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Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 06:00 AM

Federal government shutdown, reopening affects Tehachapi

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This sign explaining that the Cesar Chavez National Monument was closed was the only greeting for visitors during the three weeks of partial government shutdown. Gregory D. Cook / Tehachapi News

Ripples from the federal government shutdown spread quickly through the nation, even reaching Tehachapi. Between Edwards Air Force Base, national monuments, Lockheed Martin, those dependent upon government checks, and anyone trying to visit a government website, a reasonable conclusion is that every resident was either affected or knows someone who was.

Although things are relatively back to normal after the reopening on Thursday, Oct. 17, and the government plans to issue back pay to federal workers who went at least 16 days without a regular paycheck, the insecurity and frustration remains very real.

An informal Facebook survey on the Tehachapi News page on Oct. 15 asked readers to share how the shutdown had affected them.

"A better question is who hasn't been affected," Susie Atherton, owner of Canine Creek and shop-local promoter, wrote. "People on furlough don't spend money in our local retail stores, restaurants and other businesses. Those small businesses, in turn, have to cut payroll to match the down turn in traffic and sales, so employees in the private sector are losing work too. We're all taking a hit!"

Mary Lou Zamudio, owner of The Apple Shed restaurant, agreed.

"We are all taking a hit right now," she said before the shut-down ended. "Everyone has been very supportive with the long-term transition at the Apple Shed and I appreciate it very much and so do my employees."

Canine Creek and The Apple Shed were among businesses offering discounts to furloughed workers during the shut-down.

Lockheed Martin, an aerospace company in Palmdale that performs some contract work for the government, identified about 3,000 employees who were furloughed in an announcement issued Oct. 4. Included in the number were employees who worked in a government facility, whose work requires government inspection or who work on projects that received a stop work order.

"In an effort to minimize the impact on our employees, we are directing affected employees to use available vacation time so they can continue to receive their pay and benefits," said Marillyn Hewson, the company's chief executive officer and president.

Others were unable to use vacation time.

"I'm affected," Jennifer Dugan wrote. "I work for a contractor for NASA and have been out of work leave without pay for over three weeks. I'm a single mom who is the sole income. I just want to go back to work!"

Would-be homeowners with pending government loans fell between a rock and a hard place, as Susan Buckmaster described in her Facebook response.

"My family is trying to buy a home here in Tehachapi," she wrote. "We were 10 days from close of escrow when the government shutdown (HUD home with a USDA loan), escrow was supposed to close today, Oct. 15. We are still in a holding pattern for the loan. We are renting a house and have already given notice; now we don't know what to do, or if we even have a place to live at the end of this month."

In the realm of inconvenience was the shuttering of national cemeteries and monuments. Two sites in particular were affected in very different ways.

The Bakersfield National Cemetery, located between Tehachapi and Bakersfield along Highway 58, is a cemetery specifically for the nation's veterans.

Being part of the National Cemetery Administration, the cemetery was funded through Oct. 22, and thus was not directly affected by the shutdown.

They were, however, prepared had the shutdown gone on past that date.

"Our crew has a plan to divide up the work of any furloughed employees," said Cindy Van Bibber, cemetery director, in an interview shortly before the government reopened. "So that way we can remain committed to providing the care and dignity our service members deserve."

And some restrooms were closed to conserve supplies.

Van Bibber stated that even if they had been forced to furlough employees, the cemetery's burial schedule and upkeep would have remained unaffected.

It was quite a different story just up the road at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene.

While certain parts of the La Paz complex are run by the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and remained unaffected, the actual monument area is operated by the National Parks Service and had been locked up from the start of the shutdown, reopening Thursday morning.

According to superintendent Ruben Andrade, there should not be any lasting affects from having the monument closed for three weeks.

"I think it's great we are back to work and able to serve the public," he said. "There were no other negative impacts except for not being able to be open for visitors."

One of Tehachapi's hidden gems actually benefited from the fed's stalemate.

According to Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Parks District Manager Matt Young, Brite Lake saw an increase in reservations due to campers who were left scrambling to find alternatives to national parks that were closed.

Approximately 600 reservations were made during the government shutdown -- double what the lake normally gets this time of year.

Young also said the increase in Brite Lake reservations positively impacted the district's income by around $5,000.

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