The Bakersfield City Council adopted the staff proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year at the Wednesday City Council meeting.
The budget has been a controversial topic, as some residents think allocating 46.4 percent of the budget to the Bakersfield Police Department is excessive, while others think it is necessary for public safety.
“We recognize that the City has a range of priorities, but the voters do want to feel safe in their city,” said Nick Oritz with the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce. “That is a viewpoint that needs to be represented. Our members need to feel like they’re safe to conduct business. That’s why they want more investment in public safety.”
Many business organizations, such as the Greater Bakersfield Chamber, supported the budget. They issued out a poll to registered voters to see where voters wanted the money from measure N spent. The top two areas from the results were homlessness and public safety.
On the other hand, members of People’s Budget Bakersfield spoke against the adopted budget. People’s Budget Bako would rather the police department be defunded and the money go into other areas for the community. They have reached out to the community and come up with their “Seven asks”: violence prevention outside of policing;youth development and education; public and mental health; city racial equity policies and plans; affordable housing and homeless services; black economic equity programs; and City reparations to black and indigenous communities.
“When we ask you to redirect funding, when we ask you to defund the police, what we’re really saying is dare to see a world where black and brown people are treated fairly and equitably,” said Faheemah Salahud-Din Floyd from the People’s Budget Bakersfield. “When we say defund the police, what we’re really asking you to do is exercise some humanity and some dignity.”
Throughout the night, people took time to speak both in favor and against the budget. During some of the speakers, the audience would shout in support of the speaker or clap. This was seen as disruptive by council members, and Mayor Goh warned the audience to be silent.
As one of the public speakers addressed each council member individually, the audience would say members’ names as well. This was seen as disruptive, and Goh asked the attendees to stop. When they did not stop, the city attorney, Virginia Gennaro, advised Goh to clear the chambers.
Once Goh agreed some of the audience members left while others stayed and verbally fought to stay in the chambers. Gennaro stated that according to the Brown Act, they have the right to empty the chambers. Most of the council members and the staff left the room and waited until it was cleared.
For the remainder of the meeting, only whomever was currently giving public comment was allowed to enter the room with exception of council members, media, and law enforcement.
This stirred anger from the audience and resulted in the members from People’s Budget Bakersfield chanting from the lobby to boycott the council members.
The speakers after the meeting resumed still were a mixture of opinions including those thankful for the police department.
Judith Olsen, a resident of Bakersfield, explained when a gunman was present in her neighborhood, there was a lockdown and she was thankful for the law enforcement intervening and getting rid of the threat.
“Defund the police? What a foolish thought. Replace the law enforcement effort that day with a few guidance counselors to try and talk the guy with a hot gun out of his gun already used several times. How foolish,” said Olsen expressing her concerns with defunding.
Others in the community expressed having a different reality when it comes to the Bakersfield Police Department and those in office.
“I am a black queer person. Do you know what happens to black queer people when you call the cops? We die,” said Daulton Jones, an organizer with The People’s Budget Bakersfield.
“We’re brought together by our shared love for humanity over profit,” said Fabiola Orozco, explaining why people of diverse backgrounds spoke against the budget came. “Every person that speaks for the budget is a business owner, a developer, ect. They get paid to do this. We do it for free, for a reason.”
Featured Photo: Daulton James Jones speaks at the Bakersfield City Council meeting in 2020. A group, mostly against the 2020-21 Bakersfield City budget, spoke before the Bakersfield City Council meeting Wednesday in the chambers that was mostly empty as distancing was practiced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The budget would increase the Bakersfield Police Department budget about 10 percent allowing the department to add 44 new positions. In public comment that lasted about an hour, most of the speakers were in favor of defunding the police. Some asking that the vote to approve the $630 million budget should at least be delayed and time set aside to discuss the $119.9 million BPD portion of the budget. An overflow crowd gathered outside the chambers watching the meeting on a television screen. After discussion the Bakersfield City Council, without opposition, approved the $630 million budget for 2020-21. Photos by Henry A. Barrios for Kern Sol News