By Deb Murphy
Bishop residents had asked the city for a value statement during the City Council’s February meetings. One of the proponents, Stephen Muchovej, went one step further, drafted a strong statement for acceptance and respect that was presented for discussion and action last Monday.
Following comments by more than 20 locals, Chairman Joe Pecsi came up with a compromise motion: shorten Mucovej’s two-page piece and bring it back as a proclamation, rather than a resolution. Councilmembers Laura Smith and Pat Gardner maintained the city and its council was already covered by the concept of “all men are created equal” found in the Declaration of Independence.
Councilmembers Karen Schwartz had a different approach. “You need to say things over and over. It’s proven it rubs off and comes back to you. We should keep saying it. We should shout it; who cares if it’s already been said.” Councilman Jim Ellis backed her up with a personal story of how simple communication can break down stereotypes and fear.
Two gay couples spoke of experiencing harassment and derogatory remarks escalating over the past two years. A Hispanic pre-school teacher told the Council her community is living in fear. “We want to contribute,” she said. “We want acceptance.”
The rest of the long line of speakers were Anglo moved by what they saw as the recent rise of intolerance, a division between “us and them.”
Steve Seats related an incident at a local gas station where derisive remarks were shouted out from a passing car aimed at a Hindu woman born in Missouri but mistaken for Muslim. “I told her that wasn’t the attitude of the community,” he said. “But that was only a half truth.”
Ceal Klinger’s story came from an experience while she and her husband were renting a home on the Bishop Paiute Reservation. Two neighbor dogs had been shot. “The family wouldn’t report it,” she said. “They were afraid to speak out; they weren’t used to being listened to.”
Sierra Club’s Fran Hunt’s example of tolerance and respect cited her relationship with Mike Johnston, an off-road enthusiast. “We probably disagree on more things than we’ve even discussed,” she said. “But we have mutual respect and have worked on projects together.”
The speakers insisted the value statement wasn’t political, it was gospel, the way people were supposed to behave.
The condensed value statement will come back to City Council at its April 10 meeting.
Other Council Action
The Council had its first discussion of short-term rentals, commonly referred to as Airbnbs. Associate Planner Elaine Kabala said the practice wasn’t addressed in the city’s Municipal Code and consequently, not specifically regulated. Approaches included either allowing or banning the practice, or allowing short term rentals with conditional use permits with minimum regulations and the requirement the owners pay Transient Occupancy Taxes. Karen and Ron McCoy spoke in favor of Airbnb’s explaining the availability of home-shares attracted tourists who wanted a more local experience. Other public comment included information from Julie Faber regarding agreements on TOT between Airbnb and San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Without the agreement, she said “they’d be spending money to police with no income.” Motel owner David Bhakta was okay with the concept as long as the homes were held to the same safety and Americans with Disability Act regulations. The Council agreed consideration had to be given to neighborhoods and wanted more time to look into the issues. City Administrator Jim Tatum suggested City Counsel Ryan Jones draft an ordinance “with a broad brush” as a starting point and bring the issue back to the Council at a future meeting.
County Water Director Bob Harrington went through his presentation on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and its requirements for agencies and plans. City Public Works Director Dave Grah recommended the Council vote to file as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency within the city limits, establish its intent to join with Inyo County in a Joint Powers Agreement and adopt the principles adopted by the County. The Council so moved and the motion passed. A public hearing will be held at the Council’s April 10 meeting.