BY EMMA GALLEGOS
Addressing homelessness, building sports fields and parks, and reinvesting in a long-range community redevelopment plan were just a few of the suggestions a group of city staffers pitched Monday to Bakersfield’s sales tax oversight committee.
The meeting marked the first time the public was able to offer feedback on how more than $71 million from Measure N, a voter-approved sales tax measure, would be spent over the next 15 months.
City’s pitch on homelessness
Development Services Director Jacqui Kitchen presented a plan to spend about $15.2 million to go towards housing for homeless and contracts for running shelters and outreach facilities.
Kitchen said she would like to develop bridge housing, a temporary housing option dedicated to homeless people in Bakersfield who have pets or are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. City staff would visit projects and conduct further research to determine the effectiveness, Kitchen said. But the goal is getting homeless people off the streets.
“Our goal from the city’s perspective is that we want to minimize the negative impacts of homelessness,” City Manager Alan Tandy said.
A majority of those in the most recent homeless count had drug or alcohol addictions, according to Tandy.
“We’re not dealing with that proportion of the population,” Tandy said. “So in order to improve to livability — the business environment and life for our citizens– it needs to be addressed.”
City staff would also like to develop a transitional housing program. Although Bakersfield already has a few of these facilities, Kitchen said it would be beneficial to fund more facilities.
Because there has been a 76 percent increase in calls to the city about homeless encampments over the last year, Kitchen also presented a plan for a rapid response team to assist the homeless that would be available every day of the week.
The team would conduct code enforcement, but also do outreach to the homeless, connecting them to services. The team would also reach out to business owners who have made complaints about the homeless.
Revival of redevelopment
Kitchen also proposed creating a new Economic and Community Development Division under the Planning division. This would include hiring five new staffers, including a new manager and an associate planner. These staffers would help revise the city’s Master Plan, which hasn’t been updated since 2002.
The department also wants to set aside $1.2 million for a redevelopment project. There isn’t a project in the works, yet.
Kitchen also hopes to revive the Economic Opportunity Area Plan, which aims to use tax increment financing to promote growth in seven areas: downtown Bakersfield, the Bakersfield Municipal Airport, Highway 58/Mt. Vernon, the 34th Street Corridor, the East Hills, the Baker Street Corridor; and Southeast, which is centered on Union and 4th Street.
Big ticket items
Some of the items scrutinized most were the proposals to invest in the Kaiser Permanente Sports Village and the Tarina Homes Sports Complex at Mesa Marin.
Dianne Hoover, the director of Recreation & Parks, is asking for $1.5 million to update the master plan and design for the Kaiser Permanente Sports Village. The city wants to add football fields to attract more tournaments and spur more commercial development in the area. The estimate for this project is $8 million.
The city wants to spend more than $7 million at the Tarina Homes Sports Complex to add four more softball fields and pickleball and basketball courts to the complex.
Tandy said developing these fields serves many purposes: it’s a healthy activity for families in a city where health outcomes are statistically poor; it gives young people an outlet that keeps them safe and out of trouble; and it provides an economic benefit to the city.
The city is turning away softball tournaments because they can’t host larger championships, according to Hoover, but she expects the city to make back the money it spends now on the facilities within five years, thanks to rental fees.
Community member Frederick Prince said not everyone will benefit from the complex because participants will have to pay an annual fee. However, Hoover said the Parks and Recreation Department offers low-cost PeeWee sports for $78 for the whole summer.
“Seventy-eight dollars may not be a huge price for certain families, but for others $78 for the summer still would be really expensive,” Prince said.
Hoover also wants to hire a separate rapid response team. For $1.2 million, the team would remove litter from parks and public streets, respond quickly to reports of vandalism at parks and offer security patrols to prevent vandalism in the first place.
The department also wants to spend $1.5 million on replanting trees and plants in parks and medians that were lost in the drought.
Community member Curtis Bingham said he wants to see all of the money from Measure N go directly to police and firefighters for the first year.
However, Josth Stenner, an organizer with Faith in the Valley, doesn’t think Bakersfield needs more officers. Stenner says low-income communities already see enough law enforcement.
“They get investment through more police presence and shotspotters,” Stenner said. “We have an incredible opportunity to think outside of the box about how to spend that money.”
The committee has one vacant seat after Pritesh Patel stepped down. So far, only one person has applied for Patel’s seat.
The committee didn’t take any action last night. It is scheduled to meet at 5:15 p.m. April 1.