A multi-agency collaboration to enforce a special parking restriction plan on July 4 met with controversy at the June 24 City Council meeting.
Before the council approved the proposed Fourth of July “No Parking” plan which would restrict parking on certain city and county roads, a wide variety of positions and opinions were aired – environmental and community safety versus the financial survival of Bishop’s 60-year fireworks show tradition versus personal freedom on Independence Day.
A June 26 Inyo County Sheriff’s Department news release announced the “No Parking” plan: “In an effort to enhance public safety while simultaneously encouraging safe and responsible Fourth of July recreating, the Bishop Police Department, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, California Highway Patrol, Inyo County Road Department, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Bishop Fire have developed a cohesive enforcement and operations plan for the citizens and visitors of Bishop.”
On July 4-5, no-parking signs will be posted and enforced in these parking-restricted areas:
• Line Street/Poleta Road, from Bishop Creek Canal to one mile east of Airport Road, noon-10 p.m.
• Airport Road, noon-10 p.m.
• Hanby Street, from behind Bishop City Park to just north of East Pine Street, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
• Spruce Street, from Yaney Street to Wye Road, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
• East Yaney Street, from Spruce to Hanby streets, 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Additionally, DWP will enforce road closures in the following locations:
• Bishop Creek Canal from Williams Waste to Line Street, noon July 4-noon July 5
• South Fork Bishop Creek/Rawson Creek from Bishop Creek Canal to Poleta Road, noon July 4-noon July 5
According to Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Carma Roper, “vehicles are subject to being towed” and BPD PIO Katie Coffman said city parking ticket fines are $30.
In light of the Eastern Sierra’s “second major dry year in a row,” Sheriff Bill Lutze said, the “No Parking” plan is intended to establish safe areas from which the public can “view fireworks without impeding traffic or delaying response efforts in case of fire, ambulance or other emergencies along county and city roads.”
BVFD volunteer engineer and veteran pyrotechnician Don Kunze said that flame “dropped into cottonwood seed starts fire in a flash” and that the Bishop, CalFire and U.S. Forest Service fire departments are “only so large.” Fire Chief Ray Saguine added that the BVFD has to respond to fireworks-related fires every year. Case in point, he recalled one year when, after the long fireworks show shift, firefighters responded to a midnight request from residents and “ended up working up until 5 a.m.” Saguine also said that a fireworks-started fire is a felony.
Although the City Council approved the “No Parking” plan four to one, it was not without controversy and safety was not the only issue under consideration. Mayor Pro-tem Jim Ellis cast the dissenting vote. While “we are supposed to be celebrating our country’s freedom…” he explained, “we are saying you don’t have freedom” to park on public streets. For now the above-mentioned streets are restricted, he said, but “how far do we go with this?” Police Chief Chris Carter said that how far the restrictions go falls within the purview of City Council.
Councilmember Patricia Gardner pointed out that “we are sending a mixed message” when existing parking ordinances haven’t been routinely enforced. “This (“No Parking” plan) is the step we take to further inform people that we are upholding the ordinance.”
In addition to established municipal parking ordinances, there is also has an ordinance that permits only California State Fire Marshal-approved Safe and Sane fireworks use on private property. Absolutely no fireworks use is allowed on public lands or streets, Saguine said. “Any open flame must be permitted;” BVFD has been permitted by the county to put on Bishop’s fireworks show.
Kunze said that in addition to safety concerns, BVFD also has financial concerns. While “it is our honor to do this show for our nation’s greatest holiday,” the BVFD must foot the entire $29,000 bill, up front. He said that even with the public’s entry donation of $20 per carload and random donations, the show could not go on without “big-time sponsor support … We lose revenue. It’s disappointing to see people out there” watching for free.
Mayor Laura Smith pointed out that $20 doesn’t buy a lot of fireworks. For $20 per car loaded with people, “you can see thousands of dollars worth” of high quality fireworks that can’t be bought locally, and legally. (Safe and Sane fireworks booths will be open for business beginning noon Friday, June 28; out-of-state fireworks of any kind are illegal.)
As a caveat to his yes vote on the “No Parking” plan, Councilmember Keith Glidewell said he would like to investigate certain constituents’ suggestion for an all-day Fourth of July event/fireworks show at Mill Pond. Kunze later said he would be willing to assist Glidewell with any efforts to look into that option.
In the meantime, BVFD is working with local fire, law and land management entities to reduce the risk of accidental fires “by making sure everyone who may have usually parked outside the airport grounds can find adequate parking on our site as well as have a great viewing position to watch the show,” Kunze said.
For now, the Sheriff’s Department said that “all of the agencies involved appreciate the public’s cooperation” with the “No Parking” plan.