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Proposed RC track kicks up conflicting views

December 15, 2011

Remote control car racing enthusiasts have proposed building a track at the Bishop City Park that would be free and open to the public. The club has had a difficult time securing a permanent location after the track shown here on LA Department of Water and Power land was closed last year. Photo courtesy Owensville RC Race Club

Remote control car racing is gaining in popularity and the sport’s local enthusiasts are hoping to build a track at the Bishop Park. The track would be free and open to the public.
A public hearing was held on the initial environmental study of the proposal at Monday’s Bishop City Council meeting. There were many vocal opponents of the project, and ultimately the city’s elected leaders decided to review the study again and address some of the concerns raised.
But, the majority of the council supported the track idea and hoped it would not be scrapped.
Proponents of the track, particularly the Owensville RC Racing Club, said they want the track at the park to benefit everyone in the community as a free and accessible activity, especially for local youth. Club President Sam Vargas said on Tuesday that the idea was to have a place where kids could go after school to play and stay out of trouble.
Randy Gillespie, owner of Golden State Cycle in Bishop and who has constructed a track in his business’ parking lot, said RC racing is “good, clean fun for all ages.” And, he said that to him that’s what parks are all about, “bringing families together.”
There is currently a track for the club at the Tri-County Fairgrounds. The club had a track at the fairgrounds until Mule Days when the space was needed for other activities, and another track was built following the busy summer. Fairgrounds CEO Jim Tatum said that he is looking for a permanent place for a track at the fairgrounds.
Vargas said the club is trying to add the track at the park that would be open to the public, while the track at the fairgrounds would be a semi-professional track. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the track at the fairgrounds, located right off U.S. 395, attracts other RC aficionados traveling through town who would stop for a race and maybe spend some tourist dollars in the area.
Opponents of the project referred to the track and cars as a sort of gateway drug that will lead to other motorized activities at the park. This argument led to concerns about what the city’s vision for the park is and what philosophical ideals the city has for the park.
Daniel Pritchett, who lives next to the park on East Yaney, said he is opposed to the track being located at the park because of the noise of the RC cars, comparable to that of a leaf blower. But, he said the bigger questions is, “What is our vision of the park?”
Pritchett said to him, a park is a “natural setting.”
Sally Manning, also a resident of East Yaney, said a park should be a place to enjoy the outdoors. She said she questioned the “logic” of the city considering allowing a “motorized thing” in the park and that it could be a “gateway” to allowing other motorized activities there.
Pritchett suggested the track be built at the end of East Line Street on Bureau of Land Management-controlled parcels that have already been “sacrificed” to off-highway vehicle tracks and roads. He said the RC Club’s proposed track location is in an alkali meadow that should be rehabilitated and not left to deteriorate further.
He added that as far as the track being a lure to bring people to the park, “parks already bring families together, we don’t need another draw.”
Others claimed the sport can be toxic with its carcinogenic and poisonous fuel. These are concerns not adequately addressed in the study, according to Tim Pomykata, a resident of East Elm and arguably the closest resident to the park. Pomykata was referring to the chemicals in the nitrous oxide fuel of some of the cars.
Most of the cars are electric, because it’s easier to plug in a battery than fire up and maintain a tiny 1.3 cubic centimeter engine, said Club Secretary Derrick Lawrence. Vargas said he would not want an electric car-only limit for the park track, per a suggestion by Councilmember Jeff Griffiths.
Kathy Henderson, former council member and staunch opponent of the project, said she had attended prior meetings on the subject. She said she had heard the array of complaints – from Hanby being too busy a street to handle the track traffic to opposition from the park’s neighbors, Sterling Heights and the Bishop Senior Center – and thought the matter had been dumped. “But it looks like it’s still here.”
Henderson added that the land across the street from the proposed track location has already been determined to be set aside for future housing.
Following the public hearing, council members weighed in. Susan Cullen said she opposed the track as there are too many residents against it and no more staff time should be wasted on the matter.
Councilmember Jim Ellis said he thanked the citizens for bringing concerns to the council’s attention. He also said that “times change and cultures change” and that is not the council’s job to deny the club what they want to do.
Griffiths said he does not want to see the idea go away.
Mayor Laura Smith did not shy away in letting her opinions known. She said she has seen, heard and even “test drove” some of the cars and she did not think the cars, even the gas ones, were all that noisy. “And I have very sensitive ears.”
She added that in the park’s Master Plan, the area where the track would be located, would eventually be a softball field. She said she thought a softball game was loud too, and could run late into the evening and with a game comes lots of traffic. Smith addressed the air pollution concerns by saying that semi-trucks on Main Street are much bigger polluters than the tiny 1.3 cc engines.
The track proposal will be back in front of the council after staff has reviewed the comments made at Monday’s meeting and the environmental study.

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