After a lengthy discussion, the Ridgecrest City Council decided Wednesday to continue discussions of two proposed landscaping and lighting districts to a later meeting. A third lighting district item was pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting and it too will presumably be back at a future meeting also.
The topic was delayed in order to allow city staff time to work on solutions to what everyone agreed were problems with the current process for district formation. There was near-universal agreement that the current system for forming landscaping and lighting districts needs some work.
The idea was that city staff will come back with a plan to suggest council waive the requirement for forming the districts prior to property recordation in order to expedite development of local projects.
“The system's broke. That [municipal] code that you've got, that thing's broke. it doesn't work," said local business owner Rusty Warren. "You are trying to force feed it onto a handful of people and it's not going very well. It does need fixing.
It was a statement many people said they agreed with.
An old requirement, newly enforced
A landscaping and lighting district basically assesses a tax on property owners which is then used to provide landscaping and lighting for that area. According to City Engineer Loren Culp, the Ridgecrest City Council in 1987 adopted an ordinance that requires land divisions to be annexed and to form maintenance districts to cover the costs of lighting and landscaping; this must be done prior to recordation. Culp noted that council has the discretion to waive this requirement on an individual basis.
City staff reports that although this ordinance has been on the books for over 30 years, it has only been enforced recently. Other large areas of town — the Deeter tract for example — predate the ordinance. This causes the city to foot the bill for electric and landscaping according to Mayor Peggy Breeden. Culp said the city spends about a quarter million dollars a year on street lighting annually.
Districts require a vote to pass. According to Culp, if the district formation and annexation are unsuccessful costs would be the city's responsibility although maintenance costs would likely be less.
If the districts pass, assessments will be submitted to Kern County this August for fiscal year 2018-2019. It would be put on the tax rolls and the first revenues received in January 2019.
Problems and suggestions
Property owners hoping to develop spoke up with concerns.
“I am all for the city not footing the bill on everything,” Warren said. “But we've got to fix the system before we start handing it over to everybody.”
Tammy Rowland from IWV Construction noted that the development is ready to move quickly and does not want the lighting and landscaping district to be a holdup. As many pointed out, this is obviously even more important given the influx of new workers expected for the base this summer who will require housing.
“We cannot move forward with recording a tract map until lighting and landscaping district is completed,” she said. “Once that tract map is recorded, we now have 40 lots that are ready to build on. The holdup of this is we can't move forward.” Note: this item was pulled, but Rowland spoke as a member of the public anyway.
Mayor Peggy Breeden and Public Works Manager Bard Lower both suggested the idea of making the entire city a lighting and landscaping district. Lower said the other roughly four districts could likely be incorporated into the overall new one.
Many people seemed to think this was a good idea.
“If we had a large district for the entire city it would certainly cut the overhead,” Lower said.
Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens suggested taking a look at the process by which streetlights are installed and then signed over to Southern California Edison. She said that the city buying back the lights might be a significant cost-saver.
Councilman Wallace Martin agreed.
Stan Rajtora spoke up in support of the idea of further investigation into this plan.
“It's not just a buy-back issue,” Rajtora said. “It's transitioning from one strain of thought to another strain of thought trying to save the public some money. We are setting a precedent when we start doing this. I would like to see if we set a precedent that we start doing it with some affordable solution.”
The majority of the discussion took place on an item regarding a lighting and landscaping district for property located to the east of North Inyo street, adjoining West Drummond and to the west of Downs Street. Willdan Financial Services is advising the city on forming the districts.
In the end, council voted unanimously to bring all three lighting and landscaping districts back for further discussion at an upcoming meeting. The vote was unanimous. Vice Mayor Michael Mower was absent.