Ruth Musser-Lopez says there are two reasons why she is running for Needles City Council this year.
“It is no secret why I am running for office. Half is as a caring, passionate ‘cheerleader’ for the community and half is to redress major issues facing this city. Those issues are ones which I believe I am uniquely qualified to help redress.”
The city faces challenges and opportunities that are an outgrowth of its long, storied and colorful history, Musser-Lopez said.
“First, we live in a historic town that was first visited by Europeans in the 1700s with Padre Francisco Garces, and if you count how long the indigenous Mojaves have been here, then we go back at least ten thousand years. The town boasts a major historic railroad depot, “El Garces,” and the town itself was named after the prominent, spectacularly jagged peaks to the south, “The Needles.” 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 Los Angeles to Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and back by way of Route 66 and Needles, one would think that the town would put more emphasis on preserving its historic iconic structures, but something is terribly wrong. You don’t need to be an accountant or an insider to see the visual evidence as you drive through historic downtown Needles. As soon as you enter town from the east, you are on rough and deteriorating pavement, there is no signage that one is entering a historic district nor is there signage for the many historic structures that dot Route 66 and the Old Trails Highway through town.
“Instead,” Musser-Lopez continued, “we have continued ongoing destruction and dismantling of our iconic historic buildings and points of interest. The city council went along with the city manager and had the grand Overland Hotel burnt down as a fire crew training exercise, spewing asbestos into our surrounding neighborhood and leaving only one downtown two-story Route 66 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 railroad 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.”
She believes her previous experience on the city council and her professional, personal and political interactions in her various capacities inside and outside of Needles leave her in a position to spur interest in the city on the part of investors and others looking for a place to engage in long term entrepreneurship.
“How to attract new home project developers is something that the other candidates concerned themselves with at the recent Needles political forum, but as I said, they have the cart before the horse,” Musser-Lopez said. “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 leaving fenced concrete slabs, and rickety old power poles? That has to change. We’ve got to make downtown Needles spectacular. And I have a plan for that. It’s called ‘Make Needles Peaktacular’ a theme that plays upon the idea of the Needles Peaks and includes the names of the individual peaks, like Gold Dome, in events that would draw tourism.”
The city should have been far more sensitive to preserving the historical and other assets that can be featured to promote the city, Musser-Lopez said, rather than rubberstamping development plans as proposed by project proponents whose priorities are not consistent with a longer term vision of the city’s appeal to tourists and customers who will frequent the city’s businesses. She indicated that she was not opposed, per se, to the proliferation of cannabis-based businesses in Needles, but said the businesses themselves and the premises into which they are located should be held to sensible structural and aesthetic standards, and should be placed at locations that do not inhibit or interfere with other elements of the community.
“A few of the new grow-ops are large metal buildings that block the view of the river or are on an off-ramp where a restaurant or convenience gas stations or food stores would have been more suitable,” she said. “This is not an industry problem. Obviously, what has gone wrong is a faulty ‘zoning’ plan or council-approved variances.”
Musser-Lopez said that as a member of the council, she would advocate that the city council take stock of its historic assets and the advantage they represent, and would seek to frame a policy that would allow those assets to be preserved for future generations while serving as a further draw of tourists to the heart of the city that would allow the businesses located there to prosper.
“I have always advocated for a community historic preservation plan with a listing of the structures that add to the ambiance of this important segment of the ‘Mother Road,’” Musser Lopez said. “We have wonderful unique historic structures and I have proposed a self-guided geotag tour with bar codes that can be pointed at and read with a smart phone to automatically display interpretive information. Though the on-the-ground signage is lacking, I have already developed the tour concept that can be seen at: https://gisclass.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=472088ac10b547748bada5fd934e33da#map
“Needles is an attractive city with some of the finest homes and landscape on the river, but that is not what the visitor sees when passing through on Route 66,” Musser-Lopez said. “The road coming through town from the east is sorely in need of repair and some of the very significant iconic buildings are in need of professional care.”
Redressing the inevitable deterioration of the aging aspects of the community can be easily achieved, Musser-Lopez asserted.
“One thing that could be done is for the city to provide free paint for qualifying property owners,” she said. “We should encourage property owners to repair and restore their homes and structures with material that replicate the historic characteristics of the period in which those buildings were constructed. It is very important that people have the ability to consult with a historic property specialist who understands the symbolic history and significance of paint color so the council and others do not make the same mistake of painting something like historic El Garces Depot pink.”
Musser-Lopez said, “While I advocate for a downtown preservation program and removal of unsightly, dangerous, rickety wooden power poles with power lines radiating out across back yards, I have a plan 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 Route 66 District.”
