By: Zachary Lopez (ZachNews):
Needles, California: In the upcoming election in November 2020, voters locally will be making their decision on who will be representing the people as mayor and city council members for the City of Needles.
ZachNews sent out questions to the candidates on what the community would like the candidates to answer before they make their voting decision on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.
The following is questions and answers from Needles City Council Candidate Ruth Musser-Lopez:
(Responses and Answers by Candidate in “Quotation Marks”)
*** Candidate’s Background: ***
– Your full name?
*** The Topics and Questions: ***
California Governor’s COVID-19 “Stay-At-Home” Order:
– What do you think of the California Governor’s “Stay-At-Home” order on our community?
“I must admit, that I am personally enjoying the attention I am receiving at home from my husband and the fact that we are getting more accomplished by staying put and focusing on much needed repairs. As far as the community, I appreciate that the state needs to take action to limit liability. The state “stay at home” order is found at https://covid19.ca.gov/img/Executive-Order-N-33-20.pdf —strict rules on curtailing non-essential activity. The order went into effect on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in response to the coronavirus spread at a time when the characteristics of the virus and how it spreads was little understood. The order covers the whole state of California but as of May 8, the stay home order was modified and in addition to essential activity, retail is allowed, along with the infrastructure to support it. As of May 12, offices, limited services, and outdoor museums are also permitted to open.”
“I agree that the American people do deserve an urgent, robust, and professional response to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. My cousin in Nebraska came home from the hospital this week after being treated for Coronavirus then he died from a heart attack. I am so saddened by this loss. For the present time, statistics show that those who wear a mask, physically distance 6 feet and wash/bath after going out and about are less likely to contract the virus. Stay optimistic…but be cautious and avoid potential problems.”
– If another “Stay at Home” order is put into place and our numbers are low, I would advocate for Needles to stay open?
– How would you reach out to the businesses and citizens of our community affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
“If elected, I would support a budget that includes staff (working on their computers at home if necessary) who are expert grant writers who together with the school district staff could focus on obtaining private and public assistance for our businesses and citizens, particularly those families with school age children impacted by shutdowns and stay at home orders. The most urgent need is assistance for those families with lost income due to the need for a parent to home school their children.”
- What would you do in the event of another COVID-19 pandemic shut down?
“I expect that government to make a thorough and accurate evaluation of what the situation is and bring in competent medical professionals to ascertain what the policy should be to maintain and protect the health of the citizenry at large. If the government isn’t doing that, I will advocate that the government should do that. And then once I am convinced and satisfied that is what is being done at the government level I will, as an official will act to facilitate the plan in the most efficient and sensible way possible. Official government response should be a measured one that addresses the problem but doesn’t impose unintended hurdles for those who are struggling either in their personal lives or as small businesses to maintain themselves.”
– Law Enforcement and Protests:
- What is your response to the protests and calls for defunding law enforcement?
- How would you handle a situation in our community regarding law enforcement and mistreatment that addresses any injustice and mistreatment while keeping the peace and respect in the community; especially between citizens and law enforcement?
“I support funding directed toward code enforcement and a local social worker on staff at the Sheriff’s office to provide homeless services. 1930s WPA style work programs for the homeless are a win win situation…project #1 litter cleanup—trash is obviously piling up on fences and street gutters. I believe we can tap into state or federal funds putting the homeless to work redressing these problems. These additional services would not mean fewer deputies. I have confidence that our officers will come to understand the difference between what is “reasonable” and what is “necessary” as envisioned by our state legislature with the enactment of AB392 and that our officers will use caution before pulling a very lethal weapon out of holsters in confronting hostile situations.”
– Local Infrastructures, and Water, Wastewater and Electric Rates:
- How would you help get our crumbling infrastructures in our community get fix and replace?
“The rationale of the current members on the council for making a $200,000 transfer from the Economic Development Program to the water capital improvement fund did not convince me that it was valid and I am skeptical as to the need for this action. Water is the city’s cash cow, so future revenue as the community expands should easily pay for pipe and well replacement bonds. New capital improvements should be funded by the developers, not current residents. Economic development funds wrongly taken should be put back and used for stimulating clean, smart businesses with robust revenue streams and to entice a fresh foods market we so desperately need into locating within our city limits.”
- Do you think raising utilities to pay for those infrastructures a good idea, especially at this moment as residents and businesses are going through problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I am the only candidate who said NO to the incumbent city council, all of whom voted to raise our utility rates based upon arbitrary and capricious “cost of living” projections. The CPI they relied upon was old and relied on data prior to the pandemic and economic shut down, instead of what is likely a current projection of stagnation or possible deflation of consumer goods based on high unemployment rates and a general demise of the economy due to the corona virus epidemic.”
