Landscaping-lighting district tabled

City looks to streamline building process for developers

Landscaping-lighting district tabledLocal business owners Rusty and Tina Warren address council about development delays due to the city’s outdated landscaping and lighting district ordinance. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council voted last week to continue three items regarding landscape and lighting district formation to council’s April 18 meeting. The decision came after a consensus from council, developers and other members of the public that the city’s system to form this districts is antiquated and costly.

But beneath the surface of the council agenda item was a larger issue – the potential housing demand since Naval Air Weapons Center Weapons Division Executive Director Joan Johnson’s February announcement about 300 new jobs coming to China Lake this summer.

“We don’t have hundreds of rental properties that will appeal to $65,000-a-year engineers,” said Johnson at this year’s IWV Economic Outlook Conference. That’s something developers are hoping to remedy, and quickly.

“We cannot move forward until the lighting and landscaping district is completed,” said IWV Construction’s Tammy Rowland during the council meeting. “We have 40 lots ready to build on. The holdup is this lighting and landscaping district.”

A landscaping and lighting district would be funded through property tax assessments to fund landscaping and streetlight services. Developers have complained that the city’s 30-year-old ordinance is not only tedious but also unnecessarily costly.

Lighting provided by Southern California Edison can be anywhere from one-and-a-half to two times as expensive as lighting owned and maintained by the city, according to reports from council and staff.

“Lots of cities are buying back their street lights,” said Councilmember Lindsey Stephens. “What we do is the developer pays for the lights and installs them. We then sign them over to SCE to maintain them. We should stop this madness of signing them over to SCE for free if down the road we’re just going to buy them back. It seems like we need to get off that train.”

Councilmember Wallace Martin agreed with Stephens and said he would like to see the city owning its own power poles and forming a citywide lighting and landscaping district.

City Director of Public Works Bard Lower said that to his knowledge only about a dozen larger California cities were buying back poles and forming singular city-wide districts. He added that he will look into it more thoroughly.

“We need the housing,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “I want the process to go on, and I don’t want to impose excessive fees.”

City Engineer Loren Culp informed council that they were at liberty to waive the requirement of forming a district so that developers could proceed unhindered while city staff works out a solution.

“I am for paying our fair share to the city, but let’s make it workable for everybody,” said Rusty Warren, another local developer. “Everyone agrees it needs to be worked out. We can’t enforce a system that’s broken. We can sign a waiver; let us continue with our projects.”

Member of the public Stan Rajtora thanked Stephens and Martin for “looking out for what we can do and not worrying about what we can’t do or why we couldn’t do something in the past.

“It’s not just a buy-back issue, it’s transitioning from one strain of thought to another while trying to save the public some money.”

“Nobody here wants to overburden anybody,” said Breeden. “But there are costs involved, and we will find a way to make it happen. All I can say is this — we are going to have hangups. There will be hangups and issues, but the attitude has been and will continue to be that we’re going to find ways to work together.”

The council will next meet on Wednesday, April 18, 6 p.m. at City Hall. Full agenda information will be available at ridgecrest-ca.gov/ridgecrest-city-council.

Story First Published: 2018-04-13