CALIFORNIA CITY - Tuesday’s City Council meeting had an added addendum to it a few days prior to the regular meeting which caused quite a stir in the city. The addendum was for an early meeting start of 5 p.m. at which time the public would be allowed to voice their opinion on an action item on the agenda. It was the Performance Review of City Manager Bob Stockwell who has found himself under fire recently by elements within the Council. The turnout by a number of residents wearing T-shirts in support of Stockwell that read “I support Bob Stockwell, OUR City Manager” outnumbered the handful of people that didn’t wear them. Former Mayor Jennifer Wood was seen for the first time back at City Hall and wearing one of the shirts in support of Stockwell who was hired on her watch and whom she still supports. Former Mayor Pro-Tem Juan Carlos Gonzales was also there to show support for Stockwell. The supporters spent the better part of an hour to praise Stockwell and to state their support for keeping him. After returning to open session and opening ceremonies, The Council immediately tabled the item for closed session discussion though listed on the agenda as a ‘new business’ item which is actionable by definition. The item will next be addressed by Council at the next meeting on May 14 where it will return as an action item and more information will be available.
Back in open session, came a presentation by CCPD Chief Eric Hurtado introducing and officially swearing in two new officers. They are Officers Dominique Bennett and Connor Walsh, who now join the ranks of CCPD out on the streets with six new officers added since the first of the year. Bennett’s three-year-old daughter Camille pinned the badge on her father during the ceremony where the two took their oath from Hurtado.
That was followed by California City Fire Department Chief David Goodell who swore in a new firefighter. Engine 19 Firefighter Matthew Ramold took his oath from Goodell in chambers and then the chief pinned his new badge on, making him officially a California City Firefighter.
A small burp occurred during the Consent Calendar approval when the check register was found to be missing some five pages of checks from it. Council initially stopped the item, but then voted separately on what they had first and the when city Finance Director Diego Ibanez and Treasurer Keith Middleton found and brought them forth for Council who approved them as well.
The meeting then got to the city’s business of the evening starting with a presentation by Parks and Recreation Director Brenda Daverin who addressed the immediate need to replace the playground equipment in Central Park. The current gear from 2001 is well past warranty and wearing out, Daverin said, but more to the point is that the equipment is no longer ADA compliant and so needs to be replaced. The city put out bids for new gear and got three replies. Of those three, the best buy was from Miracle Play Systems for $181,850.70 which can accommodate up to 150 children. The other bidders fell far short of that mark and one was more expensive while providing for only 105 kids. Council approved the purchase from Miracle Play Systems. Daverin stated that the new gear should take about two and a half months to construct and hopefully will be installed by mid-June just in time for summer.
Next came the concept that has been tossed around of hiring CALPERS annuitants for CCPD and other departments. These are former city or municipal employees who bring a wealth of experience to the job right out the gate and can cost less than new employees. They must only work up to 960 hours a year to not violate the CALPERS rules. There was much discussion on that topic with many saying the wealth of experience and the willingness of some retires to come and work here makes this a good idea we should take advantage of if such people are willing to come and do the work. Others said they that they fear for the liability of an injured retiree, etc. Council heard those arguments, some of which came off the dais and then four to one approved the item.
The big ticket item on the night’s agenda came next. That is seeking Council approval for three temporary irrigation wells to be drilled by three different cannabis investors whose property is removed from the city’s water system and who lack the water necessary to get their business going. The three are located along Cal City Boulevard out by Wonder Acres and as such there is no city water system between the city and Wonder Acres who get their water from Mojave Public Utilities District. The city has a policy that is codified prohibiting any wells to be drilled in the city. Much of that has to do with the states oversight of all water in California, and the necessity to keep track of our water levels in Cal City’s aquifer which is massive, and makes Cal City self-sustainable. Public Works Director Craig Platt was vehemently against the proposal for those and other reasons and openly stated as much.
The city doesn’t have the funds to build out the necessary water infrastructure to their properties which costs between $4-5 million. The cannabis companies see them being asked to also pay for that as unrealistic and one sided and were seeking some form of meeting point with the city after putting a lot of money into the city based on the promise of enough water. Many have left now and at this point at least one of the three companies representative Jeannie O’Laughlin - former finance director for Cal City - openly stated that if they cannot be granted this last ditch hail-mary to get underway that they will in fact leave their investment and go elsewhere. There was no comment from the remaining two companies during the meeting, but all three are seeking the relief. They would pay for the wells being drilled and they would be operated on a temporary basis and be capped off once the city builds out the water infrastructure it has planned to build since the city annexed Wonder Acres into the city.
After much back and forth and the very real promise that they would see even more investors walk, the Council did approve the item and so test core drilling at no cost to the city at all will begin at those sites. Both Councilman Nick Lessenevitch and Platt agreed that the city needs to build out water infrastructure along CCB west as it is “A major development corridor as they both acknowledged and without water is not being developed. What is needed for that is not just the 24 and 16 inch piping, but a half a million gallon water tank out at Wonder Acres and the pumping systems to make the water flow.
Next item on the evenings agenda was a pay raise for the executive level employees of the city. That is department heads who do not by law belong to collective unions and as such must have their pay raises approved by Council separately from the rank and file employees. Last month Council approved a pay raise for city employees of 27.5 % over three years. Council stated at that time that they would come back and approve the department heads raises as well. But when the topic came up for Council last Tuesday night, things went a little off that track. The city is undergoing their annual budget which is due by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The pay raises will be part of that budget which is not yet completed. Some Councilmembers stated that the raise should wait a month and be part of the coming budget to account for the money, while others were keen to get the department heads (that being positions like Chief of Police, Fire Chief and Public Works Director) their pay raise now. The conversation went back and forth with many surprised that the item wasn’t instantly approved and it elicited much public comment to that effect. The hesitation by Council was not in opposition to the raise which all Councilmembers agreed should and will be granted, it came down to a matter of timing. In the end Council tabled the raise until next months meeting to get it in the budget properly.