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Court idea raises ire

March 7, 2014

Administrative Office of the Courts Senior Real Estate Analyst Joanne Williamson discusses the AOC’s proposal to buy city land and build a courthouse there during the Feb. 24 City Council meeting. City Administrator Keith Caldwell, attorney Peter Tracy and council members Laura Smith, Pat Gardner, Jim Ellis, David Stottlemyre and Keith Glidewell (l-r) listen from the front of the packed room. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip

As Bishop officials continue to weigh the Administrative Office of the Courts’ proposal to build a court facility on municipal property behind City Hall, the public response so far has been overwhelmingly negative.
The actual plans for the new Inyo County courthouse in Bishop are still on hold, meanwhile, pending necessary documentation.
The city has afforded the community several venues in which to express public reaction to the proposed building of a county courthouse at the northeast corner of North Fowler and Church streets. The new 21,015-square-foot, two-story courthouse will house one courtroom, one multi-purpose room and two chambers, according to the report by Administrative Office of the Courts staff at the Feb. 24 City Council meeting. The building would displace 59 existing park spaces, add back in 22 spaces reserved for courthouse business for a net loss of 37 of the spaces currently available for public parking.
The AOC Office of Court Construction and Management approached the city last year, asking to buy a .85-acre portion of the Fowler/Church parking lot, City Administrator Keith Caldwell said, after having selected City Hall as its preferred site and a MacIver Street alternative site in August 2011.
The City Council held public hearings on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 and invited community input via phone, email or letter. Citizen protest, by letter and at the two February hearings, raised a variety of points.
It was pointed out that the lot was established 40 years ago for multiple, year-round uses, which it provides now more than ever – AOC’s two-day parking survey can’t accurately reflect tourist town lot usage.
Business owners expressed concern about giving up a 24-hour, no-ticket lot that serves dozens of nearby merchants and their customers, to say nothing of the potential increase in commerce and traffic when the Warren Street Improvement Project is completed.
One person said he parked in the lot every day when he attended Bishop Union High school years ago – and nine months of the year students still do.
Increased traffic congestion was cited as was heavy lot use due to services, programs and performances held at United Methodist Church and Bishop Union High School, for example; seasonal event use such as Mule Days and Tri-County Fair tourist RV parking; and occasional use such as the farmers market; and small lawn areas used by rock climbers/hikers making preparations; (and) people enjoying the shaded gazebo areas.
Courthouse construction would require cutting down trees, said another person, which is not a good prospect considering that Bishop just became a Tree City USA.  And some folks “don’t want to give the land up because the city does not have that much property available for future use,” said Caldwell, who was at both hearings.
Some alternatives were suggested, such as elevating the proposed courthouse, leaving parking spaces under the building, and considering building in the little-used vacant lot on South Fowler, home of the old Greyhound station, which would be a short walk to City Hall.
Staying with ACO’s first choice, Real Estate and Asset Management Services Senior Real Estate Analyst Joanne Williamson presented a site-acquisition schedule with a close-of-escrow date of Jan. 31, 2015. Bishop Coldwell Banker Realtor Nancy Lowthorp has been hired to negotiate the purchase should it come to fruition. In its Jan.13 City Council presentation, Design and Construction Services Project Manager Gary Swanson proposed a very tentative first quarter 2017 start of construction date. And, according to AOC Communication Specialist Keby Boyer, AOC would solicit city and public input throughout the design element phase of the project.
In the event of a sale, Williamson said on Jan. 13, escrow must close by this December. When Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget takes effect July 1, projects that are ready will be funded first, she added.
According to Caldwell, “The city is not in negotiation as of yet. We are awaiting the (property) appraisal and the results of City Council’s closed session on March 10 … The issue will not be agendized” until the city has the necessary information, which includes a parking plan, preliminary design documents, a proposed price and environmental impact study.
As it stands now, the city’s options make up “a pretty short list,” Caldwell said – sell the property, enter into a long-term lease or none of the above.
Citizens may still give their feedback to the city’s question, “Would you be in favor of the new courthouse if there was no loss of parking in the Church and Warren Street areas?”
To respond, call Robin or Jana at  (760) 873-5863, email or mail a letter to: City Council, 377 W. Line St., Bishop CA 93514. As always, the public is invited to attend the 7 p.m. Monday, March 10 City Council meeting and give limited, specific commentary about this and other issues, Caldwell said.

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