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City Council presents key to the City to Etoch Family

By Susan Read News Review Staff Writer–

At the opening session of Ridgecrest City Council’s first meeting of 2023, Police Chief Jed McLaughlin presented the key to the city to Janelle and Fred Etoch. Citing their long-term family involvement in the community, McLaughlin emphasized the extent to which their commitment was raised following the 2010 passing of their son Evan. Through the Evan Etoch Memorial Foundation, youth sports, activities, and safety have been enhanced. Fred and Janelle also jumped right in to assist where needed during the aftermath of the 2019 magnitude 6.4 earthquake, McLaughlin said, noting that is characteristic of their generosity and willingness to serve and help the community heal. Fred’s voice displayed emotion and humility as he accepted the recognition. “We created this foundation to keep Evan’s name out there and help the youth in the city. We will continue to do this for as long as we can. What an honor.”

The Measure P ten-year projection report was delivered with a slide presentation from Finance Director Cheri Freese. “This is successful budgeting, conservatively, as evidenced by our growing reserves”, Freese said, “but as a means of budgeting conservatively, we have not allowed for any revenue increases.” The spreadsheet listed locally controlled Measure P revenue with five top city service priorities, including fire protection, the restoration of four police officer positions, rebuilding and maintaining a Ridgecrest Community Pool (Pinney Pool), recruitment and retention of city service providers, and more public outreach and citywide events. Freese further detailed the estimated expenses of each of those categories. Future projects based on feedback received from a recent public survey were noted as being contingent on future available funding. All projects have the attention of city staff and the council, who have taken public input seriously. “I commend the Finance Director and team for presenting well-developed plans and a road map to reach our goals”, commented Mayor Eric Bruen.

Mayor Pro Tem Solomon Rajaratnam inquired about the next steps in the pool project. City Manager Ron Strand said a consultant would be hired, and an architectural concept would be developed. The hope is to break ground in January 2024, followed by approximately one year of construction. The plan is to design a 12-million-dollar pool, but budget to bond 14 million dollars in anticipation of costs that may come in higher. The intent is to pay off the pool before the end of the nine-year Measure P tax. As reassurance to citizens that the city is focused on this priority, Strand emphasized that he and the mayor were meeting about it as soon as Measure P was passed. There will be two public meetings about the pool in February and March, with dates and times to be announced.

Strand also mentioned that the measure was important regarding the fire contract, police and city staffing positions, and competitive salary measures to recruit and retain employees. With that, first-year Council Member Skip Gorman encouraged the public to increase its local shopping and spending, which would raise sales tax income based on Measure P’s additional tax amount.

Action items included resolutions for the replacement and modernization of the city’s server and desktop infrastructure and a sales agreement with Race Communications for the purchase of the former Matrix building on N. China Lake Boulevard, the amendment of a services agreement with Quad Knopf, Inc. for a city-wide street crack-fill project, and the appropriation of a portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the design of a Leroy Jackson Park bathroom. All resolutions were approved.

Council Member Scott Hayman reported on January 11, 2023, Indian Wells Valley  Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) board meeting, at which the general manager was authorized to execute a funding agreement for the urban community drought relief program. The IWVGA will submit two grant applications, one for up to 5.3 million dollars for a water recycling plant, and the other for well mitigation rehabilitation.

Vice Mayor Kyle Blades attended January’s Economic Development Committee meeting and noted that the Economic Outlook Conference is scheduled for Thursday, February 23, 2023. The committee discussed the possibility of the city contributing funding, perhaps at $3,500, to be a sponsor of the event. City Manager Strand said that he would attend to that issue since it falls within the expenditure ceiling of his authority.

When City Clerk Ricca Charlon polled council members about the status of citizen appointments to committees, it prompted discussion about the challenge of asking for public involvement on such committees. Citizen Mike Neel phoned in a comment suggesting that younger members of the community should be contacted to get involved in this way. Vice Mayor Blades reinforced that as a reasonable idea, and the council agreed to pursue it further and report at the next meeting.

The city manager’s report noted that while there was robust public outreach regarding the new waste management trash collection and organics program, there will be another town hall meeting soon to address public concerns. Waste Management’s Public Sector Solutions Manager Josh Mann took the podium and said despite a smooth rollout of containers, he was paying attention to feedback. “We know where the challenges lie,” Mann said, “and we are accommodating the situation in the best way possible, but we must meet the goals required under CalRecycle to deliver a service we can all be proud of.” Strand thanked Mann and the Waste Management team, ensuring that the city is working with the waste and recycle teams, as well as planning another town hall meeting soon.

Strand then announced an upcoming city-sponsored event on Friday, February 10, 2023, on Balsam Street with food trucks, winery booths, a live band, and some stores open for shopping. The goals, he said, are the benefit to downtown businesses and the public’s desire for more events, a direct response to the public event-public outreach aspect of Measure P.

Public Works Director Travis Reed gave an update on the Ward Street paving project. Beginning January 11, 2023, the sewers are being fixed or replaced as necessary. When that work is complete, paving will begin. The section from Wayne Street to China Lake Boulevard will be shut down for about another week and a half, then Wayne Street to Norma Avenue will be addressed.

The next regular session of the city council is scheduled for Wednesday, February 1, 2023, at 6:00 p.m. All meetings are streamed live and available for later viewing on the YouTube channel. The community is encouraged to attend any regular meetings in person to become more familiar with city government and to observe the work of those elected to serve on citizens’ behalf.