RIDGECREST CITY COUNCIL DEBATE: Winners and Losers – You Decide

October 19, 2022

Ridgecrest California

With elections just weeks away, candidates for the Ridgecrest City Council participated in a debate that was sponsored by the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, the Ridgecrest Area Association of Realtors and the IWV Economic Development Corporation (full video below).

Local business owner and long-time valley resident Tom Wiknich is challenging incumbent Eric Bruen for Mayor. J.D. Zipp entered the mayoral race as a write-in candidate after the forum.

Christopher Ellis, Scott Miller, and John “Skip” Gorman are up against incumbent council member Scott Hayman. (Vote for two of four)

Former Mayor Peggy Breeden was appointed to the Council shortly after the 2020 election when councilman Mike Mower abruptly resigned. Breeden has been termed-out after eight years on the City Council.

The winners will join Kyle Blades and Solomon Rajaratnam on the dais. Both of them were elected to four year terms in 2020.

All candidates with the exception of Bruen believe that the Groundwater Authority and the Groundwater Sustainability Plan is the single most important issue facing the Indian Wells Valley and the City of Ridgecrest. The GSP was approved by the Department of Water Resources last January with seven contingencies called Corrective Actions.

We’ll be writing a separate post that addresses the proposed Measure “P” Sales Tax increase from 8.25% to 9.25% and the promises made for a community pool, as well as other issues that the debate sponsors didn’t address, such as annexation and growth policy as well as the City’s response to the Covid pandemic, lockdowns and vax mandates.

Check back for more posts on Roadrunner395.com leading up to the election on November 8 or hit the subscribe button.

2022 City Council Candidate’s Forum (Full video below)

Ridgecrest City Council Candidates Forum, September 28, 2022

Questions (timestamp)

  • Opening Remarks start at 13:55
  • What are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing Ridgecrest? (33:35)
  • Do you support Measure “P”. If so, what are your priorities for spending. If not, how would you secure funding for services? (42:30)
  • What do you believe the City should do to impact quality of life and economic development in the area? (59:07)
  • How do you feel about the decisions the Groundwater Authority is making for our community? (1:18:20)
  • How would you improve transparency and dialog in our community? (1:36:47)
  • Closing Comments (1:53:55)

Christopher Ellis

General Manager at Coso Geothermal, moved to Ridgecrest in 1988

I spent the last 35 years basically managing a geothermal reservoir. I can offer some insights that might be helpful. One of the most important things to me is that we come up with an affordable and sustainable groundwater plan. I’m skeptical about the affordability and viability of it the plan that’s in place. Ridgecrest itself, Gary Charlon really opened my eyes to the way our community looks. We have areas that need to be improved. I really want to jump on his back and look at ways we can make the city and schools look better. Biggest priority is kids. There’s not enough for kids to do in this town. We need to do a lot more. I’m interested in getting a Girls and Boys Club back here.

Greatest challenges, figuring out what we’re going to do about water, long term. We’re not in a situation that we have a growth plan that is going to work out for us. There’s a lot of overlap between measure “V” and the new measure “P”. Measure “P” should be looked at more. Short on police staff. Pool is a huge deal for this community, we need to figure out how to get a pool. Opportunities stem from us creating a better quality of life. We want to bring more people in and get more people involved.

How do we improve quality of life? We support business. We work with the base and figure out what we need to support the people that work there and it carries over to everyone who lives here. They and their families represent 70% of the people in this town. Supporting our schools and finding additional revenue streams. We need to the resources.

Groundwater Authority:

I’m going to right to the guts of this question. I think the GA has been less than transparent with this community. They went into their charter with one idea in mind. They’ve completely ignored input from the public from day one. This started with 100% with someone that I voted for and supported. In my opinion they came in with a crusade.

I am not convinced that we’re really in a critical overdraft situation. That’s something our leadership, not this leadership, chose to endeavor and chase after in the hopes they’d get additional funding. At the end of the day if we think imported water is our sole solution, we have a huge problem. We have no opportunity for growth here. We have no solution.

Our job should be whether we think we can have an impact on the State or the region. We should do everything we can in order to start where the problem lies. The problem lies in LA and coastal communities taking water that is passing through here. The only way we’re going to solve this long term is to work together with DWR and the other State agencies and get them to agree to that. Even a Governor that I don’t agree with ever, is finally coming around to desalination and keeping nuke plants online which are basically desalination plants in disguise.

The users are on the coast. We need to solve the problem on the coast and push that water back in our direction. Stop thinking about pumping water uphill which is going to be an operational cost that you have no idea what you’re about to get into. Independent of the construction costs, which again the GA has not been transparent on how much this is going to cost, I’d be glad to stand up here with a whiteboard and build this whole system and show you how much this thing is going to cost. I’ll tell you how much it’s going to cost to run. I built a 10 mile pipeline that we built that cost $18 million to build and $2 million a year to run.

Tom Wiknich

Owner of Guns4Us, Retired Program Manager NAWSCL, President of Ridgecrest Gun Range Association, U.S. Army Veteran, B.S. Business Administration, Ridgecrest Police – Reserve Officer, moved to Ridgecrest in 1979.

I love this place. I like to be involved in City Hall and doing things for the City.

Water is the biggest issue that we’re facing, not only as a City but the entire valley. We need to solve the water problem so we can sustain possible growth. I don’t ever see us growing to 100,000 people. I would like to see more diversfied business coming to Ridgecrest.

