By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer
At the November 16 meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council, they continued to discuss funding for current and future city projects, as well as the trash implementation process, all to keep citizens informed and assist with public needs and concerns.
The Finance Committee report was delivered by Mayor Eric Bruen, who stated that City Finance Director Cheri Freese will present a full presentation to City Council in January 2023. Bruen emphasized the serious impact of the dissolution of the Ridgecrest Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in 2012 and the crippling effect it had on the finance process. In 2016, the California State Auditor rated Ridgecrest among the worst fiscal cities in the state, landing in the bottom 20th percentile of financial health. Bruen shared the city’s dramatic financial improvement at the close of the 2020-2021 recording period as having risen to the top 15th percentile statewide.
The Finance Committee focused seriously on cash savings related to the new wastewater plant, considering how to use those assets in sound investments and yield to advance city projects. With an estimated 4.6 million revenue dollars from investments over the next two years, the bulk of which will be returned to the wastewater facility, future debt loads will be reduced. Approximately $750,000 to $1,000,000 each year for the next two fiscal years, combined with other revenues, can be used for city projects and propel the city forward. “Thanks to the efforts of City Manager Ron Strand and Finance Director Freese,” Bruen said, “the city has focused on the things we asked you to focus on, making sure the fiscal health of this community and city is at the top of its game – and it is.”
Bruen reported that the primary priority of the City Organization and Services Committee continues to be the new trash process. The committee is focusing on marketing and messaging of facts, options, and requirements, taking every opportunity to communicate with the community. City staff and council members had a booth at the recent Petroglyph Festival with examples of waste categorization, flyers with data points spelled out, and handouts of recycle bags. Bruen emphasized that if citizens have a new trash barrel that they find is too large for their needs, the citizen must call and request a smaller barrel. It is a facet of the new system that was seriously negotiated by the city for the benefit of trash customers.
Councilman Kyle Blades added that the city wants to fill the community in on all details so that the implementation of the system goes as smoothly as possible. There will be a “Trash Talk Town Hall” meeting on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, which the public is highly encouraged to attend. Additionally, there is an “EcoHeroes” seminar for youth that educate them about all facets of ecology and projects they can undertake as young citizens. The seminar is free, and all Ridgecrest schools are encouraged to request it.
City Manager Ron Strand stated that Kern County is still sorting 52,000 ballots and, therefore, has yet to certify the recent election, which must be finalized by December 1, 2022. Strand said that new City Council members are usually sworn in at the first meeting of December (falling this year on December 7), but he recommends that the swearing in take place at the council’s December 21 meeting instead. Council members agreed with the change. In another topic, Strand reminded the council that in the last week of the year, city staff is traditionally granted liberal leave. Since the first council meeting of the new year is early, on January 4, 2023, and is a time when members provide input at the meeting, Strand suggested that January 18 be the first meeting at which all members contribute input. This will give city staff time to brief the new council member on policies and procedures for council participation. Council approved the suggestion.
Each council member provided their priorities for the coming year, with unanimous agreement that staffing, police and fire department issues, and a new pool be at the forefront. Mayor Bruen stated that the desire is to level and rebuild the Sgt. John Pinney pool, which is not recoverable in its present state. The hope is to expand the footprint of the pool facility to provide additional public use on city-owned land surrounding the pool. Staff is requested to look at historical records and studies previously done for the pool to ensure a solid plan going forward. The effort for rebuilding the pool facility is targeted for construction to begin no later than summer of 2024, with a completion date of summer, 2025.
Councilman Blades emphasized the importance of staffing and equipping law enforcement officers appropriately. He asked the city manager to make compensation for both city staff and police one of the first things to be done. “We need to be sure our police officers are proud to wear that Ridgecrest PD badge,” Blades said, “and that they know they are supported at every turn.”
Vice Mayor Solomon Rajaratnam echoed his colleagues by listing his top priorities for council and city staff to attend to: first, building the city pool; second, public safety concerns for police and fire issues; and third, staff salaries.
