Local News

Scotty’s Castle Renovations Continue

Death Valley, Calif.— Scotty’s Castle located in the northern region of Death Valley National Park has been closed since October 18, 2015 when almost three inches of rain fell on the Scotty’s Castle area in Grapevine Canyon. The flash flood that ensued dramatically changed the landscape, the road and utilities were destroyed and some buildings damaged. Repairs are estimated at $47 million. Repairs are being funded over multiple years from a number of sources: park entrance fees, Federal Highways Administration, National Park Service deferred maintenance accounts, and donations.

Post flood, Death Valley National Park has requested funding from the Death Valley Natural History Association (DVNHA) to assist with funding several curatorial projects at Scotty’s Castle including: treatment of the silver collection, conservation of the Scotty’s Castle Upper Music Room Curtains, and repairs to the Scotty’s Castle Welte-Mignon Theatre Organ currently underway.

The Death Valley Natural History Association presented a check this week in the amount of $41,420 to fund the
reproduction of eight leather curtains in the Great Hall of Scotty’s Castle. The original painted and tooled sheepskin curtains are severely deteriorated. After 90 years of use in the desert, they have desiccation, tears, fading, cracking and loss of tassels. A professional conservation examination in 2012 determined that the
curtains are beyond repair. All curtains at Scotty’s Castle have an important function in protecting sensitive historic furnishings and textiles from further UV damage and also allow visitors to visualize the space as it was when occupied by the Johnson’s in the 1930s.

A complex project, leather stamps for this project were manufactured in 2018 using NPS funding and artisans
capable of stamping, cutting, coloring, and sewing the fully replicated reproductions took years to find. Appropriate weight and color matched leather is being sourced and artisans are now ready to begin work.

“This is the perfect timing for preservation and conservation work to take place while the collection has been taken out of Scotty’s Castle. Due to lack of temperature and humidly controls the entire collection normally housed within the Castle was removed for its protection. We have been working as fast as we can to raise
money so that necessary repairs to collection items can be made and so that the historic house can be reopened as complete as possible,” said David Blacker Executive Director of the Death Valley Natural History Association. “It all takes time and people willing to contribute.”

The Scotty’s Castle Historic District is scheduled to reopen in October 2021. During the closure, there are limited opportunities to visit Scotty’s Castle with a park ranger and see first-hand how the power of water shapes the landscape of Death Valley, listen to the stories of this unique palace in the desert, the people who called it home, and the projects underway to reopen this unique historic district. This season’s tours are offered on Sundays from December 8, 2019 through April 12, 2020. Reservations are required in advance. Tickets are $25 per person, available at www.dvnha.org. Proceeds from the tour benefit the Scotty’s Castle Historic Preservation Fund to support projects like the aforementioned. An additional $25,000 is needed for conservation treatment of the Scotty’s Castle Dining Room Curtains.

For more information on the Death Valley Natural History Association or to make a donation to the Scotty’s Castle Historic Preservation Fund please visit: www.dvnha.org.

Espitia Accepts Deal with Mono DA for 25 Years in Prison

Alleged sexual predator, Jorge Romero Espitia of Mammoth Lakes has accepted a plea-deal and will be charged with multiple felonies.

The Mammoth Lakes resident will be charged with twelve felonies and one misdemeanor. The felonies range from selling methamphetamine to minors and conducting sexual acts with minors.

A month ago, prosecutors were looking to set up a deal which would put Mr. Espitia away for at least eighty-five percent of a twenty-five year sentence. Mono County Assistant District Attorney, Dave Anderson spoke about the trial in October saying, “We anticipate Mr. Espitia and his attorney will end up accepting the deal the Mono County District Attorney’s office has offered.”

On May 16, 2019, the Mammoth Lakes resident was arrested for nineteen felony charges and had a bail set for $500,000 dollars.

What’s Next for the Bishop Kmart Property?

Kmart and Sears are getting ready to close another batch of stores throughout the United States in February. Transformco, the company who own both chains has announced it will close 96 Sears and Kmart stores, leaving the chain with 182 locations.

The Kmart based in Bishop has been confirmed by USA Today as a location which will shut its doors in just a few months time.

News of the store closure has many residents in the Eastern Sierra concerned as to where they will purchase items such as office supplies, clothes, and appliances.

Additionally, the closure has led to many people asking City of Bishop officials what is next for the location where Kmart sits.

Associate Planner and Economic Development Coordinator, Elaine Kabala was able to answer some of those questions during the Tuesday City Council meeting.

