For Ridgecrest, 2019 earthquakes and 2020 pandemic were an economic double whammy

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RIDGECREST, Calif. (KGET) — Every city in America, to varying extents, has gone through big changes associated with the pandemic. Most were shaken economically, many thoroughly devastated. All suffered one way or another.

Then there was the Kern County desert community of Ridgecrest, home to the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake. The city was still picking up the pieces from the July 4th earthquake of 2019 — very large pieces, in many cases — when, eight months later, the COVID-19 outbreak descended on Kern County and the world.

A double whammy for Ridgecrest — natural disasters of two very different types.

Kelly Walden, general manager of Ridgecrest Cinemas, thought she was finally ready to reopen after the worst of the earthquake damage had been dealt with. She was wrong.

“Just about the time we got the roof completely back in and redone is when COVID hit and we got shut down,” she said. “I actually got the roof finaled during the first two weeks of our shutdown and in my mind I thought we’d only be shut down for a few weeks. We got it approved, we were able to start using the side of the  building, and we were closed for 15 months.”

For Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden, though, it was a triple whammy. That terrifying cluster of earthquakes over three days, then — before the rubble had even been cleared — the pandemic, then — with new cases still emerging daily — her personal battle with cancer.

“Each of us walks the path that we’re given and I’ve had two serious cancer issues that I’ve dealt with,” she said, “and I’m grateful to be able to say, ‘We’re done!””

Ridgecrest has emerged from all three, with much difficulty and with lingering challenges but it has emerged, and Breeden is its manifestation. She declined to seek reelection because of her cancer diagnosis but once she’d beaten it, she sought an appointment to a vacant city council seat and was selected.

The city’s new mayor, Eric Bruen, believes Ridgecrest will emerge from its own health crisis, Covid, more healthy than ever.

“COVID now has opened up a new door of opportunity for us, and that is the remote worker,” he said. “Within 18 months we hope to have fiber at every door inside the community and with the new remote workforce, I always say,  Why would you pick anywhere else where you can go to work, close at 5, it’s summer time, it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s perfect riding weather. Throw on your dirtbike and ride out of your garage,  straight out into your recreation.”

And that’s how you put a positive spin — a realistic positive spin — on disaster. Ridgecrest has dealt with more than its share of challenges these past two years. But, as the city’s leaders say, cream rises.

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