“The median earnings for full-time, year-round private workers in Needles is $30,357 according to the most recent American Community Survey results as conducted by the United States Census Bureau. Meanwhile the median pay and benefits for full-time, year-round city employee is $79,059, over twice that of the average Needles resident. Our City Manager’s salary, pay and benefits in 2018 two years ago was $275,378.54 a higher figure than the total benefit and pay for our Governor in 2019 which was $270,189.38. (Transparent California https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2018/needles/). Ask your readers if they think that the Needles City Manager needs a cost of living increase at their expense this year?”
– Community Growth:
- How would you help attract new retails and businesses to invest, build and create new jobs in our community, such as new grocery store and laundromat?
- Should the City of Needles offer incentives for these new retails and businesses to come invest, build and create new jobs in our community?
- Should the City of Needles have some kind of a co-op grocery store if no new grocery store is interested in coming to our community?
“This question is one that the city has been paying consultants to answer at our expense ever since Rick Daniels arrived in town…yet we still don’t have a grocery store, not even a fresh foods market. Our high ranking city officials have taken numerous junkets to conventions including Las Vegas intending to find a company to bring a grocery store here, but as you know we are still without a grocery store and our retail sector is virtually non existent and we are hemorrhaging tax money to Arizona. I would encourage the creation of an enterprise zone (expanded upon under a different question).”
– Marijuana Industries, Businesses and Events?
- What do you think about the marijuana industries and businesses in the community, and their affect on our community (Good or Bad)?
- Would you support more marijuana industries and businesses to our community, including lounges, cafes and drive-thrus?
- Would you support allowing of marijuana related events to our community sound to attract more tourists?
“Since the council already approved lounges, the question is rather moot at this point. However, I would add that there are other hemp industries I would like to consider. According to Forbes (Natalie Parletta 6/28/2019) “Hemp is a weed, so it grows prolifically with little water and no pesticides. It takes up relatively little space, produces more pulp per acre than trees, and is biodegradable. Hemp crops even give back by returning nutrients to the soil and sequestering carbon dioxide” and “Although still used in China and Europe, hemp went out of fashion, by and large, as it was outlawed and replaced by plastic, cotton, fossil fuels and other profitable products. But as their damage to the Earth has reached crisis proportions, the race is on to produce sustainable alternatives.” There is a limit to the market for cannabis and as it maxes out for recreational and medicinal varieties, the focus on varieties of hemp that can be grown outdoors for industrial purposes is agriculture from which this valley might find a tremendous financial benefit.”
“I would add that unless there is more transparency as to how the current cannabis trade is impacting the city’s financial balance sheet, it is difficult for anyone to evaluate in terms of “good” or “bad” what it is doing to this town. Effect upon the generation being raised and schooled in Needles today is hard to assess. Effect upon tourism is something that could be both positive and negative. Perhaps some would be attracted to lounges, and the ability to purchase recreational and medical cannabis but others, who are repelled by the name “Needles” already wonder if it is dangerous and might be more inclined to avoid a major cannabis outlet.”
“Outcomes that residents can actually visualize are both positive and negative. The residents never saw the reduction that they were promised on their utility bills despite the new business that was supposed to ease residential burden. There are many new operatives in town— the jury is still out on these. The exteriors of some existing structures in town have been enhanced as they are retooled for grow operations. Yet, there are other buildings, new metal buildings where we once had a view of the river and the Needles peaks. There are large grow ops at the corner of a major I-40 ramp which I think would have been better suited for highway traffic, like gas and fast food stations. But then again, one must consider the likely reason…eliminate competition with the existing convenience stores a little farther away from the ramps.”
– Housing and Homelessness:
- What will you do to bring in more needed housing to our community, especially more housing both market-rate and affordable, both houses and apartments?
- What do you think about tiny houses and shipping container housing as an alternative to affordable housing in our community?
- Should the City of Needles offer incentives for these new housing and apartments of various sizes and rates, including affordable, to our community?
- How can the City of Needles help in addressing homelessness in our community?
“People write books on this subject so I can only begin to speak to it here. Zoning is key to a healthy, attractive, efficient and robust community. Our planning and zoning commission deserves credit for listening to concerns of citizens and reviewing plans that are submitted to the council for approval. Unfortunately, politics often corrupts the system and we don’t get the zoning we need, thus great ideas can turn into eyesores.”
“Again, I support funding directed toward hiring a local social worker on staff at the Sheriff’s office to provide homeless services. 1930s WPA style work programs for the homeless are a win win situation…project #1 litter cleanup—trash is obviously piling up on fences and street gutters. I believe we can tap into state or federal funds putting the homeless to work redressing these problems–meanwhile the new found income for the homeless in back to work programs could alleviate their burden in finding food and shelter.”