Bruen offered a list of long-term goals, including the repair and repaving of Ward Avenue, strategy for management of electric vehicle infrastructure, public access to Kerr McGee Center community rooms at no additional cost, overview of entire Freedom Park projects, and installation of permanent bathroom structures at Pierson Park to replace current portable facilities.
In acknowledgement of the important services rendered by the Ridgecrest Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Ship #4084 and American Legion Post 684, Rajaratnam presented each group with the key to the city. Both groups advocate for veterans, provide community support to charitable organizations, and participate in outreach projects. Mike Cash of the VFW Ridge Riders motorcyclists shared a word of thanks to Nick and Carol Coy and their team for all the work they do as well. The Vice Mayor spoke of the personal significance he feels for veterans. “There is nothing more noble than the sacrifices of soldiers for this country,” he exclaimed. “America without these soldiers would be like God without his angels.”
Readers have asked about the reason and restrictions for the new, mandatory waste collection system. The system is required by California Senate Bill SB 1383, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2016. According to the webpage of California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), calrecycle.ca.gov, the bill mandates a “statewide effort to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) by reducing organic waste disposal to 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025.”
Beginning in 2022, SB 1383 requires every jurisdiction to provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses.
•“Jurisdiction” means a city, county, a city and county, or a special district that provides solid waste collection services.
•“Organic waste” includes food, green material, landscape and pruning waste, organic textiles and carpets, lumber, wood, paper products, printing and writing paper, manure, biosolids, digestate, and sludges.
Rollout of the program was to have begun in January 2022; however, the city submitted a Notice of Intent to Comply (NOIC), which provided a buffer without fines until all processes could be put into place. Ridgecrest also negotiated strongly to achieve a collection frequency waiver, meaning that organic waste will be collected weekly, recyclables and trash will be collected every other week. If sorted properly, this could reduce waste emissions immediately by 20-22 percent.
Megan McKenzie, Economic Development Analyst for the City of Ridgecrest, spoke with this reporter on the issues surrounding implementation and enforcement of the program. She stated that one of the major concerns of citizens is the requirement that they subscribe to trash service. The city is required to keep records of disposals, and residents who self-haul their trash to the landfill are not, so there is no way the city can document those. By 2024, the city will have to enforce more strictly and have a corrective action plan in place. At present, McKenzie said, 80 to 92 percent of residences subscribe, leaving a relatively small number of residences out of compliance. For those who reside outside city limits, Kern County Public Works is the implementing body and must also comply with SB 1383.
Residential service rates (another major concern for citizens) were effective in July 2022 to cover the costs of new bins, carts, and trucks. Costs to customers depend on the size of the trash container. While there is not a discount for senior citizens, there is a smaller cart available at a reduced rate.
CalRecycle offers a full range of educational and outreach resources, an overview of the bill and compliance process, tools to educate local leaders, provide case studies, and give examples of local implementation. This information can be found at calrecycle.ca.gov/organics/SLCP/education. Locally, the City of Ridgecrest has an excellent page on its website with information and frequently asked questions with answers. See ridgecrest-ca.gov/244/SB1383-Organic-Waste-Reduction.
Megan McKenzie is actively working to communicate with, and educate, the public. The city will take a softer approach with respect to residents’ concerns, providing up-to-date information and follow-up to queries. “The city is aware of the concerns and challenges,” McKenzie said, “and is committed to working with citizens, including feedback in the process. We welcome questions and learn a lot ourselves along the way. We are here, first and foremost, to serve citizens. I encourage them not to be discouraged. Get involved.”
The city will hold its second “Trash Talk Town Hall” on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, at 6 p.m. in City Council chambers. The public is highly encouraged to attend,
McKenzie said the staff is happy to be contacted, and email is the most effective first way to get messages submitted. For policy questions, contact Megan McKenzie at . For logistical questions, contact WM (Waste Management) representative Ashley Sparks at .
The next regular session of the Ridgecrest City Council will be on Wed., Dec. 7, at 6 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend, watch as it is live streamed online, and participate at times of public comment either in person or by phone.