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California: Commerce City Council Votes to Close Shooting Range Despite Protests

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bristow Range is unique. Named after one of the City of Commerce’s founders, this range is a public facility that was operated by Commerce’s Parks and Recreation Department. The range is located below ground in the Veterans Memorial Park Building, which is used for various recreational activities.

            In the Fall of 2009, Commerce "temporarily" closed the range based on testing that indicated the presence of lead dust nearby. About a month later, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) issued a "Notice to Comply" to Commerce regarding the range’s operations. The AQMD Notice to Comply and related communications instructed Commerce that it could not reopen the range until it got the AQMD’s approval.  Built in 1971 on top of a landfill, this facility is experiencing building subsidence issues, which adds to the complexity of the situation and the uncertainty of the range’s future.

            On February 15, 2010, the City Council for the City of Commerce postponed a vote over the future of the James W. Bristow Marksmanship Range in Commerce’s Veterans Memorial Park. Though city staff recommended permanent closure of the range, lawyers for the NRA and CRPA were successful in asking for time to bring in experts and consultants to study the situation. This request was reiterated by several members of the public who spoke to oppose the closure of the range.  Not one public speaker was in favor of the range’s closure.

City staff has alleged that only 209 Commerce residents paid to use the range in 2009, failing to mention the range was closed for a quarter of that year, and further omitting the fact that the annual “turkey shoot” (which draws upwards of a thousand local area residents) was also cancelled in 2009. The supposed lack of public participation is something the Council focused on. But public comments made at the February meeting indicate that the range has not had proactive management, that the range has not been properly promoted, and that an increased effort to acquire new governmental or other contract users, such as police agencies, could have subsidized the cost of operating the range, or even made the range profitable.

            Throughout the rest of February and March, usage and management issues, in addition to environmental, technical, and safety issues, were evaluated by an NRA Range Team Technical Advisor, NRA California staff, and local grassroots activists. NRA/CRPA lawyers went to work along with local and regional activists to determine the true scope of the problem at the range. Sadly, city staff threw obstacles in the way at every opportunity, dragging their feet on turning over documents and refusing to allow a range inspection by qualified consultants and experts on the same terms as the City apparently required of its own consultants. It seems the City was predisposed to close the range, and only allowed the extra time to placate local activists.

NRA/CRPA range experts and lawyers nonetheless supplied a report that showed that the possibility of economical repairs (particularly to the ventilation system) was not even raised by city staff in its public presentations to the City Council. Even knowing that city staff had not addressed an obvious potential alternative to closure, the City Council voted to close the range anyway, likely for fear of lawsuits from neighbors around the range facility.

Alternative uses for the range facility, including the possibility of using it as an air rifle range, are being proposed by area activists.  The Staff Report and the NRA / CRPA Report are posted at www.calgunlaws.com.

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