Council OKs temp. housing

Council OKs temp. housingBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

With $3 billion in rebuild contracts already appropriated for NAWS China Lake in the wake of last year’s earthquakes, the city is looking to brace for hundreds of temporary workers to arrive in the near future – currently with no place to stay.

The Ridgecrest City Council voted last week to approve an ordinance that would allow zoning exceptions for temporary housing developments that would benefit the base rebuild efforts. City Manager Ron Strand said the ordinance will help expedite the process of constructing temporary housing camps when workers begin arriving.

Developers can obtain a temporary use permit to construct employee housing “in connection with any work or place where work is being performed,” says the ordinance. Permits may require conditions of approval and the City Manager has the authority to approve or deny applications.

The presentation included examples of city land that could potentially be developed for such a work camp, including eastern property near the San Bernardino County Line and the city corp yard on West Ridgecrest Boulevard.

The application process only needs approval from the City Manager and a city committee – most likely the Infrastructure Committee – rather than needing to go through the City Council.

“It was written that way to help streamline the process,” said Strand. “We’re assuming that when the decision is made for these employee temporary housing camps to be built, there’s going to be a short period of time to negotiate the use of the land. And they need to be built to get people moving.”

Any negotiations regarding city-owned property, such as the locations mentioned above, would have to go before council, as well as any applicant appeals.

While the terms “work camp” or “man camp” have been used in the past, Strand clarified that it would not be a campsite – but likely trailers, housing pods or some other type of semi-permanent structures.

Strand said that the Navy also discussed building its own temporary housing site east of town where workers could potentially stay for free.

“Under that condition, we’re more likely not going to build something within the the community,” he said. “But we have no way of knowing – we just need to be prepared to assist if it should so happen that somebody wants to put one of the camps within town.”

“If it is true that the Navy is going to offer all this for free, I think that’s a tremendous missed opportunity to the city, the fairgrounds and a private sector,” said Chip Holloway, Desert Empire Fairgrounds CEO, during public comment.

Holloway added that letting developers build a site within the city would be “a way for the Navy to help those outside the gate benefit a little bit.”

“I have no problem with them offering that as a backup if the rest of us can’t accommodate the need. But I hope you guys will convey to the Navy that giving away the land is in essence competition with the private sector.”

There was also discussion of the ordinance being utilized to provide temporary shelter for displaced residents, in the event of more earthquakes for example. But Pilchen said the ordinance strictly applied to work pertaining to the base.

“What you’re describing, I agree there might be a need for that.” said Pilchen. “But we’d have to rework some of the provisions to broaden it.”

Council voted to approve the first reading of the ordinance as written (with the exception of changing the wording of “labor camp” to “temporary employee housing”), with mention of a future ordinance that could include a provision for natural disasters.

A second reading and full adoption is on the agenda for council’s July 1 meeting. Visit ridgecrest-ca.gov/212/city-council for more information.

Story First Published: 2020-06-26