A Choice for Kern County – Libraries, Parks or All of the Above

May 19, 2015 /


By Dr. Stanley E. Clark

In the next few months many Kern County residents will likely be asked to make a decision on fiscal support for two institutions that have a direct impact on community health and education. Those of us most active in Building Healthy Communities-South Kern are urging residents in Arvin, Lamont, Weedpatch, and Greenfield to be fully informed about and active in this decision by advocating for parks and libraries.

Both are important to your communities.

Because Kern County budgets are being cut, there is a possibility that parks and library services will be reduced beyond their present low levels. Funding for libraries has become a public issue, but to South Kern residents who have championed improvements in the parks, having to choose between parks and libraries in a tight budget environment is no choice at all. Adults as well as students need the libraries for books, media access, and public information, just as all residents need the parks for healthy outdoor activities.

However, because funding for libraries and parks come through different governments – local and state – South Kern residents must be informed about who will make the decisions affecting services in their communities. The County operates the libraries, but it has chosen to allocate services largely on the basis of community size. Thus, the smaller, poorer communities may receive fewer library hours and services, even though their need for public libraries may be greater.

The situation is even more complicated with parks since in South Kern there are County parks, but also City of Arvin and Bear Mountain District parks and pools. The parks belong to different government entities, but the need to pay for maintenance is common to them all. The need for more parks and better services in all parks is recognized in Sacramento, and next year there may be a State ballot initiative to build and improve local parks. But that possibility is presently just in the talking stage.

It is therefore possible that voters will have the opportunity to vote in 2016 on State bond funding for parks, for local funding for parks, for funding for County libraries – or all of the above. Those living in Arvin, Lamont, Weedpatch, and Greenfield can be influential in all possible elections, but only the second – local funding for local parks – is entirely within the South Kern community’s control. To be informed and active in this decision process, please contact Building Healthy Communities – South Kern and, specifically, a member of its Recreation & Youth Action Team.

It is not enough to have a space designated for a park or a pool, with signs and equipment. These parks and recreation areas require repairs, clean-up, safety inspections of equipment, and many other regular maintenance activities. The parks in many areas of Bakersfield are new, but even in the older parks it is the City’s budget that must be used for upkeep. In South Kern, you can ask private companies for support, the State for grants, and the residents themselves for fees. However, those sources of maintenance support are uncertain from year to year. It is our hope that working together, the residents and businesses of South Kern can define a way to guarantee that the parks will be safe, clean, and attractive for children, youth, and families.

Stanley Clark is a member of Building Healthy Communities, South Kern and a Professor (retired) of Political Science at California State University, Bakersfield.