Where’s the money going to come from? The cost for that GSP is astronomical. Where’s that money going to come from? The State? The State needs to get involve to help solve the water problem in the State. It’s a State problem not a Ridgecrest problem. The GA needs to get more aggressive with the State. We’re not going to be able to afford the GSP.

There’s another problem with the way the City is represented on the GA board. The Council cannot give instructions to the City’s representative on the GA Board on how to vote on the issues the way it’s setup right now. There is a middle of the road position on that. The Council should vote on the main issues and give instruction to the representatives.

Currently, the City is in a pretty good position financially. We can always use more money coming in. I’m fiscal conservative. We have a certain amount of money that we have to deal and do the job. If that’s all we got then we’ve got to do everything we can to stay within the budget. Let’s try to do it with the budget we’ve got. We should continue the effort to fix the streets.

Quality of Life and Economic Development

Raising our sales tax rate will remove the financial incentive for people who come here to shop. Measure “P” will not create more economic stability. What happens when people stop coming here. People shop out of town already.

Eric Bruen

CEO Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union, 25 years in the industry, Moved to Ridgecrest in 2004

I believe in Ridgecrest. This town has given me more than I can ever repay. If anything ever changes, and I’m not part of this community, Ridgecrest will always be home for me. I’m proud to be a cheerleader and focus for the community.

I’m not fiscally conservative. I am not going to choose to lay out a budget that says if we run out of money we can’t do something.

Challenges? I’m going to focus on opportunities. If you are not prepared to support what we are trying to build into this community, then I am maybe I’m not your best candidate. Our best opportunity is our changing demographics.

I don’t agree with the entire panel and say water, The DWR put us into this situation. I think the biggest challenge we face is the State.

Groundwater Authority:

Water is not my strength. My job has been cheerleader. I actively support Scott Hayman.

Quality of Life and Economic Development:

Housing is something we have to get on top of. Housing is something we’re going to be dealing with four or five years from now. People do come here to shop. 53% of sales tax revenue comes from City residents. County residents are not paying property taxes to the City of Ridgecrest.

I’m not going to lie. Water is not my strength. Our council has become very good at understanding know your lane. My job has been cheerleader. My job has not been to whittle through 25,000 pages of the groundwater authority. This community kicked the can on water for 20 years.

Skip Gorman

Owner of a metal fabrication shop, metal art, writer, retired electronics engineer at NAWSCL, U.S Army Veteran

I feel qualified to be a City councilman because I happen to be an effective, though somewhat compulsive communicator and also because of my extensive experience as a systems production engineer at China Lake and my avid and ongoing interest in City affairs. I often wrote about the confusion, drama and adventure that sometimes happens here. It’s high time I put my money where my keyboard is. I urge you all to vote for Measure “P”. If you’re going to vote against Measure “P” then please don’t vote for me.


Our biggest intransigent issue is Water. I think we lurched upon a bit of good luck recently, which is mixed actually, when Travis Reed chose to take over for Don Zdeba at the Water District. It will help the relationship ultimately between the City Council and the Water District. For some reason those two groups have had a contentious relationship, partly because the Water District chose to enter into the Adjudication.

I support the IWVWD’s adjudication lawsuit. Ultimately, it will be good for all of us. I felt bad for Stan Rajtora who represented the water district on the Groundwater Authority board, but was skipped over in the rotating chairmanship of that Board because of this contention. Perhaps once I’m on board of the Council, I can lobby to turn that around. It should be. It wasn’t right.

Challenges? I guess we could come up with quite a list. I would shake my fist at the weather.

Groundwater Authority:

Gorman: I’m cynical about the Groundwater Authority, they frighten me. I don’t even like the name. “Groundwater Authority” makes you want to salute. It involves lots of cards with lots and lots of uncertainty. Buying water that we might get might not be what we need. Less not wed ourselves to this house of cards. OK Eric, what is the approved plan and what’s it going to cost? There are a lot of unknowns here. It involves a house of cards with lots and lots of uncertainty.

Dr. Scott Hayman

Chiropractor, moved to Ridgecrest in 1984, U.S. Air Force Veteran

My goal is to continue to have a fiscally sound finance department. Public safety is a huge issue. Water.


Water is our biggest challenge and our greatest opportunity. The challenge as we’ve already seen is getting all the different entities that are involved on the same page. I would like to see these other parties start coming on and being an active part of the Groundwater Authority. The challenge is getting everyone on the same page. I also want to see a financial revenue stream in this town. Measure “P” addresses those issues.

Groundwater Authority:

I think the Groundwater Authority has made stellar decisions.

Scott Miller

Real estate agent, moved to Ridgecrest in 2014.

I definitely have opinions. People don’t understand what’s going on with water. I’m a regular guy.

Challenges? Water, fire, local economy, pay of our PD, lack of information, home prices, not passing Measure “P”. I’m not a financial guru. People should stay in their own lane. Opportunities? We have some great opportunities. Using Balsam as a City Center. Fairgrounds. Make Ridgecrest as best as it can be. Challenge is not passing Measure “P”

Groundwater Authority:

I am not a water expert. I’m wondering if people just sat down at a local coffee shop and talked to figure things out. I don’t have any answers. I now have a dead front and back yard. Water is not my lane. Mr. Hayman is doing a very good job and he’s taken a lot of arrows. My kudos to Scott Hayman for taking those arrows.

Bonus Video of the October 19, 2022 City Council Meeting

Fireworks begin at the IWV Groundwater Authority (agenda item three begins at 1:41:25)

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