A proposed Radio Controlled (RC) Race Track at Bishop City Park has more than a few residents concerned, and on Monday night they took those concerns to the Bishop City Council in a scheduled public hearing on the issue.
“What is an appropriate use for the Park?” wondered nearby property-owner Daniel Pritchett. “Parks traditionally imply greenery and places to relax in a natural setting. Motorized vehicles are what many people go to parks to get away from.”
Last month the Owensville RC Racing Organization brought a request to the Bishop Parks and Recreation Commission that Bishop’s RC track, currently located at the Fairground, be moved to Bishop City Park. Parks and Rec approved the conceptual idea and forwarded it to City Council, and City Staff completed a Draft Negative Declaration assessing the potential social and environmental impacts of the new RC track.
Previously the Owensville RC Racing Organization built a track and conducted races in the desert off Brockman Lane, but because of liability issues, LADWP (Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power) asked Owensville to find another location.
According to Interim City Administrator Keith Caldwell, Owensville wished to find a centralized location where children could walk their cars, and where RC competitions might eventually be held. “They have the opportunity to continue at the Fairground if the Park doesn’t come through,” Caldwell said, “or they may look for another location.”
Many of the residents assembled at Monday’s hearing wondered why the Owensville track shouldn’t just stay where it is. Their primary concern: the amount of noise the track would generate in the Park and the surrounding neighborhood. A decibel meter reading of Nitro (fuel) powered RC cars for the Negative Declaration noted that 3 fuel cars are equivalent to a Yamaha dirt bike at 50 feet away, and comparable to the sound of passenger cars and pick-ups driving by down the street.
Residents found these comparisons far from reassuring. “I’ve heard the noise described as something comparable to a leaf-blower,” said Pritchett. “That’s not something I look forward to.”
Resident Debby Parker also noted the possibility that “[Owensville] might be running as many as 5 fuel cars on each of the  tracks at once,” which means that the decibel meter reading doesn’t present an accurate idea of the amount of noise that could be generated by the track. She and other residents also noted that, unlike a passing car or a leaf-blower, RC cars would be continuously running around the track for long stretches of time, creating a sustained level of noise.
A proposed berm to block the noise lacked the specifics to satisfy residents. “The concept of the sound absorbability of a berm needs testing,” said Thomas and Jo Heindel in a letter to City staff; “The height was not discussed…. [And] how will the appearance of berms add or detract from the aesthetic of the Park?”
Other concerns: the track’s proximity to the senior center; hours of use; and air pollution from dust kicked up on the track as well as from the gas powered RC vehicles.
Addressing the last concern, Golden State Cycle owner Randy Gillespie noted that the percentage of gas cars raced at the track behind his shop was much lower than electric. “I sell many more electrics because of the ease,” he said. “You just plug it in.”
“I’m interested if there’s a difference in opinion between electric or gas powered cars,” wondered Council Member Jeff Griffiths. Said resident Tim Pomykata in response, “I don’t find that gas power is acceptable at all. I’d be willing to be more open-minded about electric.”
Randy Gillespie’s suggestion: “Treat this like the Adventure Trails ‘pilot program.’ It doesn’t take anything to build. Give it 3 years and time to mature, and let people see what it really is.”
Council Members agreed that, whether or not the RC track might be installed as a pilot program, possibly even with a ban placed on fuel cars, a further assessment needed to be made of the site to address residents’ concerns. “Times change,” said Council Member Jim Ellis; “people’s recreations change. To exclude this group from the Park I don’t think is our job. But to mitigate the effects [of the track] is.”
Staff will conduct a further review of the RC track project based on the challenges brought forward by the public. Given these findings, as well as additional public comment, Council will then choose to accept or deny the proposed project within the next several City Council meetings.