Chamber voices support for building solution

Council adds ‘performance evaluation’ of city manager to closed-session agenda

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Chamber voices  support for building solutionFollowing a request to evaluate the confusing and irregular practices in the city’s building and development department, raised at the prior meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council by IWV Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Scott O’Neil , the issue was brought back at Wednesday’s council meeting by several people speaking out from the public microphone.

At the March 20 meeting, O’Neil proposed that the EDC work with the city, on behalf of property developers, to develop clear guidelines that would outline requirements and fee structures up front so that there were no surprises that drive up costs — which has resulted locally in projects being abandoned before completion.

To demonstrate the opacity of the process, Rusty and Tina Warren shared how hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost overruns (much of which came back to failings in the city process) eventually caused them to cease improvements on their property on China Lake Boulevard.

(See news-ridgecrest. com/news/ 0000009803).

Following publication of the Warrens’ story, more people came forward with their experiences — as well as offers to help the IWVEDC and Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors, which have been involved in gathering input and putting together an outline to address solutions.

Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jan Bennett weighed in on the topic, following two other citizens who addressed their concerns during public comment.

“Two of the chamber’s core values are helping to create a strong local economy and representing the interests of business with government,” said Bennett.

“We would like to pledge our support to the integrated effort begun by Economic Development Corp. and the Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors to develop a written guide to define the planning and permitting process. That’s an excellent suggestion. It will add transparency and eliminate the surprises that so often create frustration and delays.”

She noted that such a process would serve not only developers, but also staff members responsible for administering the process.

“We are ready, willing and able to join the effort that has been started to work with city, developers, builders and community to address those challenges in developing a streamlined process.”

Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens reported during the meeting that she was also working with the city’s Economic Development Committee to establish a process.

Although neither staff nor council commented on the issue, a last-minuted addition to the council agenda allowed for the closed-session performance evaluation of City Manager Ron Strand — the only staffer employed directly by the council.

Members of the council went into closed session at 5 p.m., preceding the public meeting. When the open council meeting began at 6 p.m., Mayor Peggy Breeden said that the council would continue that meeting after the public session, and subsequently retreated back to closed session around 8:30 p.m., remaining until nearly 10 p.m.

In light of the timing of the item, the News Review reached out to Breeden to inquire who requested the performance review and why. Breeden responded that it was a routine action that had been postponed from several months ago.

City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen released a short statement: “Council heard reports from staff, gave direction. No final action taken.”

Story First Published: 2019-04-05