Leaders welcome the New Year

Political, educational and public safety officials look forward to challenges, opportunity of 2014

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

After a fiscally tumultuous 2013 — the pangs of which were particularly acute for a government-driven economy in a time of federal budget crises — local leaders are ready to face challenges and embrace opportunities that lie ahead for the Indian Wells Valley, Kern County, Cali-fornia and our nation.

“As the New Year is upon us, we look forward to the future and the many opportunities that lie ahead,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

The majority whip stated last year that his main goal for 2013 would be to see Congress pass a balanced budget — which it did last month, for the first time in more than five years. But that year also saw the triggering of sequestration and a controversially imposed round of furloughs on China Lake. This year, he said, one of his areas of focus will be on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with health-care reform that is less burdensome to working families.

“As America faces new and evolving threats abroad, our country will continue to rely on the innovative work at China Lake to address them,” said McCarthy.

“To confront our economic challenges at home, there is enormous potential if California and our nation can remove the regulatory roadblocks and allow for new development in areas such as domestic energy, unmanned systems and next-generation aerospace.”

California legislators seconded those sentiments and pointed to the potential of bringing private industry to the Indian Wells Valley in the form of unmanned systems development at Inyokern Airport through Cal UAS.

“I think we have got some really exciting opportunities to showcase our technical expertise with Cal UAS,” said state Sen. Jean Fuller. “This is an effort that will continue to grow, and I am personally excited to see that happen.”

Fuller has also been working with McCarthy’s office to brace for the anticipated Base Realignment and Closure process. “We are monitoring anything that might affect China Lake,” she said. “We are also gathering input from our stakeholders so that can help us keep Gov. Brown informed about the value of our military resources, and the importance of protecting them.”

The state senator was also recently appointed to the Senate Ethics Committee and is expected to examine cases like that of Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montabello), who was been embroiled in a scandal relating to allegations including accepting bribes.

Fuller said that although tension in the Water Committee mounts in dry years, she continues to look out for local interests in seeking state-wide solutions. She noted that committee service is also an opportunity for bipartisanship. “This is an issue that tends to be regional, so that is helpful to find common ground with your colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”

The budget remains a key issue for state leaders, she said, though preliminary data indicates California could be regaining its footing. “If there are surpluses in revenue, we need to make sure those are efficiently spent. Especially since we don’t truly have a ‘surplus’ so long as we have debt.”

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove’s priorities were in line with her legislative counterpart — water, budget, and support of CalUAS. She said that the call for tax and regulatory reform in particular are key to turning around California’s struggling economy.

“I’ll keep fighting for lower taxes and fewer regulations so business owners can create jobs and get people back to work,” she said. “The ongoing draught plaguing our state will be a huge issue, and I recently joined with other valley legislators to urge Gov. Brown to solve this crisis.

“I’m also looking forward to working with the Cal UAS team on their next steps. I remain committed to helping Cal UAS bring more high-tech jobs to the area.”

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason said that he is looking forward to the New Year.

“I’m sure 2014 will present its share of challenges and rewards, and I am looking forward to working with the people in Ridgecrest and the IWV. There is a lot to be accomplished.”

Gleason said that among the primary challenges for county leaders is ensuring that public safety agencies are sufficiently equipped to provide a safe and secure environment for families and schools.

“Our future looks bright, and we need to make plans now that will help preserve and ensure our quality of life.”

Mayor Dan Clark declined to comment, but Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand agreed with Gleason that public safety is a big concern for 2014. In 2011 the state’s “realignment” plan closed state prisons and deferred those responsibilities to county and local governments, though scant funding was provided for that transition. The resulting overcrowding of prisons and adjustments for sentencing has pushed convicted criminals out onto the streets.

“This continues to be a challenge for us, but we will continue to maintain Ridgecrest as a safe community,” said Strand. Among the resource RPD is using to that end is the voter-approved Measure L tax, which shored up funding for public safety in a time of diminishing resources and increasing demands.

Strand said that he will continue to work on programs that target at-risk youth in order to mentor troubled teens that might otherwise turn to crime.

“We also continue to depend on our community for our volunteer programs, including Police and Citizens Together, Community Emergency Response Team and the youth Explorers,” said Strand. “We also want to reinvigorate the Neighborhood Watch programs for two reasons: one, it helps us solve and prevent crimes. But the other advantage is it helps us know our neighbors and maintain that tight-knit feel of a small community.”

This year is especially poignant for Sierra Sands Unified School District Administrator Joanna Rummer — whose 30-plus years in education comes to a close with her retirement at the end of this school year. Her nine years at the helm of SSUSD has seen her whether some of our community’s most rocky fiscal climate, but she is still leaving it with a balanced budget.

But the challenges in the ever-changing landscape of education will continue this year. “We are experiencing reform in every aspect of education — funding, curriculum, assessment and accountability,” said Rummer.

“Of course, the district will have a new leader. With that change, there are many opportunities for new perspectives and fresh ideas and different strategies and planning opportunities.”

She said that for the new Local Control and Accountability Plan, the district will seek input from the community, parents, students and staff to identify priorities. Other big changes include the new campus for Murray Middle School — which begins construction this year for its location adjacent to Burroughs High School.

“The district is continuing to meet the needs of students by providing a quality education in a safe and engaging learning environment.”

China Lake is starting the New Year with Rear Adm. Mike Moran at the helm. He gives his perspective in a related story, this page.

Story First Published: 2014-01-08