Community members of Taft and Faith in the Valley hosted a town hall to begin the process of renovating Ford City Park. According to those who spoke at the town hall, the park is mostly used by groups of Hispanic-Indigenous people and youth, migrant and field workers, and those who identify as POC. The town hall was held at Taft College at 7 pm so individuals who got off work late could attend and Spanish interpretation was available.
The people of Taft have reported to Parks and Recreation that due to low maintenance and limited access to restrooms or other facilities, there has been an increase in concern for the safety of parkgoers. Reports were sent to Faith in the Valley about basketball courts having no light after dusk, no open or working restrooms, and drug use in the facilities. When the temperatures rise there is no swimming pool or splash pads, and there is little to no shade.
In 2022 District 2 Supervisor Zack Scrivner’s office announced part of the millions in federal and state grants for park improvements and maintenance in Kern County was going to Ford City Park. Currently, there is a plan to add a splash pad in Ford City along with improvements to eight other parks in Scrivner’s district, according to local news outlets like Taft Midway Driller. Scrivener’s office was invited to the town hall but they were unable to attend due to adverse weather conditions.
Daniel Rodela, an organizer with Faith in the Valley and host of the town hall, spoke with Kern Sol about the obstacles keeping Taft residents from having a safe and healthy space to enjoy free time with loved ones.
“Sometimes the issue is that you have large groups of people from Ford City, and from other parts of the Indigenous or Hispanic communities coming to much nicer parks like ‘A’ Street Park. There’s times when you have a couple hundred showing up to play basketball- sometimes even more,” Rodela sighed as he continued. “Whenever that happens phone calls start to be made to the local Parks and Rec Department director saying that there’s a lot of cars parked there, that there’s a lot of people there… There are definitely cultural barriers at play.”
Panelists included Greg Mudge, Board Member of the Taft City School District and Director of Volunteers for the West Kern Oil Museum, Les Clark Ⅲ, District Administrator at West Side Recreation & Park District and President of West Kern Oil Museum, Stacey Falgout, Director of West Side Recreation and Park District, and Joshua Bryant, City of Taft Councilmember.
West Kern Adult Education shares part of its property with the public space of Ford City Park. Rodela shared the confusion between physical boundaries amongst the county and city control for the park, and that fortunately Falgout is helpful in efforts to better the shared space.
Listed on the agenda were questions Rodela prepared for the panelists that were asked in Spanish and interpreted into English if needed.
- What is the current state of Ford City Park?
- What is your vision regarding Ford City Park?
- What are some of the challenges to that vision?
- What has been proposed or is being done regarding the condition of Ford City Park?
- What does meaningful community involvement in this project look like to you?
- Who else should be involved in these community conversations that are not here?
Abigail Rodela, a Taft resident and a California State University of Bakersfield student, asked the panelist several questions regarding the vision for Ford City Park.
“During this entire talk, I noticed a few words, and a couple of them I want to mention are ‘participation’ and ‘collective work.’ I recall a question that stood out to me from one of the panelists today, which was directed to the people attending today, ‘what are you going to do to contribute?’” stated Abigail. “My answer is that we are here today to contribute, and we have been moving to change our community, to change our parks. But we also need to know what [the city’s] detailed vision is.”
“What [Abigail] is demonstrating is true American,” Clark Ⅲ said. Abigail was applauded by her community after her comment.
Cricel Ruiz, a youth member of Taft, also shared the need for Ford City to renovate the park. Some insightful recommendations included adding a mural at the park in honor of the surrounding communities. Ruiz was also asked to be a paid volunteer of the West Side Recreation and Park District.
The community and Rodela’s “asks” are for Taft to collaborate on establishing a community-led park renovation committee or coalition, and to take the next steps necessary to make the transformation a reality. During the town hall, all panelists agreed to keep the efforts going by attending other meetings regarding the park.