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Residents help set city priorities

August 27, 2014

Gary Schley, City of Bishop Planning Director

More than 120 residents from throughout Inyo County weighed in recently when the City of Bishop asked for input on the future of economic sustainability and growth in Bishop.
Overwhelmingly, they said the city’s top priority for economic development should be promotion of tourism. Rounding out the top five were downtown business improvements, Bishop airport expansion/improvements, arts and cultural promotion and new business recruitment.
Local business owners were joined at the open house by attendees as far away as Shoshone.
“Public involvement, that’s the key to all of this,” said Planning Director Gary Schley, who, along with consultants from BBC Research & Consulting, organized the July 30 interactive open house at City Hall where the public voted on economic development assets, goals, priorities and more.
The information gathered from the open house and comments being accepted at City Hall will eventually be used as the basis for an updated Economic Development Element in the city’s General Plan – its overall blueprint for Bishop.
An updated Economic Development Plan in particular, Schley explained, will give the city guidelines and direction by which to operate when considering possible zoning regulation changes that might benefit the business district, and could also make Bishop eligible for actual economic development dollars to be used in the city.
Since the plan will be based on public input, open house organizers were hoping for a healthy turnout. “The turnout was absolutely tremendous,” Schley said. “In fact, the consultant who was there, he has done many of these open houses in much larger cities and he stated the participation at this open house was one of the best he’s ever seen.”
According to Schley, it was also heartening to see open house attendees talking about economic development with each other. “This seemed to have opened up a dialogue,” he said.
Schley attributes the turnout to residents being both concerned and worried about the state of the economy, and also invested in the well-being of their community in general.
Aside from casting votes for economic development priorities, those concerned and interested residents also helped the city narrow down its existing economic strengths, ways to further strengthen the economy and future goals.
Here’s the top five for each.
Economic strengths:
1. Beautiful natural environment
2. World-class opportunities for outdoor adventures
3. Digital 395
4. Tourism
5. Undeveloped land
Ways to strengthen the economy:
1. Developing airport services
2. Regional tourism promotion through an Eastern Sierra “brand”
3. Expanding arts, cultural and outdoor opportunities
4. Improving retail goods and services
5. Encouraging light industrial development
Challenges:
1. Old thinking, small mindedness
2. Tolerating tourists rather than welcoming them whole-heartedly
3. Old school fears or values that are resistant to trends and problem solving ideas that may have been used in similar communities elsewhere; e.g. the fight over parking, the resistance to things like hostels and AirBnB.
4. Zero growth, total preservation mentality
5. Current business antipathy to new business coming in
Economic development goals:
1. Preserving and protecting small businesses
2. Revitalizing downtown Bishop
3. Investing in place-making efforts
Attendees also cited as values, to put economic development in context, “preserving Bishop’s small-town feel” and “open spaces (backyard).”
Residents were keen on the Bishop Airport being used to the area’s economic benefit. The county happens to be in the middle of updating its Airport Master Plan (similar to a General Plan element update) and, because it is also seeking as much input as possible, suggested the city include the airport as a voting choice at the open house.
“They thought the open house would be a good avenue (for input) and it was,” Schley said. “Improvements out there may be a great asset to Bishop.”
From here, the city will begin a vetting process of the open house results. Essentially, the city will be inviting various community members – business owners, residents, agency representatives – to form a working group to distill open house input into what the public thinks is most important for economic development in Bishop.
Schley anticipates a draft Economic Development Element update to be released for public review this winter, and a final document by March 2015.
Ideas about economic development in Bishop are still being accepted. E-mail Jen Garner from BBC Research & Consulting at jgarner@bbcresearch.com, or drop off written comments for the Planning Department at City Hall, 377 W. Line St.
For more information, call (760) 873-5863 or visit www.ca-bishop.us.

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