The Mammoth BK Kabuki Dance

Every day I find myself answering questions about the Town’s possible bankruptcy; from potential buyers, past clients, current owners, and many more who are simply too lazy to read the news (most of the links are provided right here on this blog). And I know there are buyers sniffing around this market but are “fence sitting” until there is a known outcome. Some buyers don’t really seem to care; they are waiting for the “right” property. And some sellers have found motivation (via price reductions) thinking that the outcome will further depress their property values. But one thing you learn in the real estate business is that people’s motivations are always and ever changing. Regardless, with this bankruptcy looming over our heads, I’m surprised we’re selling as much as we are, and substantial properties too. This past dry winter didn’t help the “selling is the transfer of enthusiasm” mode of this real estate market, but the economics of the drought winter may end up being a great unforeseen act of the Town’s Kabuki Dance.

This drawn-out bankruptcy process has become one big Kabuki Dance. (Wikipedia defines as “In common English usage, a kabuki dance, also kabuki play, is an activity or drama carried out in real life in a predictable or stylized fashion, reminiscent of the Kabuki style of Japanese stage play. It refers to an event that is designed to create the appearance of conflict or of an uncertain outcome, when in fact the actors have worked together to determine the outcome beforehand.”) The Dance has been an expensive one with all the appeals, attorney fees, consulting fees and on and on. It has also been great fodder for the Town’s critics and press. The most recent court wrangling and upcoming mediation are all part of it. I can’t wait to hear what the mediator believes the “settlement” should be. And the bankruptcy judge may be the ultimate mediator.

Too bad we don’t know all of the Kabuki players. Marianna Marysheva-Martinez (aka Triple M) has been the guest star. Her job has been to get all of the Town’s accounting in order to prove that the economic disaster is far worse than we ever knew (forget the judgment and ancillary expenses). But her role is almost over and she knows it, she’s out applying for other town manager jobs (and probably more Kabuki Dance roles). And some of the core Council members have moved off the stage. But this play is designed that way. The players we don’t really know are the MLLA, the holders of the judgment. They’re in the shadows. I hope they have enough talc. And the Great Mammoth Sex Scandal of 2012 has been quite a sideshow.

The media has played the Kabuki Dance well, and some better than others. Last week the New York Times ran an article (Why do they even care??) After reading it I once again question the competency of journalism at the major news outlets. Here’s one paragraph from the article. “Town officials say they hope that mediation will allow them to avoid filing for bankruptcy. But so far, the developer that won the lawsuit, Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition, has refused to participate in the mediation process.” Does anybody see a gross inaccuracy in this? And I loved the way the writer ended the article; “Still, a possible bankruptcy worried longtime visitors, including Alex Sexton, 20, who has been coming here from San Diego since he was 5 years old. “It’s sad to hear it may go bankrupt,” he said in the middle of a break from skiing. “My dad’s had a time share here for 30 years, and one day I was hoping to inherit it.” Great. That brought something of value to the article. More drivel. Maybe this kid is ready to inherit the fees (debt) that come with the timeshare? LOL

Somebody has to be influencing all of this negative PR (and for good reason). SKI Magazine had to become part of the Kabuki Dance too with a big article in the Feb / March issue (“Is Mammoth Mountain’s skiing good enough to save its town?”) The pro-bankruptcy actors had to love this. This is pure dire straits. Little did the writer know that his oft quoted “expert” hasn’t been sober in years. Good job SKI.

Benett Kessler and the Sierra Wave group have done an admirable job covering the story over the years, but they’ve bought into the Kabuki Dance too. In the last day the lead paragraph reads, “The Mammoth Lakes community learned very little new information on the grave state of the Town’s finances and dealings with the $42 million debt owed to MLLA when the Town Council met Wednesday night.” It’s bad for sure, but “grave?” Fukushima it’s not. Also, “Martinez said the Town also has unfunded needs.  For instance, the Town is spending only $500,000 on street and road maintenance when the actual need is $1.5 million.  The future, said Martinez, does not look good.  She said this fiscal year is short $1 million and next fiscal year shows a $3 million shortfall already.  None of this includes a pay off of the MLLA debt.” Wow, Mammoth can’t pay for anything, bankruptcy is certainly the only answer.

Then there was a nice letter-to-the-editor in The Sheet last week from Dan O’Connell (who is trying to develop the bowling alley facility in Mammoth and is, I believe, a retired attorney). “You can have the best case in the world, but if the defendant doesn’t have the means to pay, the case is still a dog.”… “Mammoth is, and always will be, a very small rural resort town of modest means and assets.”

O’Connell even wants the MLLA Kabuki players to come out of the shadows, “MLLA investors took their case to the public, going to the press to pressure the TOML to pay up. Well, I have a suggestion. If they really want to go public, then how about they attend a public town hall meeting to greet the residents here? Let them explain to the public face to face what they want and why they deserve it in light of the Town’s economic condition and its ability to pay. Going to the press was easy, but do they have the courage to actually meet the public here in Town?”

So the Kabuki Dance continues. Don’t take it personally. The Town of Mammoth Lakes sucks, and we’re broke. Now we’re going to find out what the bankruptcy court thinks. And we’re sure to be in the national news spotlight for at least an hour or two alongside the next mass murder at some fast food outlet or fanatic gathering (what’s with that?). And all the bad press may create a great real estate buying opportunity, or not. But we are going to get the opportunity to hit the “reset” button way before the rest of the country does and that may be a really good thing.

Meanwhile, the Mammoth faithful keep coming here looking for escape and a good time. We can’t lose sight of that and we need to be here to serve them. And maybe we can even show them some dance moves, Mammoth Kabuki style.

Note: The weekend’s issue of The Sheet contains an excellent and lengthy review of the history of the Hot Creek lawsuit including interviews with past Town managers and council members. Somebody is finding the brass tacks. It has been posted on their website and is a very worthy read.

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