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Councilman Scott Hayman and Mayor Eric Bruen / Laura Austin

Council members Mayor Bruen & Hayman say District’s report on new findings is old news

By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff Writer

During Ridgecrest’s last city council meeting, casual comments between Mayor Eric Bruen and Councilman Scott Hayman caused reverberations throughout Ridgecrest.  This controversial conversation began directly following Hayman’s Indian Wells Vally Groundwater Authority (IWVGA) report.  Following his detailed recap from the November 8 meeting, Bruen referenced a press release by the Water District that announced that “New Analyses Show Significantly More Water Available in Indian Wells Valley.”   Among other findings, the Technical Working Group  (consisting of six professional groundwater science and engineering consulting firms) estimates the safe yield to be 13,400 acre-feet per year compared to the GA’s 7,650 acre-feet sustainable yield estimate in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

Bruen asked Hayman if “this is just a rehash of old information,” Hayman responded, “I would say so.”  Hayman continued by saying that consideration needs to be taken about “who wrote the article and who is behind the technical consulting group the article references.”  Both men agreed that the article’s tone was that “this is breaking news scientists have discovered that we have millions of gallons of water.” Still, they both considered it a “rehash of data presented and subsequently not supported through the GSP process.”  Hayman summed it up, “This isn’t breaking news.”

However, the dismissal of this study by these two councilmen has ignited objections from several city leaders.  For instance, when the new IWV Water District General Manager, George Kroll, was asked if this study was based on old data, he replied, “It certainly is not.”

Mallory Boyd agrees with Kroll.  As the current president of the IWV Water Board, he said he can assure the public that this new perspective presented by the water district is “new data and not old data.”  The Water District’s new research leads to “new insights into the water challenges and consequences in the valley.”

Joining these two current leaders is the former IWV Water District General Manager, Don Zdeba.  Hearing about Bruen and Hayman’s dismissal of this recently released study of the basin’s groundwater, Zdeba writes in his own press release that he is disappointed to hear these two councilmen’s comments during the December 6th meeting.  He said they both believe “this is ‘old news’ and does not include information that was not available or considered when the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) was submitted and subsequently approved by the Department of Water Resources (DWR).”  He said he hopes “they would have an open mind and be interested to learn more about what the study entailed before quickly dismissing it.”  He said if this new study is accurate, “the results should be welcomed as it certainly is positive news for the Council’s desire for development and growth.”  And as a side note, he wrote, “the data (safe yield, water in storage, and all other information) in the GSP is expected to be dynamic.  DWR expects the GSP to be updated as new information becomes available.”  He explained, “That is why the legislation provides updates every five years.”

Councilman Skip Gorman, who forwarded Don Zdeba’s statement, wrote that his sentiments are “significant and worthy” and “should be taken seriously.”

Besides this water study controversy, the city council meeting began with recognition awards for milestones achieved by city employees. Lovette Alligood and Alan Jones reached their fifth year working for the city.  Matt Rowland reached his 10th year, and both Lori Blowers and Ricca Charlon were recognized for their 15th year of service.

There were several discussion and action items on that night’s agenda, beginning with a rather sizable grant awarded to the Ridgecrest Animal Shelter to help cover the shelter’s spay and neuter costs and additional surgeries that may be necessary.  Interim Chief of Police Mike Scott explained that in 2022, $147,000 was offered as part of a pilot program through the University of California – Davis School of Medicine. This money paid for about 2300 local animals to be spayed and neutered.  Because of those great results, UC-Davis encouraged the shelter to submit for continuation of this grant funding.  Scott said, “I am pleased to announce that the shelter has been awarded $962,441.00 to continue our strong efforts on our spay and neuter program.”  A little over half of this pays for spays and neuters, while some pay for any additional surgeries that may be discovered during this procedure.  The remaining amount   ($55,441) is for any surgery or medical supplies that may be needed. Scott noted this is unusual because “we are not on the hook for anything – there are no strings attached.”  All the funds are paid in advance and run from September 28 through the end of next year in December 2024.

Administrative Analyst Megan McKenzie announced that the city just submitted an application for one-time funding to local jurisdictions to assist in implementing regulation requirements associated with the new trash mandates (SB 1383). The city is eligible to receive an estimated sum of $75,000.  McKenzie said the goal is to utilize the bulk of funding to improve edible food recovery efforts, including purchasing a refrigerated truck that will help the Salvation Army with their collection and distribution of edible food.  This non-profit has expressed “a critical need” for this type of truck, and “they would be willing to help us with matching funds if necessary.” They would also be responsible for the costs of maintenance on the vehicle.   Besides the truck, the funds would also purchase edible food recovery software.  If the award goes through, McKenzie said the remainder of the money will buy three-stream collection bins for public spaces such as City Hall, Kerr-McGee, and the Senior Center.  With this action, “these centers can lead by example.”

The city’s engineer, Travis Reed, presented the following two agenda items.  The first was a grant awarded to the city by Clean California for the sum of $187,000.  This money will be spent to “reduce the amount of waste and debris in public right-of-way pathways.”  The city can use it to “restore and install measures to beautify and improve public spaces,” so Reed presented a sketch by Bernie’s Landscape that shows how he wants to beautify the Inyokern transit hub, which is currently “a little shelter in the middle of the desert.”

Reed’s second item was a resolution to accept the Base bid that American Fence Erectors submitted to construct a fencing project at Leroy Jackson Park.  This is one of the first projects that has come in with a bid under the budgeted amount to add a perimeter fence to the two lower softball fields.  He also said some work would be done to clean the infields.

Nerissa Wegener presented the last item on the agenda.  She asked for a resolution to approve the fiscal year 24-25 annual application regarding the Kern County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.  She anticipated the city would receive $148,632 to spend on a project in a disadvantaged area in town.  The areas that would qualify are Leroy Jackson Sports Complex, Freedom Park, and the Pinney Pool area.  The kinds of projects allowed to be added using these funds are recreational improvements, public facility rehabilitation (e.g., ADA improvements), water sewer improvements, and drainage improvements.  Architectural barriers are also allowed.  Her staff recommends adding a small, shaded seating area that would divide the current splash pad from the playground at Freedom Park. She explained this would allow the kid’s space to dry off between playing in the water and playing on the playground.

During Councilman Kyle Blades’ Economic Development committee report, it was announced that two new fast-food places are coming to Ridgecrest soon: Jersey Mike’s and the Habit Burger Grill.  Next City Meeting will be Dec. 20.