Last week, residents of Big Pine and Independence weighed in with their opinions on the proposed General Plan and Zoning Code Update at workshops held by the Inyo County Planning Department.
Many of the comments mirrored those made in other community workshops, while some were contradictory.
Planning Director Josh Hart began the workshops by explaining what the General Plan and Zoning Code Update involved and why it was needed. He also credited Senior Planner Cathreen Richards and Associate Planner Elaine Kabala, along with a special acknowledgement to Senior Planner Tanda Gretz, recently deceased, for putting much effort into the proposed plan and workshops.
The workshops were interactive, allowing residents to voice their opinions and to give their opinion by placing a red (for no) and a green (for yes) dot on large papers listing proposed changes and posted on the walls.
If there was one thing made abundantly clear at the meetings in Independence and Big Pine, it was that the residents love their communities. And while some residents said they do not want to see any changes that they fear would endanger their current quality of life, there were others who wanted to see greater efforts towards improving and expanding the local economies so that more young families and workers would be attracted to the area. Almost everyone seemed to agree that greater efforts are needed to promote tourism and make the area more appealing to visitors.
About three dozen residents attended the workshop in Independence. Not only was this workshop the best attended by far, it also was the longest as residents actively weighed in with their comments and suggestions past the two hours scheduled for the workshop. The workshop in Big Pine was also well-received by residents.
Hart asked those attending how they would describe their “Community Character” and noted how difficult it could be to define since many people have different views. So, rather than the Planning Department defining it, he asked the local residents, “What is it about your community that you feel makes it special?” Both Big Pine and Independence residents cited the “unique” rural nature of each community with its diverse, world-class landscapes, farmers markets, schools and close-knit people. They went on to add tourism, Native American tribal heritage, culture and innovation, and the remarkable tolerance within the communities for others who are “different.”
Many present at the meetings promoted food gardens and trees, while a few defended the “car gardens” sometimes found around and on some properties. They defended as well their right to use their yards for storage. Consequently many did not support the idea of “proactive code enforcement,” preferring to have the county stick with its “reactive” enforcement which requires a written complaint to be submitted to the Planning Department for action. As one participant put it, “No big-city rules!”
Independence residents particularly liked its Fourth of July celebration, as did Big Pine. The locomotive and museum, along with the other historic architectural landmarks found in Independence, were given the thumbs up.
Big Pine was proud of its animal shelter, great fire department, helpful businesses, and that it is the gateway to the Palisades, Bristlecone Forest, Death Valley and Deep Springs.
Asked how the current General Plan was working, most workshop participants indicated it worked well and that most neighbors having problems with other neighbors tended to “work them out between themselves.” It was pointed out that more people are gardening and growing local produce, although it was also pointed out that there should be more and that local storage for a sustainable food system was needed.
On the other hand, when asked how the General Plan is not working, some said there needed to be stronger codes and policies to preserve historic buildings and that current developments were becoming more “industrialized.” Others indicated the plan needed to encourage economic development through incentives to attract new businesses and expand existing ones; while yet a few said they did not want the communities to grow at all. There was support for protecting trees in Independence, and a concern that the code enforcement should address big trucks parking in town and creating noise with their engines running.
One problem on which almost everyone agreed was that both Big Pine and Independence, and the county, generally have issues with blight created by too many empty storefronts on their main streets. The concern was expressed that vacant buildings and unscreened construction on Main Street affect other businesses by making visitors reluctant to stop in town and spend money at local businesses.
Another problem mentioned in Independence was the lack of housing, in part because too many unoccupied houses are second homes. Some said they felt the situation deprived the community of much-needed housing and recommended tax incentives or disincentives to encourage the owners of these second homes to either live in them or allow others to do so.
When asked “What do you want to see in 10 years?,” both towns said they would like to see more economic growth, more businesses and less vacant stores on Main Street, more self-sufficiency on locally grown food, and better technology that provided connectivity and interactivity to government through the Internet, especially for public meetings and for Board of Supervisors meetings.
Independence would like to see the community more visitor-friendly with attractive information kiosks, maps and streetscapes, as well as better lighting and signage. Workshop participants also would like to see the American Legion Hall and other civic buildings restored.
In final public comments, participants also expressed support to keep the Scenic Highway designation in the plan and to encourage the current county supervisors to find a way to support it to encourage tourism.
Having attended both workshops in his district as well as in others, Fourth District County Supervisor Mark Tillemans said he was impressed with the response. “The participation was impressive and demonstrates just why our communities are such great places to live. It is important for the county government to know how its citizens feel about how they are to be governed. This was very helpful to me as a representative for the people in my district.”
All-in-all, the General Planning and Zoning Workshops were deemed helpful to the Planning Department. While some of the suggestions and comments were contradictory, generally speaking, the workshops were congenial and largely productive, with most suggestions and comments supported by those present.
It is now up to the Planning Department to incorporate the feedback and outreach into the General Plan and Zoning Code. And it is not too late for residents who were unable to attend any of the four workshops to provide input.
The proposed General Plan and Zoning Code can be found online at www.inyoplanning.org/GPandZoningUpdates.htm  and hardcopies are also available at the local public libraries. Comments can be left online using their contact form.
Anyone who prefers to speak with someone at the Planning Department for more information or assistance can call (760) 878-0263.