One by one more than a dozen people made their way to the podium to speak out in support of Tehachapi-based trash hauler Benz Sanitation, which would lose its sole right to pick up trash in Golden Hills since the GHCD has opted to take over the territory and make a deal with a trash hauler of its choosing.
Controversy has surrounded the district's action to give Benz a five-year notice and spend what may be up to $100,000 to have a Bay Area firm handle the logistics of constructing a bid process and related matters.
So much so, that it prompted the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council to hold a town hall-type meeting on Monday evening, Sept. 16, at the Beekay Theatre to listen to the public before taking a position on the matter.
The meeting was moderated by third-party facilitator Gary Pearson, a retired engineering director and Tehachapi resident.
EDC President Nikki Cummings opened the meeting by telling the audience of around 40, that the EDC board had been asked to consider the controversial issue and take a stand regarding the situation.
"We decided there was a lack of information for us to make a decision," Cummings said. "So we postponed our decision to review the documents provided by both sides and to better educate ourselves about the issue."
Although both Golden Hills and Benz were given 15 minutes to make their presentations, representatives from the district were not present.
Instead, Golden Hills General Manager Bill Fisher released a letter earlier in the day, stating that the district would not able to attend the public forum, just two weeks after Cummings said she received verbal communication from the district that it would participate.
The letter was attached to a notice mailed to residents in Golden Hills announcing the district's upcoming solid waste public workshop.
Fisher also stated in the letter that under other circumstances the district would have been happy to attend, but board members and staff had been sequestered during the RFP process.
The presentations commenced with Paul Benz Jr. who provided a timeline of the issue between his family's company and Golden Hills, and asked for the public's support in backing Benz's point of view that Golden Hills misrepresented itself when defining its active and latent powers in a letter to the Kern County Local Agency Formation Commission in July, 2006.
Since then, in August of 2013, Benz has asked LAFCO to reverse it decision and is waiting for commissioners to come to a conclusion at its next board meeting on Sept. 25, in Bakersfield.
Further into his presentation, Benz accused Golden Hills of trying to quietly circumvent the will of its residents and the historical truth.
"We believe this is a clear effort by Golden Hills CSD to deceive LAFCO and begin a power takeover which is clearly unwanted by its residents as recently as 2010 in an advisory vote," he said.
During that Oct. 12, 2010 vote, Golden Hills asked its residents to choose whether they wanted the district to manage its own solid waste collection. Voters provided an overwhelming "no," with 235 in support and 558 against.
Benz also said that if the district's claim to save residents money was the deciding factor in its decision to change the way it collects its trash, then the district should forego the 10-percent administration fee that it is set to collect once a new trash hauler is in place.
Local business owner Buddy Cummings was one of those who spoke passionately in support of Benz. It was at his request that the GTEDC held the forum.
"If they [Golden Hills] were so proud of what they are doing they would be here supporting what they have done, and be excited to tell people about it," he said. "The fact that they are not here to explain that, scares me."
Cummings, who once served on a committee appointed by the EDC to attract small businesses to Tehachapi, said it's no small task to business to come to the area and this message of using an outside service, could have a ripple effect in persuading new businesses to come to the area in the future.
"To think we would disregard or look the other way of our number one small business that's been here for 40 years and act like everything is gong to be okay is scary," he added. "We need to maintain our soul, and make a stand against a decision that can affect us with such a magnitude and in such a long term way."
Following a brief question and answer session and Benz's closing comments, the EDC board adjourned to an executive session to make its decision, and later released a letter to Golden Hills, LAFCO and the Kern County Board of Supervisors dated Sept. 18.
The letter states that it is the EDC's position that Golden Hills has ignored public intent and disregarded the need for public discussion on a crucial issue affecting its residents.
It also urges LAFCO to reconsider its decision regarding the designation of active powers of the CSD and until doing so, asked Golden Hills to postpone further action in moving forward in the process of changing the way it handles its solid waste collection.
"We hope the GHCSD board will thoughtfully consider the comments of their residents and suspend any RFP efforts until getting a better understanding of the desire of their community," Nikki Cummings said. "Even if that requires another vote."
Residents will get a chance to voice their opinion and to discuss the RFP process at a public workshop at 6 p.m. on Sept. 23 at the CSD building, 21415 Reeves St. -- just two days before LAFCO commisioners are expected to make a decision on whether they will reverse their prior decesion to allow Golden Hills power over their solid waste management collection.