“The closing of Kmart is a significant issue to the community as it well should be.” Kabala said.

The Economic Development Coordinator told the council she and Interim City Administrator, Robin Picken are getting ready to meet with the property owners where the department store sits. “I spoke to Kmart headquarters as well as the property owners of the building and surrounding properties to talk about what their plans are for bringing in a future retail tenant. The property owners are still working on an internal strategy, but we will be setting up a meeting with the property managers next week.”

Elaine Kabala believes that property owners seemed to be receptive to the idea of bringing in another retailer. “I talked with them [the property owners] last week and initial conversations were very positive. They were interested in the Bishop Market and want to find a good fit for replacing Kmart.”

The City of Bishop employee also expressed the importance of finding a replacement quickly. Kabala expressed, “We are trying to get ahead of this issue and stay on top of it.”

As for now, all annual holiday endeavors are taking place at the Bishop Kmart this year. These events include KIBS Radio’s Coats for Kids Drive, Eastern Sierra Shop with a Cop, and Eastern Sierra Transit Authority’s Stuff-A-Bus event.

Funds Pour in for Fuel Reduction Projects in Mammoth

In March of 2019, the Mammoth Lakes Fire Safe Council was awarded a $1,000,000 grant from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) to complete the Lakes Basin Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project (‘project’). The ‘project’ provides valuable fuel reduction treatment on 630 acres in the Mammoth Lakes Basin to reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health and protect the watershed. The contractor’s proposed cost of the project resulted in an $181,275 deficit. The following agencies recently made significant financial contributions to support the project’s completion:

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ($60,425) Mono County ($30,425) Town of Mammoth Lakes ($60,425) Edison International – a parent company of Southern California Edison ($30,000)

“I am grateful these agencies and SNC recognized the importance of this project” stated Dave Easterby, MLFSC president. “The success of this project will be recognized by their financial contribution, along with the tireless efforts from volunteer individuals, including our primary grant writer, Matthew Diener, MLFSC Director at Large. We’re fortunate to be working with dedicated like-minded individuals within a community of supportive agencies.”

“This project’s success demonstrates the power in multi-agency collaboration and what volunteer groups can accomplish.” Juliana Jones, Secretary of MLFSC, continued “I am grateful so many entities, who care about the safety of our community, came together to provide financial contributions to this regional support effort.”

The Lakes Basin Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project will be completed in Fall of 2020. 568 acres were completed this season, providing valuable protection to the Mammoth Lakes Community. Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Community Water District and Mammoth Lakes Fire Protection District supported the ‘project’ development and grant administration. The MLFSC is thankful for the overwhelming support received by the community and recent financial contributions from other local agencies.

A New Regional Dispatch Center Could be Built in Bishop

The Bishop City Council unanimously voted 5-0 to approve funding for a site-study of a new regional dispatch center that would be based in Bishop.

The idea is for the Bishop Police Department, Mammoth Lakes Police Department, Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, and Mono County Sheriff’s Office to have all of their dispatchers working together in the same space.

Bishop Police Chief, Ted Stec argued in favor of the project saying, “A Regional Dispatch Center would save money because it would require less personnel from all agencies in the area in the long run.”

Mammoth Lakes PD and Mono and Inyo County Sheriff’s Offices are requesting that the City of Bishop pay $25,000 to help split the cost of the study of feasibility four ways with the total estimated at approximately $100,000 dollars.

Currently, Bishop has not budgeted for such a study, whereas other agencies have pooled together their resources and approved the funding for the investigation.

Council member Chris Costello of the City of Bishop seemed wary of the cost. “We already have a great dispatch center in place. I think if the system is not broken, then don’t fix it.” the council member stated.

However, Costello also said that he did not want to leave the town’s neighbors hanging out to dry, and brought forth the idea of providing $5,000 dollars of funding toward the study to in order to demonstrate good will.

Mayor Pro-Tempore Laura Smith expressed interest in the project saying, “Yes, we already have a good dispatch center set up, but we can make it even better by adding emergency medical dispatch services to the regional dispatch center.”

Police Chief Stec acknowledged the feasibility of adding medical services to the center but said the dispatchers would need further training in that realm to add it into the center’s repertoire.

During the meeting, it was apparent that most members of the city council were wary of being perceived as being bad neighbors. Karen Schwartz of the city council spoke on the issue saying, “I support the regional dispatch center because it supports the greater good and helps out our entire region.” Mayor Jim Ellis expressed similar feelings on the matter, and seconded Schwartz’s motion.

