To the Editor: ‘Council, step up and lead’

The wastewater fund has been a contentious issue for many, many years because of theft from the fund, a loan from the fund not repaid, a terribly flawed rate study that subsidizes the Navy at our expense, a premature threefold increase in sewer fees added to our tax bills and just plain slush fund abuse. To further aggravate the situation, the city council is now allowing the new city manager to run “open loop” regarding the new wastewater treatment plant.

Ridgecrest and the Navy both need a new WWTP. The city has three options: partner with the Navy on Navy property, partner with the Navy on city property or build its own WWTP on city property. Discussions with the Navy regarding a joint venture started prior to 2010.

For a WWTP on Navy property, the standard Navy property lease contains a termination clause that allows the Navy to terminate the agreement unilaterally. This clause is unacceptable to the city since it is unacceptable to all financial lenders. This legal issue has been known for many years. The new city manager recently sent a letter to the assistant secretary of the Navy requesting among other things a lease that does not contain a unilateral Navy termination clause. The letter does not give a response date, but otherwise, the letter’s contents are unknown … even to the city council.

A WWTP is critical infrastructure. It’s the city’s largest business transaction of this century, and the city council is sitting on the sidelines. The council did not approve, review or even see the letter. The public has been denied access to the letter. The city manager has the authority to so act only because the council empowers him.

A joint WWTP requires an agreement between the Navy and the citizens of Ridgecrest. Revealing the letter to our citizens can’t weaken our bargaining position with the Navy, which already has it. Ridgecrest’s citizens are the stakeholders here, and the council needs to do the job for which we hired them, transparency. The public has a right to be heard.

This should be an easy negotiation, but it’s going nowhere while time marches on. According to the city’s wastewater engineering consultant, the cost of construction is increasing dramatically. The interest rate we pay on the borrowed capital is much more likely to go up than down. The public is losing more than a million dollars a year from the existing Navy subsidy alone. The way for the council to break the neverending cycle of zero accomplishment and increased taxpayer costs as well as regain the trust of the people is simple, transparent and honest government. The constant project delays represent millions of dollars of both lost revenue and increased costs to the ratepayer.

Council, please step up and lead. The council needs to take charge, complete the planning and construct the WWTP. The public needs to be kept in the loop the entire time starting with the release of the Navy letter.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2018-02-16