Not one, but two empty Kmart stores in Bishop, Calir.

Bishop’s City Council approved the much-discussed nuisance ordinance addressing vacant property at its Monday meeting. But, when it came to a formal registry of vacant buildings along with related requirements and fees, the Council balked, noting some improvement already in the downtown corridor.

The nuisance issue is two-fold: sad-looking empty storefronts in the immediate downtown corridor as well as two glaringly empty mega stores left when Kmart abandoned Bishop. The road to the ordinance started with a community workshop in 2017 where the focus was on empty storefronts. But, the ordinance passed this past Monday applies to all of Bishop, not just the commercial districts.

The definition of “public nuisance” is fairly specific. For instance, “overgrown vegetation constituting a fire hazard,” rather than a lawn that needed mowing two weeks ago; “accumulation of wrecked or inoperable vehicles, maintenance of premises detrimental to the health, safety or general welfare of the public.”

This ordinance “provides procedures and penalties for abatement of nuisances, including recovery of costs for abatement,” according to the agenda packet.

The first reading was held in late January, this second reading and approval puts the ordinance on the books.

The Council had questions and concerns with the idea of a vacant building registry. With the possibility of requiring fees to register a building held vacant for a specific period of time as well as other maintenance guidelines and enforcement procedures and penalties, councilmembers preferred the proverbial carrot over the stick. As Council Chair Stephen Muchovej explained, “the goal is to disincentivize empty buildings.”

“I’ve seen a change,” said Councilmember Jim Ellis noting that “some chronically empty buildings have changed hands.”

Councilmember Karen Kong’s concern was office buildings in Bishop currently occupied by Inyo County staff. Inyo’s consolidated office building at the north end of town will be ready for County staff early this spring, emptying out those offices.

In addition, Kong mentioned the poor condition of some commercial buildings. “I know people who wanted to rent but couldn’t afford the start-up costs and repairs,” she said. “Maybe require a level of habitability. That could be one piece of the pie.”

Ellis suggested a draft ordinance so the Council could see what a viable registry ordinance would looked like.


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