply ask Rusty Gregory what he wants staff to do. ”


      I don’t see any demands for anything. I see unanswered questions and a little sarcasm. Must I apologize to you again for upsetting you with a link to a summarization of the history of how we got here?

      I think it is important to understand the actions of people both inside the town’s government and outside the government so that We the People can avoid making similar mistakes in the future. It’s not a game.

      Your concerns have a core of truth. In fact there is a certain apathy in the electorate. But I think your concerns would be more effective in their intent if they were expressed directly to the author of that summary and the editors of the Mammoth Times.


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