Three incumbents and one challenger made their case at Monday evening’s Bishop City Council candidates’ forum hosted by the Sunrise Rotary.
The format mirrored that of last week’s forum for Northern Inyo Healthcare District candidates: opening statement, responses to prepared questions and an audience Q&A session.
The incumbents Laura Smith, Jim Ellis and Pat Gardner’s introductory remarks focused on their longevity in the area, service both on the council and other organizations and the City’s accomplishments over the past few years. Howard Wu said he was serious about serving on the council and had been shadowing the meetings for the last two years.
The first question addressed the elephant in the room: the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Gardner and Smith noted issues like lease negotiations, irrigation allotments and land releases. “We have to choose our battles,” Smith said.
As a LADWP employee, Ellis has to recuse himself during discussions and votes on issues involving LADWP, but, he said, he communicates with the City Administrator. “DWP has many faces,” Wu said describing the department as a “cloud presence” in the valley.
On the impact of legalized recreational marijuana and its impact on the City, Wu, a medical provider, admitted Proposition 64 is flawed. “It’s important for public education to help kids make wise decisions.”
Smith and Ellis noted local entities can introduce their own regulations. Gardner acknowledge advisory ballot measures put on the Nov. 8 ballot by Inyo County, adding “the citizens will determine the regulations.”
On the challenges, opportunities and priorities of the City’s finances, the incumbents reminded the audience the City had survived some lean years and were financially healthy. Ellis’ priorities were tourism and economic development; Gardner identified the final mile broadband as a high priority; Wu wanted to see a more diverse economy.
The first of eight audience questions mirrored the final prepared question: challenges the City faces. All four candidates repeated their highest priorities: Gardner, broadband; Wu, economic diversity; Ellis, more land for development; Smith, the airport. “The City is willing to subsidize,” she added.
All four supported more bike and pedestrian trails. They also admitted it wasn’t within the City’s purview to rename Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day.
On whether the City Council reflected the City’s population, all four thought it did. Gardner pointed out the City was too small to vote by districts. “If you don’t feel you’re represented, encourage someone to run who does represent you,” said Gardner. Wu encouraged people to “just show up” at Council meetings. “We’re one community, everybody has a voice,” he said.
Ellis’ solution to safer crosswalks was push-button activated twinkling lights to warn motorists at crossings that CalTrans should be encouraged to install in the downtown corridor. Wu suggested warning or ticketing speeders.
No one wanted to cut City funds to the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Center despite additional funding from the Tourism Business Improvement District. According to Ellis, the City’s contribution to the center was $148,000, cut to $77,000 following the passage of the TBID.
“That’s an incredible return on the dollar,” he said.
Could the City encourage businesses other than tourism that pay better wages? Ellis and Wu said the role of the City was to create a business environment and support projects that could create a more diverse economy.
Gardner repeated her desire for the final mile broadband; Smith, for a passenger service airline. Ellis mentioned land acquisitions; Wu saw the area as perfect for science/tech-based businesses.
Economic Development, improved infrastructure, the City Park and recreational opportunities for young people all rated high as programs the candidates wanted to see continued.