Council approves two in-kind donations

Requests prompt discussion of city’s facility rental policies

Council approves two  in-kind donationsBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council, meeting on Sept. 5, approved two in-kind donations for use of the Kerr McGee Center. Both items passed after some discussion – most of which targeted the city’s need for a streamlined procedure when it comes to the use of city facilities.

The first item was a request from the International Community Day Committee for use of the Kerr McGee Center’s main hall for the committee’s annual community event on Sept. 14. Council unanimously approved the in-kind donation, normally a charge of $780.

Most councilmembers had attended the event and spoke positively of it.

“Two years ago my family really enjoyed it and I think it’s wonderful,” said Councilmember Lindsey Stephens. “Especially since it’s a free event and it brings all of the community together with all the different cultures.”

She added that she and Councilmember Wallace Martin will probably be absent again this year due to a League of California Cities conference the same day.

“They do this every year,” added Parks and Recreation Director Jason Patin. “It’s a great event and it really brings the community together.”

This will be the third International Community Day event since Mayor Peggy Breeden suggested a diversity-focused community potluck in 2016. Matthew Alexander, former city planner and member of the ICD committee, said the aim of the event is simply to “celebrate Ridgecrest’s diverse population.”

While no one spoke negatively about the event itself, some questioned the city’s process regarding when to charge and when not to charge for the use of the building.

“It would seem to me that instead of making this a specific action, you just ought to say you’re going to do this for every philanthropic event in town,” said Mike Neel. “It seems a little unfair for the city to specifically hand over free use of facilities to certain groups and activities.

“And it’s not really free. The city is going to be donating $780 of our tax money to let them use the facility.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower later clarified that the city isn’t really donating any funds, only waiving a potential fee.

Breeden said the criterion used was that International Community Day is a free event and the city will usually charge for events with admission costs. Neel asked that there to be an official policy that said as much.

Member of the public Dave Matthews seconded Neel’s concerns, saying that the city needs to establish a “definite policy.”

“This is not an every-week, every-month kind of thing,” said Councilmember Eddie Thomas. “We only do it once per year for this particular group.”

The only other discussion item was another request to waive fees for use of the Kerr McGee Center’s smaller meeting rooms. Local music education advocate and instructor David Livianu requested use of city space while he assembles a local children’s chorus.

“One of the things I’m trying to do in this wonderful town … is to compensate for the lack of music education in the elementary schools,” said Livianu.

“I’m requesting temporarily, a few months I suppose, a waiver to help us get things together.”

He added that he’s working to get a community program funded through Cerro Coso Community College, but would like a space to rehearse through mid-December without requiring payments from interested families.

The original request on the agenda requests three two-hour sessions per week with the $46-per-day fee waived.

Stephens pointed out that the city already donated space once for the chorus auditions and that three meetings per week was going to result in a lot of staff time.

“Music education is very important and I applaud you for filling in the gap,” she continued. “But I think of other classes over the summer or after-school hours programs that are filling in other gaps — none of those have their fees waived.”

Martin asked Patin how fully booked the Kerr McGee Center rooms were and if the city could accommodate Livianu without inconveniencing renters. But Patin said that use of the rooms varies substantially.

“Sometimes they’re very busy all week, sometimes nobody is in them,” said Patin. “It varies from week-to-week and day-to-day.”

Livianu said that while the chorus is closer to 20-30 children, usually only 10-15 singers are available for each scheduled rehearsal.

“Is it feasible for a church to open doors for you?” offered Thomas, who is also the pastor for Victory Baptist Church. “The other item was an in-kind, once-per-year service. This appears to be an ongoing commitment.”

Livianu said a church would work, but the parents like the proximity of the Kerr McGee Center because some of the children walk to rehearsals. But it was noted that Victory Baptist Church is also very centrally located.

“This is why you guys need to come up with a policy,” said Neel again during public comment. “Maybe a reduced rate for a case like this.”

But he added that maybe Livianu should just charge for chorus membership.

“Most anything that people do that costs them nothing, they don’t put much into it. They don’t appreciate it,” said Neel. He added that the council should wait until developing a policy or offer the rooms to Livianu at a reduced rate.

“There is a model where people believe if you don’t pay for something people don’t respect it,” responded Livianu.

“But I also think of the Selena Gomezes of the world who come from a barrio – a very poor neighborhood – where their parents can’t even afford milk. Every child deserves music education.”

Breeden began an offer to personally donate $500 to pay for the rental space, but Mower interjected asking if the council could approve two days, instead of three days, per week from 4-6 p.m.

His motion included a condition that the chorus would have to cancel or reschedule if it conflicts with another group that is paying for rental space.

Martin seconded the motion which passed with yes votes from Breeden, Mower and Martin, and a no from Stephens, who previously expressed that the council should wait until it has a better policy in place.

Thomas abstained from the vote.

Martin added that while he appreciates Livianu’s efforts, he’d still like staff to come up with a firm policy and maybe revised rates for Kerr McGee Center use.

Story First Published: 2018-09-07