About a dozen residents, including 4th District County Supervisor Marty Fortney, trickled in to the courthouse meeting held Thursday night at the Big Pine Town Hall to discuss the judges’ upcoming recommendation to the state on whether the new $33 million dollar courthouse should be built in Independence or in Bishop.
After a PowerPoint presentation outlining the pros and cons of both locations and alternatives, the residents resisted breaking up into small groups, which would have been of questionable value given the small number present. What followed was a substantive exchange of questions, answers, and comments.
The convenience of a new courthouse built in Bishop where the population center of the County is located was referenced by Judge Brian Lamb as analogous, at least to his thinking, as to that of placing a hospital or big bank where it can most readily be accessed and convenient by the most people. Judge Stout later, however, noted that in today’s society we often confuse “convenience” with “access”. Is a 45-minute drive to the courthouse in Independence depriving residents of access? Or is it just inconvenient?
The choices as presented were to build a new courthouse in Bishop and vacate the existing location at City Hall or to build the new courthouse in Independence as originally planned, vacate the historic courthouse, and turn over everything to the County of Inyo who owns the building with the exception of maintaining the historic courtroom for special ceremonial use or even as an overflow courtroom if needed.
There is $2.5 million dollars available in a Courthouse Construction Fund which can be used to improve or provide additional space needed for courtrooms and storage in either Independence or Bishop, in whichever location the new courthouse is not built.
Storage, security, handicapped access and courtroom space are major problems at both locations. Bishop has only one courtroom and there are two courtrooms in the courthouse in Independence with another building in town leased to provide one additional courtroom. Renovating the historic courthouse to meet current standards and requirements for court facilities is most likely cost prohibitive, according to Judge Stout.
Sentiment in the room by residents was not overwhelmingly in favor of the new courthouse being built in Independence. Not overwhelming-it was unanimous through a show of hands asked for by a resident after Judge Lamb, when questioned, said that he has not been keeping a count of how many are or are not in favor of one position or another but basing his decision on what he thinks best serves the County.
Judge Stout stated later in the meeting that it was clear that the overwhelming sentiment is in favor of the courthouse being built in Independence at every meeting held thus far. Lamb seemed to say that what people have had to say has little value in making the decision as there are many who are unwilling to voice their opinion publicly and those who have not had or taken the opportunity to make their feelings known.
The approach taken by the judges are clearly very different from one another. Judge Lamb seems to take an almost “actuarial” and “analytic” approach seemingly relying more on statistics to make a decision, while Judge Stout seems more empathetic to the concerns and feelings expressed by those who feel strongly that Independence is the center of government for the County and as such should be respected for its history, tradition, and the concern of all County residents. Hopefully a recommendation can be made which takes into account both approaches.
A major concern that has come up at every meeting thus far has been that Independence, and all of Inyo County’s small towns, be allowed to prosper and not have one town suffer so that another by virtue of size alone, always seems to prosper at the expense of the other communities in the county.
If you have not attended a meeting to have your views known, there are two more planned: Tecopa, Sunday, August 22 at the County Building and Lone Pine, Monday, August 23 at Statham Hall from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.