Residents outline objections to homeless parking plan

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

The two Bishop residents who have appealed a decision that would allow the homeless a “Safe Parking Lot” on the Bishop Church of the Nazarene property state that the Inyo County Planning Department failed to perform a thorough investigation while preparing its report on the proposal, according to the appeals document.
In their appeal, filed with the county on Feb. 6, Scott Cimino and Laura Gleason state that while Inyo Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action, Inc., and other organizations have good intentions to help the homeless, “the means to provide such help should not adversely affect students, community members, or neighbors, nor should it compromise the safety of the community as a whole.”
The Eastern Sierra Continuum of Care, a coalition of human service providers including IMACA, proposed to operate a Safe Parking Lot with up to 15 vehicles on the Bishop Church of the Nazarene property. The church is located at at 900 W. Line St. Persons experiencing homelessness and living out of vehicles would be permitted to park overnight in spaces along the church’s west property line, only between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily, and must leave the premises in the morning. Trained staff will supervise the parking lot and ensure that participants comply with established rules and regulations. In addition, targeted vulnerable populations that include families with children and persons with disabilities, will be linked with essential services and housing.
A conditional use permit for the proposal was considered by the Inyo County Planning Commission on Jan. 22 and approved after considerable discussion.
Cimino and Gleason state in their appeal that in their opinion, the Planning Department misrepresented the project information and failed to accurately analyze the effects of this project. They site a number of concerns regarding the Planning Department’s report, including:
• “Surrounding Land Use – The report indicates the land to the east, south and west is “Vacant/Open Space.” This is categorically incorrect. For decades, all three of these sides indicated are operated by the Bishop Unified School District as a facility specifically used for the agricultural program and FFA projects. To overlook this information is gross negligence on the part of the Planning Department in preparing the report and is substantially misleading to anyone referencing the report. The school should have been directly consulted on this proposal as it has the potential to significantly impact the safety of students and school operations.
• Findings - Item 5 (of the conditional use permit application) states the terms of the agreement between IMACA and the church will ensure the proposed use will not have an impact on the surrounding facilities. The terms of the contract are solely at the discretion of IMACA and the church and can be amended at any time without county input or approval. This, according to the appellants, does not provide evidence that the conditional use permit is “properly related to other uses ... in the vicinity.”
• Item 6 (of the conditional use permit application) indicates fencing and the adjacent Highway 168 will “keep project site occupants from leaving the property.” This is again misleading. The fencing is simple barbed wire and the road is public access without restriction. Individuals can easily access any areas surrounding the project.” The evidence also states that the project will not 'change or increase the current level or type of use; and therefore, it will not create impacts on the health or safety of persons living or working in the vicinity or be materially detrimental to the public welfare.” This evidence cannot possibly be true if the assumption was made that the surrounding property was 'Vacant/Open Space,' when in fact it is occupied by young students on a daily basis up to the property boundary.”
The safety and welfare of students also has led the Bishop Unified School District to oppose the proposal.
“The motivation and rationale for implementing a project that offers space and services to persons experiencing homelessness is commendable and certainly warranted given local and state-wide increase in homelessness,” a Feb. 5 letter from the district states. “In order for us to consider supporting the proposed location, we would need many more safeguards such as fencing and full-time supervision. We understand that this is likely to be financially prohibitive and would like to see if there might be a more practical location in our county that might serve that purpose without such close proximity and access to our school and our students.”
For more information call the Inyo County Planning Department at (760) 878-0263.