1 of 1
By Shelby Mack / The Californian
BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug McIsaac took up the newly created position of community development director just a couple weeks ago after Bakersfield city leaders decided to combine the Economic and Community Development Department, which largely oversaw redevelopment before its demise, with Development Services, which includes the building and planning divisions.
The Californian sat down with McIsaac to talk about Bakersfield's advantages in the current still-slow economy and what he calls its as-yet unrealized potential. The interview has been edited for length.
McIsaac comes most recently from Westminster, a city of about 90,000 just east of Long Beach, where he was the community development director. He's also been a planning director in West Covina and senior planner in Redondo Beach and Laguna Beach.
Q: What attracted you to the job and to Bakersfield?
A: I really hadn't realized just how large (Bakersfield has become) in the last several years. (It's) now the ninth-largest city in California and has just experienced a tremendous amount of growth. That in itself intrigued me.
As I did have a chance to look into a little bit more about Bakersfield and what it's done and where it's going, I just think it has a tremendous amount of potential still to grow as an economy and grow as a city. I really think it can be a major urban center, a major economic force in the economy of California. ... We've got some basic industries here in oil and agriculture that have helped in that regard.
(Also) It just felt comfortable. Having grown up in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley ... it feels very familiar, it feels like home.
Q: As far as Bakersfield's continuing potential, are there specific ideas you have in mind?
A: The downtown development area is certainly going to be a focal point. The city and Donna Kunz, who was my predecessor, have done a wonderful job in starting to lay a foundation. ... My job is to try and build on the successes that they've already achieved and creating a vibrant downtown that has a lot of amenities, cultural amenities, entertainment activities that just make Bakersfield an attractive place for companies or corporations to come to and locate.
Q: What's needed to attract companies?
A: Obviously companies, whether they're local or coming into the area from somewhere else, their motivation is to make profits. ... So we have to be diligent with creating a plan that is going to be attractive to them, (such as) offering potentially different financial and land use incentives, continuing to build on some of the things (the city has) done with the downtown.
The (Thomas Roads Improvement Program) comes to mind. That's a very impressive accomplishment that the city has been able to achieve. So the enhanced mobility will make Bakersfield a more attractive place for companies to come to.
People don't realize the advancements that Bakersfield has made. I think there's a very good foundation and it's going in the right direction. The challenge is to keep moving the city further in that direction.
Q: What's happening with some of the shopping centers in various stages of development: the unbuilt Bakersfield Commons, the partially built Shops at Riverwalk and plans to remake East Hills Mall?
A: All of them, I'm sure, want to get tenants, big tenants, into their properties. To a large degree, it is still a function of the down economy. A lot of retailers are much more cautious about where they will locate in these days as compared to in the past. I like to think the indications are that things are improving. I would like to think some of the positive indicators of Bakersfield would be a positive sign for retailers.
Q: What's your assessment of the current economic signs locally?
A: Housing is beginning to show signs of coming back. Obviously, it's modest, but I think any positive movement in those areas is a good movement, particularly compared to some areas that are still on the down trend. The fact that the oil and agricultural industries here are doing relatively well and stable, if not growing (is a positive sign). So, on a comparative basis, especially if you're a major retailer and you're wanting to go somewhere in the state of California, I think Bakersfield has more positives in those respects than maybe some of those other areas.
Q: Has the east side of Bakersfield been neglected versus the west side, which has seen more recent development?
A: There are some differences between the newer development that's gone up towards the west and some of the more established areas in the east. I think that's why the East Hills Mall is something that the city is very serious about, seeing that area come back. And it is. It's a lot easier in the west side area doing new development, but downtown and the east, they need to be focal points, too.
As a planner, it's easy to plan and develop new, wide-open spaces. The more challenging thing is how to maintain and improve areas that are more mature and established. And part of that, frankly, is as the economy grows and the job market grows, it's going to provide an environment that will allow those areas to rebound as well.
The city as a whole is only going to be as strong as all of its areas are.