District 5 and Kern-Kaweah Sierra Club Chapter host a Take a Look Tour to show officials that action is needed

July 17, 2023 /

On July 10 the Take a Look Tour took place highlighting the current disrepair county parks are in. It was hosted and organized by the Commissioner of the 5th District Parks and Recreation Department and Community Interventions founder, Ucedrah Osby, and Sierra Club’s Kern-Kaweah Chapter member representative Eddy Laine. 

In attendance were County officials, Kern General Service Representatives including Carl Brewer, District 5 Supervisor Leticia Perez, Vice-Mayor Ward 2 Councilmember Andrae Gonzales, representatives for 35th District Assembly Member Dr. Jasmeet Baines, community members from District 5, and community member Dr. Rosanna Esparza. 

The tour consisted of walking in person around three separate county-managed parks. The first stop was Heritage Park, then Pioneer, and the event ended at Potomac Park. 

Ucedrah Osby expressed her gratitude to the community for coming out even amidst safety concerns and extreme heat. A reason for creating the tour was to show county officials that funding allocated for public parks has been misused.

“You talked about being irresponsible or not being irresponsible with the monies for District 5, yet you showed a history of being irresponsible for decades- and no it’s not ‘you’ the person, but it’s the department, they do send mix messages. It’s causing the community to be emotional, it’s impacting us through our health and wellness,” said Osby. 

Osby told Kern Sol that many community members are experts in the knowledge obtained from their lived experiences and that they deserve more opportunities to influence where their public dollars are spent. 

“People come in every meeting asking for these projects, General Services granting them on the spot. As soon as they’re done with their public comment they say ‘Yes, connect with our office.’ Why not let this reflect in the master plan? They want to leave us out,” Osby said.

The Kern County General Service’s Parks and Recreation master plan was referred to throughout the tour. It is a twenty-year plan from the year 2010, some authors of the plan who were present at the event stated it would not accommodate changes to reflect current feedback.  

Heritage Park is located in East Bakersfield off Mount Vernon on Bernard St, less than a mile from East High School. In March 2021 the county announced to the public using social media that Statewide Park Program funding would fuel a twenty-three-step plan, and number twelve proposed new restrooms and drinking fountains.

Rosanna Esparza, Ph.D. in Gerontology and Environmental Health and Justice stated that she uses Heritage Park often for maintaining her health through walks in the shaded park paths, however, the lack of restrooms is a problem.

“I don’t drink water on my way here because I know I have nowhere to pee,” stated Esparza.

A new portable bathroom was placed by the skateboard park a day before the tour. There was still no running water.

In attendance were several county representatives including Carl Brewer, Senior CAO Manager of General Services, a department that oversees the maintenance of county parks.

After the first stop, Brewer followed to the second location which was Pioneer Park. He explained that General Services were responsible for the improved walkways and exercise equipment there, and the improvements were made to attract more participation from populations like families and the elderly. It’s important to recognize as a community that these two vital groups on average are sensitive to high heat and sun exposure. 

According to Kern County’s General Services website, there are 14 main divisions residents can talk to county staff about. Graffiti-Off, Parks & Recreation, and Security are the three primary services community members who attended the Take a Look Tour mentioned the most and wanted prioritized.  

“Unfortunately [the bathrooms at Pioneer] were graffitied again first thing this morning, so we abated it again in preparation for this,” stated Brewer. 

The Pioneer Park bathrooms were sticky to the touch from fresh paint that covered graffiti on the inside walls. On the exterior, there were chunks of paint ready to fall to the ground. 

Community members voiced concerns about how to keep their youth safe in public spaces that have broken chains with missing play equipment, vulgar images depicting genitalia at eye level on play structures, floors that are falling apart leaving decaying foam and plastic particles in the sand, and one of the biggest concerns highlighted that there was no running water at Heritage park and broken faucets at the other locations in extreme heat.

Temperatures at every park were a topic of discussion, sparking ideas by county officials to install and fund shade structures and invest in long-term solutions like mature-tree planting. Supervisor Leticia Perez voiced support for adding more shade and measures to keep the public cool. 

“I grew up at Pioneer Park, this park is ten times nicer than it was when I was a kid- doesn’t mean we don’t need progress…I  got my son out here to check out the equipment and see what works for him,” Perez continued. “We’re going to come out here and we’re going to talk about [the community needs] because it impacts the community, it impacts family.”

Vice Mayor Andrae Gonzales also voiced support for adding shade structures to county-managed public spaces. For Gonzales one of the best solutions is annexing the existing county parks that are within Bakersfield’s city limits and allowing the city to adopt them fully. 

“We have a lot of parts of Bakersfield that are unincorporated and that are not part of the city of Bakersfield, and they’re being serviced by the county. We continue to expect the county to deliver services like it’s a city and it’s not a city. So we have choices to make. Either we just let the status quo and we will see a disparity between these county islands and the actual city, or we can annex the county areas and make that part of the city,” Gonzales stated. 

Community members who would like to get involved can attend District Five’s Board of Supervisors meeting every third Wednesday at 6:30 pm.  

Eddy Laine who helped organize the Take a Look Tour recommended that county commissioners like Ucedrah get more voting rights on the boards they serve. Laine explained that commissioners are supposed to be advising board members, however, Osby and others have found their jobs difficult due to the lack of access to important county data they need to properly be prepared to give any recommendations or guidance. 

“There’s a county ordinance, and it spells out that the commissioners are supposed to be advising the Board, this commission never receives a budget. How can they advise the Board if they never receive a budget,” said Laine. 

Laine also supports board meetings being broadcasted or videotaped for individuals who can’t attend in person so they can still stay involved in important decision-making.