She said, “As the lead archaeologist for cultural resource management programs involving federal agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, some of which have garnered recognition and awards, I am uniquely qualified to advance these credits in the role of city councilwoman with expertise in historic preservation. In 1980, when I first moved to Needles as a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist, one of my concepts, the “Adopt-a-Historic Site” program, became the inspiration for the nationwide Site Stewardship program. My first “adopter” group was Cal 4-Wheel Drive and they continue to participate even now. I have other ideas, some which I have freely given to the community that will attract visitors far and wide. One is an annual Route 66 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.”
Musser-Lopez said, “Upon getting elected, my first order of business would be to advance downtown Needles as an 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, who are taking their paychecks out of California 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 neighboring state tax scales.”
She is distinguished from her competition in this year’s council race by the depth and breadth of her experience and involvement, her driving curiosity, as well as the energy she brings to the tasks she takes on, Musser-Lopez said. “My master’s education in applied archaeology at California State University San Bernardino where I received a grant for my thesis work along with my performance serving Needles as a proponent of quality of life measures, Route 66 tourism and historic preservation advocacy is a testimony to my ability to work effectively on behalf of Needles residents. I was involved in the Wagon Park effort. I am a charter member of the Needles Museum, a founder of the Needles Pioneer Cemetery Museum and a Route 66 preservation advocate. I have ten years invested in 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. I attended UCLA and graduated from the University of California at Riverside, 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 am running against a California Highway Patrol dispatcher, a nurse, an uncredentialed on-line language instructor and another who has not designated what she does for a living. If people make a comparison of my qualifications with my opponents, I am confident I will win this election.”
Needles residents should also find her candidacy appealing on an immediately practical level that will be of benefit to their pocketbooks, Musser-Lopez said.
“The second big issue in Needles right now is the proposed utility rate increases which I object to, particularly during this deflationary period when folks are experiencing economic hardship,” she said. “For going on a decade, we have been told that if we accepted the cannabis industry into this town, so much income would be generated from taxes and fees that we would get a break on our utility bills. Instead, the current council, under the guise of infrastructure failure, is now asking us, the ratepayers, to reach deeper into our pockets for proposed rate increases on top of those that were already imposed a few years ago and despite the fact that the 1990s $25 million bond issue which was to be used to replace our infrastructure is not yet paid off. This is again a city council/management problem, not a cannabis industry problem. The cannabis revenue stream coming into the city needs study and transparency. When elected, I would request that the infrastructure work be sorted as to what is existing infrastructure replacement and what is proposed new infrastructure in support of new developments and/or expanded cannabis operations that the community should not have to pay for. I’ve attended the recent utility board meeting where the concept of a very large utility expansion surfaced that has nothing to do with us who live here now during a time we are being asked to pay more.
“Third, but not the least important, 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,” Musser-Lopez said. “Starting in 1987, mine was the first published objection to the unlined nuclear dump intended to accept international and domestic radioactive waste 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 submarine components 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, which is threatening 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 groundwater on its natural course to Needles and the river.”
Musser-Lopez emphasized that she is not newly arrived on the political scene, but has been immersed in issues of public concern for decades.
“I have demonstrated what I stand for by the causes I have taken up and championed over the years,” she said. “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 and ‘flat’ taxes that burden the poor disproportionately. I support funding directed toward code enforcement and a local social worker on staff at the sheriff’s office to provide homeless services. These additional services would not necessarily mean fewer deputies. Instead they could potentially be funded in part with savings on insurance liability, as a result of implementing Assembly Bill 392 and reducing reckless and unnecessary use of deadly force which thankfully we have not had here, as is the case in Barstow. I am supportive of 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 filed an eminent domain lawsuit against us to seize much more land than they needed for a traffic light.”
Musser-Lopez said, “I met my husband Robert Lopez, a Needles native, shortly after I transferred to Needles in 1980 as an archaeologist when the Bureau of Land Management moved its field office here. Robert is from a Needles railroad family, with six generations in this community. He had an uncle who was a Mojave bird song singer. He grew up next to the village, and enjoyed the river with his friends there. He was hired on at the Mojave Generating Station in Laughlin and was a journeyman welder when it closed, and he retired after 35 years with Southern California Edison. We are fully invested in the success of Needles, and he now restores vintage cars and helps me with my rental house business which I had to set aside while I was being treated for breast cancer at UCLA and going to grad school. The cancer is in remission now, so we are getting back to business.”
Continuing, Musser-Lopez said, “We’ve been married for 37 years and we have three wonderful adult children, all of whom are enjoying their own successful and productive lives. Currently we are all working on the Needles Pioneer Cemetery Museum project. I am CEO and one of the directors of the nonprofit Archaeological Heritage Association, which will operate the museum. We hope this museum will add to Needles’ visitors’ experiences, with tours and an interpretive center to demonstrate how the indigenous Mojave are connected to the rock art in the area as evidenced by art on tombstones said to be made and inscribed by the last Mojave chief.”
Musser-Lopez said, “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 will work for what my slogan says “Make Needles Peaktacular.” 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.”
Ruth Musser-Lopez says there are two reasons why she is running for Needles City Council this year.