A glance at some of Ridgecrest's trending topics
Casinos, coyotes and lawsuits, oh my – 2018 was an eventful year in Ridgecrest. From the end of the casino controversy (or perhaps not) to allegations over the appropriate residences of both Wallace Martin and the pack of unwelcome coyotes roaming the town, it was a year to remember.
Casino: game over?
You know what they say – it’s not over until Mike Neel plays James Brown into the mic during a city council meeting. Or is it? It is not entirely clear, but it looks like the Timbisha Shoshone casino project is either dead in the water or supremely stalled, depending upon your point of view.
A long year of casino controversy came to an abrupt end in December when the Ridgecrest City Council voted unanimously to terminate the land sale agreement between the city’s redevelopment agency and Global Investment Enterprise Ridgecrest, LLC for the piece of property intended to be used as a casino. The vote was arguably a technicality. The agreement essentially timed out when the buyer failed to provide the funds for the purchase by the deadline and the property fell out of escrow. Still, council could have chosen to extend the escrow agreement but did not do so.
The death of the land sale was the latest and possibly final skirmish in the long-lasting casino war. For an item that was supposedly not under current consideration, the casino topic managed to take up a lot of council time.
Earlier in the year, former NAWCWD commander Mark Storch made news by stating that he was concerned a casino by the front gate of the base could be problematic in the event of an upcoming BRAC process. Comments on the tribe’s environmental process, however, indicated that the base apparently considered issues caused by the casino as being able to be mitigated.
Allegations of racism again entered the fray, when an email obtained by the DI distributed among casino opponents contained racist references to “injuns” and other offensive characterizations.
Casino opponents, meanwhile, continued to line up at council meetings during public comment to express their objections to the project.
The casino played a role in November’s election too (see the next story), with mystery mailers slamming Scott Hayman (a casino opponent) inaccurately and praising supposedly pro-casino candidates who disavowed any connection with the Honesty PAC which sent the mailers out.
In the end, it all came down to land. The municipal services agreement between the city of Ridgecrest and the tribe remains in effect, but without the piece of property it was attached to its power is unclear.
It was an ugly election. By the time the city was ready to welcome newly elected council member Loren Scott Hayman along with re-elected incumbents Mayor Peggy Breeden and Councilman Michael Mower, we had all been through weeks of allegations of Bakersfield influence in Ridgecrest politics, accusations of overspending by Hayman and dishonest mailers alleging bizarre claims against Hayman – and against the Daily Independent.
Campaign finance paperwork showed Hayman did outspend the other candidates by a large margin, but he kept within the legal limits. Hayman also came under fire for having his paperwork incomplete, but he immediately brought it up to date.
Adding to the ugliness was a series of mystery mailers from an organization known as Honesty PAC. These slammed Hayman as a puppet of Martin (complete with ludicrous illustration), and misquoted the DI for good measure. Other mailings from the same group supported council candidates Michael Mower and Reese Hogg III. The only problem is that Mower and Hogg disavow any connection with the Honesty PAC and say they did not ask for the support.
And in another election-related issue, Scott Leahy has a potential lawsuit against Martin working its way through the courts – alleging that Martin does not live within city limits and asking he be removed from office as a remedy. Martin denies the allegations. It’s too soon to say who the courts will side with, but this is another example of the long-term effects of a previous election.
In the end, the fallout from the November election calmed down. Departing Councilman Eddie Thomas was given an emotional send-off. Breeden, Mower and Hayman were sworn in. The city got back to business with committee appointments and routine matters at council meetings. It is too soon to say just when and how the dust will all settle, but you can be sure the Daily Independent will be there to report on all of their antics (good, bad and otherwise) in the upcoming year.
‘Where’s the splash pad?’
During the 1980s there was a catch phrase that was repeated endlessly: “Where’s the beef?” It was originally part of a Wendy’s commercial, but soon came to represent any situation in which the full truth or substance had yet to be revealed.
Ridgecrest in 2018 coined its own similar phrase: “Where’s the splash pad?” This has come to represent all the city plans and projects that while much touted, have yet to come to fruition.
Let’s start with the splash pad itself. Originally promoted by then Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens, the splash pad was supposedly going to help fill the gap left by the unpopular closure of the community’s beloved Pinney Pool.
The only problem is that deadlines have slipped by and the Splash Pad is not yet open. Rumors fly as to why and council has offered only partial explanations for the delays.
Then there is the fact that fall road repairs were delayed because of a decision by council, who voted 4-1 against awarding a million dollar sole source contract for fiber seal maintenance work in September, causing the cancellation of an extensive list of heavy maintenance street projects scheduled to begin in October. Mower was the lone yes vote, saying he would like to see the work get started.
Stephens (who earlier successfully convinced council to add a slurry seal machine to the city budget), spoke out with concerns on the idea.
“It seems like we are overpaying, like by a lot, for this project,” she said. Stephens, Breeden, Martin and Thomas also voted against awarding the contract.
Council voted fair and square, but the delay of the streets projects may frustrate some residents.
And then there are those pesky coyotes. Packs of them are reportedly roaming city streets. The city’s lack of ability to do much about them has people confused and lining up to ask for solutions. Even the California Department of Fish and Game offers only suggestions not to feed the animals and to secure household pets. Coyotes are not a protected species, so hunting them is legal as long as the gun is not discharged within city limits.
No one seems to think this is a good solution, however.
Rand Water District’s highs and lows
Rand Communities Water District has had a handful of ups and downs — mostly downs — in 2018.
However, things are looking up for RCWD in 2019 as the board moves closer and closer to completing its Grand Jury recommendations.
It all started when the Grand Jury report highlighted all of the wrongdoings and poor business practices happening within the water district. Citizens from Randsburg, Red Mountain and Johannesburg filed a citizens complaint to the Kern County Grand Jury that led to an investigation of the complaints.
The Grand Jury found that RCWD had violated the Brown Act, not informing the public of a “porch meeting”, and also trying to elect a new secretary all in one night.
The report detailed the operations of the RCWD, including the lack of paperwork showing income and expenditures, documents from 2016-2018 were removed, and a number of missing checks. The report also showed that the district was relying on grants to stay solvent.
The previous board members were unaware of a $3.2 million grant that was available, and one board member boasted to the Grand Jury that he had never paid for his water because he used his neighbors’.
All of that seems to be behind RCWD. The board had elected three new members, and amongst those three members, one is now the president and another the vice president. They have managed to mark off a number of items on the Grand Jury recommendations, including most recently the posting of a General Manager position.
Though there are still some disagreements, the majority of the board is trying to get the list completed. It has almost been one month since the report was published, leaving RCWD with around 90 days to complete the list.
RCWD has gone through a lot and it will have to continue to work together in order to complete the rest of the recommendations.