“How to attract new home project developers is something that the other candidates concerned themselves with at the political forum, but as I said, they have the cart before the horse. My position is that if we maintain the historic district, the developers will come begging. Who wants to move into a town where what you see first is bad pavement, razed buildings, fenced concrete slabs covered with litter, and rickety old power poles. The current and recent past council have failed to adequately come to terms with the degree to which blight in the downtown corridor of our city is discouraging investment dollars from coming to Needles—That has to change. We’ve got to make downtown Needles PEAKtackular. And I have a plan for that. See the next question.”
– Gateway to California, Tourism and History:
- How would you help to bring in more tourism into our community?
- What would you help local attractions, hotels and businesses in our community that relay on tourists, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How would you work to preserve the community’s history for future generations can visit, learn and bring them back to visit or live in our community?
“We live in a historic town that was first visited by Europeans in the 1500s with Padre Garces and if you count how long the indigenous Mojaves have been here, then we go back at least ten thousand years. With this kind of history and the proven revenue opportunity of being on a major transportation corridor, a leg of the “Golden Triangle” tourist route from LA to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back by way of RT66 and Needles, one would think that the town would put more emphasis on preserving their historic iconic structures, but something is terribly wrong. You don’t need to be an accountant or an insider, you can visually see it with your own two eyes driving through historic downtown Needles. As soon as you enter town from the east, you are on rough deteriorating pavement, there is no signage that one is entering a historic district nor is there signage for the many historic structures that dot RT66 and the Old Trails Highway through town.”
“Instead, we have continued ongoing destruction and dismantling of our iconic points of interest. The City Council went along with the Manager had the grand Overland burnt down as a fire crew training exercising spewing asbestos into our surrounding neighborhood and leaving only one downtown two-story RT66 motel, the Imperial 400 where there was a fire this week. These were buildings that could have been retooled for assisted living nursing facilities. Among others that were recently razed or demolished are the old dairy castle, the two story tie cabin and now the historic “Footprints Rock House” and Damarius Carter’s art studio/historic two story home to make way for a cannabis grow operation.”
“I have always advocated for a community historic preservation plan with a listing of the structures that add to the ambience of this important segment of the “Mother Road.” We have wonderful unique historic structures and I have proposed a self guided geotag tour with QR codes and interpretive information that a visitor can read from their smart phone. I have already developed the tour that can be seen at: https://gisclass.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=472088ac10b547748bada5fd934e33da#map“
“This tour and other ideas are in included in my plan, “Make Needles Peaktackular.” As part of the plan, the city would sponsor a free paint program for qualifying property owners. Very important is the need for consultation with a historic property specialist who understands the symbolic history and significance of paint color so the council doesn’t make the same mistake of painting something like the El Garces pink.”
“While I advocate for a downtown preservation program and removal of unsightly, dangerous, rickety wooden power poles with lines radiating out across back yards, my plan has a way to pay for this without increasing rates. I am on the right side of the aisle in Sacramento and am in a position to advocate for hydro-electric energy credits with special legislation targeted to assist much needed electric upgrades for the historic downtown RT66 district.”
“As the lead archaeologist for cultural resource management programs, many award winning, in federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, I am uniquely qualified to advance these credits as a city councilwoman with expertise in historic preservation. One of my ideas has become a national program. I have other ideas in the “Make Needles Peaktackular” plan, some which I have freely given to the community that will attract visitors far and wide—one is an annual RT66 run coupled with a Mojave Desert Frybread competition. Another is a Gold Dome marathon to commemorate one of the Needles peaks from which the town gets its name along with a free Old West Outdoor Karaoke event.”
“When elected the first order of business of the plan would be to advance the downtown as enterprise zone for tourism with special credits and small business loans. Currently, we compete with Arizona’s lower taxes just a hop and a skip across the two lane bridge over the river; we are seriously hemorrhaging consumers—they are taking California payroll and spending out of state. We need to work with the state legislature to recognize Needles as a “rural border town” and create an economic enterprise zone tailored to be competitive with neighbor state tax scales.”
“My master’s education in Applied Archaeology at California State University San Bernardino where I received a grant for my thesis work and my performance serving Needles as a proponent of quality of life measures, RT66 tourism and historic preservation (wagon park, charter member of the Museum, founder of the Needles Pioneer Cemetery Museum, RT66 preservation advocate) is testimony to my ability to work effectively on behalf of Needles residents.”