Rob Patterson, the Finance Director for the Town of Mammoth Lakes was in attendance and told the council he did not believe the project would be as expensive as the estimated price. “I don’t think the cost of the study will be $100,000.” Patterson said. “It may be around that amount, but we just want to ensure that there is enough money available to complete the study. There is also a chance that it could be something the California Office of Emergency Services covers, we have to explore that further.”

Shortly after, the council voted unanimously to approve funding not to exceed $25,000 dollars. Councilmen Costello and Muchovej reluctantly voted in favor of the study, whereas Smith, Schwartz, and Ellis supported the study.

The study is expected to take a few months, with no solid timetable available at the moment.

Affordable Housing Development in Mammoth is Gaining Traction

The Town of Mammoth Lakes is getting ready to issue a request for statements of qualifications for the development of a piece of land known as The Parcel, which consists of twenty-five acres of land near the center of Mammoth Lakes.

A statements of qualification is a process relating to accepting bids for the development of a property.

Mammoth Lakes wishes to, “identify a development team consisting of one or more developers that will be the best fit to partner with the town to develop The Parcel.”

Currently, the Town of Mammoth Lakes has set broad guidelines and objectives for what they wish to see in a possible development for the existing site, which includes the construction of 400-450 properties ranging from studio apartments to entire houses zoned for affordable residences to be completed by 2022.

According to an official document from the Department of Public Works for the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the cheap housing is required to be priced at or below 120 percent of the area’s median income.

Other than creating affordable housing, The Parcel must adhere to the town’s wishes and include a community facility, formal and informal open spaces, vehicle and bicycle parking for residents and guests, and must consider pets in the design of the neighborhood.

Further restrictions include establishing a “livable, integrated, and well-designed community.” For example, the Town of Mammoth Lakes wishes to assure that the structures built connect seamlessly to the neighborhood and its surroundings.

Although 2022 is a long way off, the town council of Mammoth Lakes is taking steps toward turning The Parcel into homes in the future. On November 21, a pre-submittal conference for interested parties is scheduled for those who would like to find out more. After that, the Town Council is expected to accept a preferred conceptual land use plan on December 11, meaning the town desires to regulate property to ensure a more desirable socioeconomic outcome.

Death Valley Set to Open All Camgrounds

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Stovepipe Wells and Texas Springs Campgrounds will open on November 14. At that point, all of Death Valley National Park’s 785 front-country campsites will be open.

Campground fees range from free to $36/night. Eighteen sites at Furnace Creek Campground offer RV hookups.

All campgrounds are first-come, first-served, except Furnace Creek Campground. Campers can reserve for Furnace Creek four days to six months in advance at recreation.gov or 877-444-6777.

The Oasis at Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells Resort, and Panamint Springs Resort also offer camping.

Bishop Advance to the Second Round of CIF CS

Photos by Gary Young

The Broncos advanced to the second round of the CIF Central Section Division Six playoffs Friday, beating Boron 13-0.

This was not the same game that took place just three weeks ago in which the High Desert League Champions won 56-6. Boron were better prepared for Bishop this time, and did a good job containing the team’s dangerous rushing attack.

On Friday, Bishop had 178 total yards rushing with one touchdown, compared to the 307 yards and six touchdowns the Bobcats surrendered back in late October.

Nearly two quarters in, the game remained scoreless until Luke McClean punched in a touchdown on a run up the middle inside Boron’s five yard-line with a minute left before the half. The easy score was set up by a beautiful pass from Luke McClean to Steven Paco which was caught for thirty yards and put Bishop deep into enemy territory .

Later on in the game, McClean demonstrated his ability to throw yet again, when he found team receiving leader, Joe Weaver on a pass up the middle for fifty-two yards, making it 13-0 in favor of Bishop. The Junior finished the game with three receptions for ninety-five yards and one touchdown.

The senior quarterback would finish the night with 180 yards passing and one touchdown.

Bishop’s defense had another outstanding performance, shutting out their opponent for the second straight game. Kennedy Bachelder led the unit in tackles with a total of ten along with seven tackle-assists, while the defensive line plugged up Boron’s running lanes.

The Bobcats were able to get ninety yards on the ground on thirty-nine attempts. Tristan Valle led the defensive line in tackles with six. Three of his tackles were tackles for a loss.

Up next for Bishop is a match-up against the Foothill Trojans, who are the number eight seed in the playoffs.

