By Deb Murphy
Bishop’s Economic Development element of the General Plan and a series of related community workshops have all consistently identified what the city needs to incubate and grow its economy. Now, with the report from last spring’s Sustainable Strategies program of the Environmental Protection Agency, area businesses and city staff have a road map to help get there.
The city’s Associate Planner Elaine Kabala ran through the findings in the report at Monday’s City Council meeting. Much of it was planning-speak, but the vision was solid and consistent with ideas the community has already validated: a revitalized downtown core, more housing and a stronger economy.
There are, however, a few tough hurdles to overcome. First, a pedestrian/bike friendly downtown would require what they call “traffic calming” realistically defined as “just slow down and realize you’re in a vibrant, fun place.”
Mixed uses and parking issues are already being addressed by the city. One idea gaining ground is a revision of municipal codes that would allow for the conversion of second stories of commercial buildings into apartments. The city has made changes to parking regs and is in the process of developing signage so tourists can find convenient parking areas.
The mixed-uses for downtown buildings pretty much kills two birds with the proverbial stone: it brings more activity to the downtown core and helps solve the limited housing problem. The EPA’s consultant, Renaissance Planning, also recommended a regional housing strategy. Valley residents don’t have to live in Bishop, but they still have to shop in the city.
For City Administrator Jim Tatum, the need for more housing of all types is a high priority. “To date,” he stated in an e-mail, “it’s been two steps forward and one step back, but progress nonetheless.”
Under strengthening the local economy, the report recommends county, institution and civic offices “infill downtown locations to help/support economic activity.” Inyo County already has leased office space throughout Bishop but is trying to build an under-one-roof office compound north of the downtown core.
Maximizing and marketing Digital 395 is a big one. The ideal new business development would bring in what the report calls “digital nomads,” folks who can work where they want to live. These nomads may not bring on hordes of new employees, but they buy homes, contract for services and shop locally without making a huge dent in the environment.
The highest, and possibly most important, hurdle is “establishing a more collaborative process between the city and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.” The report suggests a Memorandum of Understanding between the entities for a long range “property disposition plan.” Such an MOU would help the city develop realistic goals.
So who does what to bring about these changes? Tatum’s answer: “It’s my sense that ultimately success will be a product of an orchestrated effort joined by many. The City’s role is one of empowerment, facilitation and infrastructure development. Our current strategy includes the identification of a willing property owner or two on a specific block to focus our efforts. Ideally, significant improvement within a microcosm of the downtown area becomes contagious.”
Perhaps the most valuable element of the report is access to websites outlining successes through case studies as well as available resources. To get a look at the full report and those websites, go Bishop’s City Council meeting page on the Internet, click on Monday’s agenda and go to item 10B.