Instead city will send a letter asking to be allowed to Stage 3 of reopening plan

The Ridgecrest City Council is not declaring Ridgecrest a business sanctuary city, but will send Governor Gavin Newsom a letter requesting the city be moved into Stage 3/Phase 3 of his reopening plan as quickly as possible.

That was the outcome of a lengthy discussion at council's special meeting Friday. Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens and a small legion of callers urged council to declare Ridgecrest a sanctuary city and allow businesses to reopen in violation of Newsom's directives or at least to reopen as soon as possible under whatever circumstances.

"I am personally for us taking a stand and going against the state," Stephens said. "Basically, we tell people if they want to open, open at your own risk."

Stephens and at least one caller referred to President Donald Trump's statements on reopening the economy, particularly Trump's direction earlier that same day to allow churches and houses of worship to reopen immediately.

In response to a caller, City Manager Ron Strand said the decision to reopen will be based on directions from Newsom not Trump.

"I think the testing and care is in place, which is why we have been able to proceed," Stephens said. "We've flattened the curve. It's time for us to take a stand."

While all council members expressed sympathy with the hardships of the COVID-19 shutdown on small businesses, Mayor Peggy Breeden, Vice Mayor Michael Mower and Council Member Scott Hayman said they were against defying Newsom and declaring Ridgecrest a Sanctuary City.

Kern County earlier in the week successfully petitioned the state to allow the county to move further into Stage 2, allowing restaurants and other businesses to open. Breeden and Hayman argued that the county is doing a good job of working with the state productively and successfully and the city should continue with that effort.

"I don't think we want to bring the entire state down on us," Mower said. He later added, "I will not defy the governor's orders [although] I do not like the governor."

Hayman, who is the city's representative on the Kern County committee looking at reopening the economy, spoke out against defying the state.

"About us looking at becoming a sanctuary city," Hayman said. "I don't think that's a good idea. This is a public health issue, a safety issue. We are a country and a state of laws. We have rules and guidelines.

Noting that state boards can take licenses away, Hayman said, "I don't want to jeopardize [local businesses and providers] further than they have been jeopardized. We need to look at the county and the state [and] we follow their laws."

He noted that "the county is working extremely hard" and successfully gained the variance earlier in the week.

"Our county is our best bet at getting things done in a favorable way," Hayman said.

Council Member Kyle Blades steered clear of either extreme.

"I think that the public needs to fully understand we are in no way going out and shutting down businesses," Blades said. "If there's an answer I would love to hear it and I would love to act on it. I just don't know what that answer is."

He also said, "I think what's frustrating people is no timeline."

More or less ignoring the rule about not offering public comment on an item on the agenda, several callers during public comment urged the city to reopen. Others called in during the COVID-19 update item on the agenda. Council appeared to be taking a relaxed stance on allowing callers to speak up whenever they got through, given the occasional technical difficulties with receiving calls.

"I still need a haircut and I still need a pedicure," Dave Matthews said before urging council to "stand up" against restrictions.

"I just want to encourage you guys to reopen," Desert Empire Fair CEO Chip Holloway said. Holloway added that the DEF is "on life-support like many other businesses in the community."

Others expressed concern about reopening youth recreational programs as well as asking big box stores to donate to youth sports since local small businesses -- who normally support the programs -- are losing money because of the shutdown.

"I just wanted to make the recommendation that the city open business as usual," Chuck Roulund said.

Strand repeatedly said the city should not defy the state restrictions for a number of reasons. He expressed concerns the declaration of Ridgecrest as a sanctuary city might impact the city's relationship with the the base.

"What will that do to our number one employer?" he asked.

Strand said he wants to "make sure as a community we have done everything we can to reassure the base."

"There is a balance. I do agree we should open up," he said, while still urging the city not to break the law.

Strand also noted that he has received feedback from a segment of the population opposed to reopening too soon. "We have a little bit of a part that wants us to be responsible," Strand said. "Wear masks and not exposing ourselves to unnecessary infection."

Strand also said, "we cannot tell the [Ridgecrest Police Chief] to not enforce the state order because its a misdemeanor."

He also mentioned concerns about putting the city in jeopardy of frivolous lawsuits.

"As the city manager it is my job to follow the rules that are laid out by county, state and government," he said. "There is a risk [of losing] state or federal assistance for not following the rules."

Only one caller, Kathy Brown, gave "the other side" urging people to be patient and wait a little while longer to reopen, while still wearing protective gear.

"I think of WW II what my father went through, we have to be strong. I as a citizen, I don't like wearing [personal protective equipment] but I wanted to. I don't want to spread a disease we know so little about," she said.

"Let's just try. What do we have to lose?"

At the end of the discussion, council agreed to take Stephens' suggestion to send a letter to Newsom specifically from the city requesting that Ridgecrest be allowed to enter Stage 3 as soon as possible.

The item was given as direction to staff rather than as a resolution.

Newsom has said that unlike with Stage 2, the plan is for the entire state to move into Stage 3 at the same time.

For more on this meeting, see upcoming editions of the Daily Independent.