Citing “overwhelming” opposition from the public, the Bishop City Council voted unanimously against the sale of City-owned property to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) at its regular meeting Monday night.
THE AOC wishes to build a new courthouse in Bishop. Its preferred, first-choice site was the .85 acre portion of the city parking lot located at the northeast corner of North Fowler and Church Streets.
Councilwoman Laura Smith said that, at first, she and Councilman Jim Ellis were leaning towards the idea of selling the property, thinking it would be good for local businesses. After discussing the issue with other councilmembers, fielding calls and letters, and listening to comments from those who attended the public meetings over the past several weeks, they changed their minds.
Smith said the council was hoping that the AOC would look at its counter-offer of the old schoolhouse and was pleased to note that here was no opposition to the idea, but the AOC seems to not be interested in that option for several reasons, not the least of which was the added cost for demolition. The AOC is also not interested in a long-term lease, but insists on owning the property where a courthouse would be located.
“Leasing the property would have provided a revenue stream over a long period of time,” said Smith.
According to City Administrator Keith Caldwell, there was “quite a bit of local opposition,” most notably coming from the loss of parking for downtown merchants, the current court, the Bishop Union High School, and the United Methodist Church.
In lieu of the preferred AOC site and the City’s offer of the old part of City Hall which houses the current court, Caldwell said that the AOC has little interest in tearing down the old building. They have concerns over the additional cost of demolition, as well as having to temporarily relocating the current court and staff to a suitable location for the several years it would take to tear down and construct a new courthouse building fronting Line Street.
Yet another public concern included the upcoming Warren Street project. The AOC wants to front the courthouse on the street, while Bishop Public Works and the community around the immediate area has expressed a desire for a small public park with useful space for community activities such as public concerts. Loss of parking was another concern.
The AOC’s secondary location is the McIver Street site, which will likely require yet another series of public meetings. The city’s council members are listening … and no doubt the public in Bishop will continue to insist on being heard.