Historical changes are made on the Bakersfield City Council

December 23, 2022 /

Manpreet Kaur and Andrae Gonzales have made history in Bakersfield. Kaur is now the first Sikh woman to serve on the Bakersfield City Council and Gonzales is the first Latino Vice Mayor of Bakersfield. 

Both Kaur and Gonzales spoke of these new positions as being humbling and an honor to represent the community. 

“It is an honor. It’s the most humbling experience I’ve had. Just the honor of my lifetime to be the voters choice first of all out of ward 7,” said Kaur. “Also to be able to represent my community, my ancestry in a way that creates visibility and really reflects more of Bakersfield, the city that we all live in and love.”

“It’s a humbling honor. It’s something that I think is really important not just for here now, for the Latino community that really represents the majority of the population of Bakersfield that we have a position of real leadership on the council,” said Gonzales. “But, I think it’s important for all of us people of color and all of our young people of color who are aspiring to do big things in our local community, big things in this world and the future. I think it’s important for us to demonstrate what good leadership looks like. So I take this role very seriously and I understand the responsibility ahead of me not only to be a good leader for all of Bakersfield but also to be a good model of what leadership means provided by a person of color.”

The induction ceremony happened last week and both of them have already started doing work in their positions. According to an Instagram post, Gonzales made about his work; he accepted a proposal from Councilmember Eric Arias to make an Ad Hoc committee to address multi-modal transportation and traffic safety. He also wants to start a citizen-led charter review originally referred by Chris Parlier when he was on the council. 

Gonzales said the transportation committee is important for looking into how people are safely moving through town without cars. 

“It’s not just about vehicle traffic, it can’t just be,” said Gonzales. “How do we make infrastructure that is better for people who walk, that are pedestrians? I have a lot of constituents in my ward, particularly East of the 99 who walk to work, who walk to school, who take the bus.” 

Gonzales continued to explain the need for amenities that help with safe transportation to be present across town and not just on one side. 

“Bicycle infrastructure is really an important piece. We have a pretty extensive 30-mile plus bike path in our city. It’s a great amenity,” said Gonzales. “But that amenity services people who live North of the 58. There’s a whole host of people, almost half of hour population lives south of the 58. How do we provide the same amenities… for people throughout the city to use bicycles as a primary way of transportation for everyday living.”

Gonzales stated that the city charter is old and has not had many changes made to it. One thing that he hopes the review address is the pay of city councilmembers. According to Gonzales, the charter states that council members are to be paid $100 a month. Gonzales feels this is an issue because due to the amount of work it takes to be a council member, not everyone has the “luxury” to serve. 

“We have to realize that there is an equity issue when it comes to the city council as it relates to who can actually afford the time and the energy and the costs that it takes to serve on the city council,” said Gonzales. “ It’s unreasonable to ask future council members to work two full-time jobs especially if they want to have a family. So, we have to address this and the way we address this is through a city charter review.”

Kaur also spoke to addressing equity and how she wants to work on bridging the inequities sprayed by Hwy 99. 

“There is a real divide between West of the 99 and East of the 99, that’s just a reality,” said Kaur. “So I’m thinking a lot about how we create equity even in a specific landscape and in one specific district. I know that’s not just unique to just my own district… So, I’m thinking a lot about how that 99 is creating inequities and how we can help bridge those.”

With this being Kaur’s first term she explained that she is really taking the time to learn the process and what she is able to do as city council. She also spoke about the need for infrastructure that promotes safety as she reflects on what she has heard from residents during her campaigning. 

“Right now I’m really taking stock of everything I got to learn during the campaign and on the campaign trail coupled with now learning the nuts and bolts and combining that to really have some short-term and long-term goals that I’m working on creating right now,” said Kaur. 

As Kaur and Gonzales spoke about their roles they also expressed being thankful for their mentors and encouraged other young people of color to find mentors they can lean on and remember they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their minds to. 

“Reach out to others who are leading the way and seek their mentorship. That’s always been helpful for me and seek out their experience and their wisdom,” said Gonzales. “I think that there’s a real issue with a lot of us having imposter syndrome. This notion that we don’t deserve to be in the positions that we hold. That we are not good enough. That somehow people will discover that we are not good enough… We are smart enough. We are strong enough. We deserve a seat at the table.”

“It was other women who encouraged me. Who stood shoulder to shoulder with me,” said Kaur. “Who kind of pushed me forward and gave me the encouragement I needed and were in places of power and places of leadership that really reminded me that those places are also for us. Those advocacy roles are for us. If we don’t do it, who will?”

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.