“I am distinguished from the other candidates by 10 years of leading federal projects that required me to prepare and implement large budgets, write grant proposals and prepare, interpret and advise with respect to environmental studies. That work was predicated by my degree in Anthropology from the University of California having attended both UCLA and UCR where I worked for the department as an archaeologist. I have been trained in accounting and can read and understand a balance sheet. I have owned and operated two successful businesses. I invite people to make a comparison of my qualifications with those of my well-intentioned opponents, whom I salute for their civic concern. I sincerely believe my qualifications compare favorably to my opponents, and hope Needles residents will thoroughly explore their options before they cast their votes.”
– Open Local Government, Public Relations and Community Involvement:
- What would you do to make local government more open, honest and transparent to the people of our community?
“Continue to have meetings via Zoom or similar web applications with a special effort made to allow anyone who wants to participate, to participate. Prepare council meeting minutes that the city council is required to review and approve. Allow public comments prior to executive session meetings. I don’t think that coronavirus should be an excuse to prevent or limit public participation and involvement under California’s open meeting law. Stop using the Brown Act as an excuse not to disclose the purpose and cost of litigation that the city enters into. Inform the citizens as to what litigation the city is contemplating and get citizen input prior to actually filing costly demands in court.”
“The most obvious example of this is the lawsuit that the council incumbents in secret voted unanimously to bring against the proponents of a voter initiative, Measure U. The proponents of Measure U had collected thousands of signatures from people like me who are furious about the county taxing us without our vote in violation of the California constitution. All the proponents wanted to do is bring the vote about being further taxed to the people, and for this we, the people of Needles, are stuck with a big legal bill. Upland and San Bernardino did not sue the proponents. The people of Needles should have had an opportunity to say NO to this lawsuit and NO to stupid spending by the council. The council obviously lost the lawsuit because the measure is on the ballot. It is right that we are able to vote on Measure U and we should never have had to waste our local dollars to sue the proponents.”
- What would you do to help get more people from our community more involved in their local government, especially participating in city council meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Exactly what I am already doing now. Asking them not to harass those who express their opinions about needed change and begging them to attend, see and hear what their council is doing, the bills and burdens they are putting on our backs…how they are frivolously (and stupidly in some cases) spending our money and then asking us for more by taxing us without our vote.”
- How would you to help better communications between citizens, media and local government so that important information is getting out to the people in our community?
“I would encourage my colleagues to engage in open government. I would encourage my colleagues to hold city management responsible for keeping the citizens abreast of what is happening. To the extent that I can determine that public information is not easily available I would endeavor myself to access that information and provide it to any organ of public information dissemination that seeks it.”
*** Candidate’s Closing Comments and Contacts: ***
“One of our biggest assets in Needles is ownership of our own perfected water rights and everyone knows I am an advocate for protecting our water supply. Starting in 1987, mine was the first published objection to the international unlined nuclear dump that was to be positioned over our tributary water in Ward Valley. Letters and protests from thousands of others followed including over 20 thousand signatures on a voter initiative I authored and circulated. As a former councilwoman in the 1990s and later as director of People Against Radioactive Dumping, I helped the Mojave Tribe at my own expense to stop everything from nuclear submarines to decommissioned power plants being dumped into unlined trenches on “Water Road” next to the I-40. We are still constantly battling for protection of that water supply, now against a would be “heister,” the Cadiz Corporation who threatens to drain and pipe it out of the desert to Orange County. If elected, the people can count on me to vote as a council member to oppose interception and privatization of desert ground water on its natural course to Needles and the river.”
“I have demonstrated what I stand for by the causes I have taken up and championed over the years. As a 40 year Needles resident and citizen I have testified before the city council dozens of times, advocating for policies that are based in fiscal responsibility, furthering public safety, and a priority policy on hiring community residents first. Generally, and with regard to other issues, I believe all Needles residents deserve governance that is transparent and fair. I am for our constitutional rights including no taxation without approval by 2/3 of the voters and repeal of unfair regressive taxes, “flat” taxes that burden the poor disproportionately. I am for our constitutional rights to protect citizens against property confiscation by government, that is why my husband and I in 2017 fought back and won in court when despite repeated protest, our mayor and council here in Needles sued us for imminent domain of much more land than they needed for a traffic light.”
“By looking at my record on what I have asked our current and past leaders for at City Hall, every voter will be able to see that I am for “MAKE NEEDLES PEAKTACKULAR” and am well qualified to lead this effort as councilwoman.”
“For more information about my campaign you can visit ElectRuthMusserLopez.com or email me at RuthMusserLopez@gmail.com.”
Thank you Ruth Musser-Lopez for answering our questions from the community.
Good luck to all of the candidates and do not forget to vote in the City of Needles Election 2020.