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City approves ARPA funding for shade structures

By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer–   At the regular Ridgecrest City Council meeting on March 1, 2023, the council approved the amended request to allocate $559,878 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA ) funds to install shade structures. 

Interim Director of Parks and Recreation Nerissa Wegener described installing shade structures over eleven spectator seating areas at the Kerr McGee Youth Sports Complex baseball, football, and multi-use fields. The request was previously presented to the Quality of Life Committee for review and included design, permitting, and inspections. The Public Works Director will have oversight of the project. 

Another council-approved item was using ARPA funds to add a construction contingency not exceeding $5,000 for replacing water-damaged fascia and border boards on park roofs at Leroy Jackson Sports Complex and Upjohn Park. 

Laura Austin Photo
RPD Sgt. Nathan Lloyd congratulates Reserve Officer Rodney Robbs on his retirement after 21 years as a Police Reserve Officer for the Ridgecrest Police Department.

Also, during the meeting, Police Chief Jed McLaughlin presented Reserve Officer Rodney Robbs before the council to recognize Robbs’ retirement after 21 years as a Police Reserve Officer.  “Rod has given an immense amount of hours and dedication to the city,” McLaughlin said. “The taxing toll we put on our volunteers is great. We couldn’t do it without them.” Robbs was handed a metal flag sculpture with its center stripe as “the Thin Blue Line,” representing the men and women in law enforcement. Robbs described his experience by saying, “It’s been a wonderful 21 years. It’s a lot different now than it used to be. A month after I was sworn in, 9-11 happened. It’s a different world now. But I thank the city, the chief, and the Police Department for all the opportunities I was given as a Reserve. Thank you very much.”

Vice Mayor Kyle Blades offered a proclamation for Aviation Ordnance Day in the presence of active duty, retired members of the military ordnance community, and local Chapter 5 of the Association of Aviation Ordnancemen. Blades noted that the army aviation rating was set in 1926. In 1943, physicist Charles C. Lauritsen and U.S. Navy Admiral Sherman E. Burroughs established the Naval Ordnance Test Station as an ordnance test facility, now known as the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division aboard the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, California.

City Manager Ron Strand reported that he and Council Member Scott Hayman would be in Washington, D.C., with consultant lobbyists the week of March 21, 2023, to meet with elected officials and department heads. The trip focuses on seeking funding sources for the wastewater facility and interconnecting with the Indian Wells Valley Ground Water Authority (IWVGWA).

The city’s Information Technology Manager, Matt Freese, announced a partnership with the city and introduced West Katzenstein, Treasurer of the IWV Boosters. Katzenstein thanked the city for its contribution of three TV translators. “The IWV TV Boosters have provided free over-the-air TV (now 41 channels) since the 1950s and FM radio since the 1960s. The stations are received on Laurel Mountain and transmitted free to support quality of life to those who choose not to use commercial suppliers such as cable or satellite.” Funding is from donations by users, occasional grants from the WACOM Thrift Shop, and one-time reimbursements for expenses when FCC requires changes.“Members are all unpaid volunteers,” Katzenstein continued. “We have a remarkable breadth of capability which allows us to do what we do.”

Kari Crutcher, Ridgecrest Regional Film Commissioner, provided a video review of 2022, which indicated a dramatic increase in visitors over pre-COVID levels. About 5,000 tourists enjoyed sports such as desert racing and traditional sports tournaments. The film commission supported and partnered with the city and individual groups at local events, civic efforts, and charitable initiatives. Everyone in the valley is celebrating the popularity of the movie “Top Gun: Maverick,” which did some filming locally and has aviation ties to Inyokern Airport and the squadron at NAWS. In a related report, Megan McKenzie of the Ridgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB) Board of Directors said that approximately 65,000 people had been reached via marketing efforts.  

Ridgecrest Administration Analyst Isabel Medina and several City Council members joined in the conversation, praising the efforts of all who helped to make the “A Night on Balsam” event a huge success. Medina said, “We got to see everyone come together to give the community what it wants.” Mayor Bruen echoed the sentiment, saying he is pleased that the council is working hard with city staff and others to attend to the citizens’ concerns, including most-important water issues, a new pool, and more social events for the entire community. Medina reminded the public that an “A Night on Balsam” survey was posted on the city’s web page at to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions about this and future events.