The Slim Princess Locomotive Party Was a Big Hit

About 200 people came out to celebrate the return of the Slim Princess Locomotive #18 to the Eastern California Museum in Independence.

Visitors from throughout the region and all across Inyo County enjoyed the day-long Welcome Home Party for #18 on Nov. 2. The day started early when the all-volunteer crew from the non-profit Carson and Colorado Railway fired up historic, narrow gauge steam engine. Dozens of people watched the start-up process and enjoyed photographing the handsome locomotive as it traveled up and down the short stretch of track on the Museum grounds. A steady stream of train enthusiasts, including plenty of families, then got an “up close and personal” view of how the vintage, 1911 steam locomotive operates by taking a “cab ride.” The volunteer train engineers and brakemen explained the complex controls and answered questions during the rides

Carson and Colorado President Dave Mull was also on hand to answer questions about the nearly 20 year effort to get the locomotive running after its career with the Southern Pacific Railway traveling from Laws to Keeler. In the 1950s the engine was retired and donated to Inyo County and placed in Dehy Park in Independence before being brought back to life by the CCRW group.

The Slim Princess recently came back to its Independence home after a nearly year-long “visit” with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Randy Babcock, the Chief Mechanical Officer of the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and Vice President of the CCCRW, presented a slide show and talk on the engine’s time in Durango. Babcock also signed copies of his recently completed book, “SP Narrow Gauge 18 Steams Anew.” The book relates SP #18 was taken apart and then put her back together with clear, concise writing and more than 100 photos and maps.

The Friends of the Eastern California Museum sponsored a silent auction featuring dozens of books and other merchandise related to the history of the Eastern Sierra. The Friends also hosted the afternoon tri-tip dinner on the Museum grounds, with Dugan Whistler’s mouth-watering tri-tip beef and beans. Students from the Owens Valley School helped serve the meal, and the crowd was entertained by the Black and White String Band, featuring local musicians Nina Weisman on mandolin and Howie Schwartz on guitar, playing bluegrass and “old time music.”

The Slim Princess is “home” in the Larry Peckham Engine House at the Eastern California Museum,  at 155 N. Grant St., just three blocks west of the Historic Inyo County Courthouse in Independence. For more information call 760-878-0258. For more about the Carson & Colorado Railway group, see carsoncolorado.com.

40-Year Old Hiker Found Deceased

NORTH LAKE (INYO NATIONAL FOREST), CA. November 7, 2019 – On November 4 (evening), Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received notification of a missing hiker. The reporting party said that Alan Stringer, a 40-year old man from Huntington Beach, had planned on hiking somewhere out of the Bishop area on Sunday but failed to return home on Monday.
Stringer, who was described as an experienced hiker, did not disclose his hiking plans or potential routes. However, he recently purchased and ice ax and crampons, and participated in mountaineering training courses. Stringer was equipped for day-hiking only; he had an InReach device that he hiked with, but it was never activated. After checking trailheads throughout the Bishop area, Sheriff’s Deputies located Stringer’s vehicle at North Lake shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday a forensic analysis of Stringer’s cell phone activity revealed only one call very early in the morning from downtown Bishop on Sunday November 3 (before his planned hike). Inyo Search and Rescue used aerial support to fly the areas near and around North Lake.
On Wednesday ground teams searched the areas of Paiute Pass, Lamarck Col and Mt. Emerson. Aerial reconnaissance with night-vision capability was used Wednesday night.
Today ground teams will continue to scour the areas near and around North Lake, paying extra attention to Wonder Lake Basin, Lamarck Col, Mt. Lamarck summit, and Mt. Emmerson.  Aerial support will be used again today (H-40 out of Fresno). Sequoia and Kings National Park is running a joint operation concentrating on the following locations: Darwin Canyon and Darwin Peak.
If anyone from the public has seen Alan Stringer (particularly on Sunday November 3) and can provide us with a more conclusive hiking route please call 760-878-0383 option 4. We do not have a conclusive description of what he was wearing but he could potentially be wearing a bright green “puffer” style jacket or a dark green light-weight jacket. His ice ax is lime green. Stringer is 6’04”, 230 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes.

UPDATE– On Nov 7 around 2:30pm Sequoia and Kings National Park located Alan Stringer deceased at the top of the Darwin glacier, near the base of the notch to go up Mount Darwin. Sequoia and Kings will be conducting the investigation and recovery.

Search photos for Stringer SAR
Alan Stringer has been missing since Sunday Nov 3 out of the North Lake area. Tips can be reported to Inyo SO at 760-878-0383 option 4.