Mammoth businesses propose reopening despite state health orders 

Town Manager Dan Holler and Mayor Bill Sauser are working with local businesses on an unwritten agreement, or “handshake” deal for non-enforcement of state mandates

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Mammoth businesses propose reopening despite state health orders

Town Manager Dan Holler and Mayor Bill Sauser are working with local businesses on an unwritten agreement or “handshake” deal for non-enforcement of state mandates.

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — The Mammoth Lakes lodging and restaurant associations on Monday discussed plans to move ahead with reopening local businesses despite the state’s stay-at-home order, which has no clear end in sight as Southern California ICUs remain at 0% capacity. 

While the Town does not have the legal authority to be less restrictive than the state, the associations are asking for an agreement, or “handshake,” that the Town will not enforce within proposed guidelines.

Restaurants discussed reopening indoors at 25% capacity with additional precautions including guest temperature checks and a customer log for contact tracing in case disease transmission is linked back to the establishment. Lodging proposed a 30% capacity limit, which they say is the absolute minimum businesses need to survive. 

Read: Stay-at-Home order restrictions on lodging and restaurants

Even with the state-mandated stay-at-home order, which restricts non-essential travel and bans short-term lodging for recreational travel, it is clear that visitors are in town. Most agree that rentals are taking place illegally through sites like Airbnb and VRBO, as well as offline “key exchanges” among friends and family of second homeowners. 

Lodging association president John Morris said that part of the goal of easing enforcement is to push people into “legal” rentals, even though the proposal is not legal either.

If the Town agreed to not enforce to a certain level, transient occupancy taxes would be collected and it could level the playing field for operators who are trying to do the right thing, Morris explained. 

“We want to be above board as much as possible,” Morris said. Lodging operators are also concerned that their employees will leave town in search of work if the stay-at-home orders persist for too long, he said. 

Even still, short-term vacation rentals would not be legal per state mandates.

Town Manager Dan Holler proposed what operators in the online meeting chatbox called a “handshake” deal for non-enforcement within the proposed 30% capacity limit. 

“If we manage to that percentage level and we ask for your cooperation what is the potential to do that without a formal health order?” Holler asked. “We can enforce to that level, but the order is still zero—no short-term rentals from a practical standpoint.” 

Operators who responded agreed to Holler’s deal. It is unclear how the unwritten agreement will move forward, though it might be discussed in the Town Council meeting tonight, Wednesday, January 6, during the COVID-19 discussion under agenda item 10. 

Later on Monday afternoon, in the restaurant meeting, association president Brandon Brocia said the group had created a “health first, business second” proposal to present to the Town. Though the group has proposed additional safety measures, the entire plan is in direct conflict with state health orders. 

Mammoth Mayor Bill Sauser explained to the group that the Town does not have the legal authority and could not give written permission to be less restrictive than the state. 

“If the Town is going to do something to allow indoor dining it is simply going to be an enforcement piece where we would agree that our enforcement would not kick in until you have abused that 25%,” Sauser said. “We would agree, although not write it down on paper… if the state wants to come in and do enforcement, they can still do that, they set that law.”

Sauser later explained that he will ask Town Council for consensus before any non-enforcement direction is given to Town staff, but it will not be a formal vote or agenda item. He expects to have a discussion at tonight’s Town Council meeting but said a decision most likely would not happen immediately. 

The restaurant’s proposed 25% capacity indoors is similar to the guidelines under the state’s red tier. Before Mono County was ordered to stay-at-home along with the Southern California region, the county was in the most restrictive purple tier, which limited restaurants to takeaway and outdoor service only. 

According to state guidelines, once the stay-at-home order is lifted, the county must have less than 7 cases per week and an 8% positivity rate to return the less restrictive red tier. 

As of Monday, over the previous 7-day period there were 62 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Mono County, a slight decrease from the week prior. The 7-day positivity rate is 20.5%.

Public Health Director Bryan Wheeler said at Tuesday morning’s Board of Supervisors meeting, that the stay-at-home order has been working. There is a lag in reporting because of the holidays, but he is “cautiously optimistic” that the rate of infection has slowed down. Even still, health officials locally and statewide say they are expecting another surge from the holidays. 

Last week the Board of Supervisors and Town Council agreed to advocate to remove Mono County from the Southern California region. They plan to send a joint letter to the governor later this week. Supervisor John Peters has also been working with other rural counties to request a change to regional designations. He seemed optimistic about their progress; however, “a decision is not imminent,” he said. 

One meeting a month to save lives

Wild Iris Family Counseling and Crisis Center is entering its 40th year of offering support services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse, and is looking to grow its Board of Directors. 

The Board of Directors meets the first Tuesday of each month for approximately 2-3 hours, and Board members also have the opportunity to increase their participation by using their individual skill sets to help plan fundraising events, contribute to outreach and advocate for Wild Iris clients. 

If you’ve been seeking an opportunity to give back to your community by supporting your neighbors who are most in need, please consider joining the Wild Iris Board of Directors. For more information, contact Board Secretary Sarah Rea at 760-709-2100 or

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