By THEO DOUGLAS, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
PICKING UP ON CITY TRASH: Members of Keep Bakersfield Beautiful took their yearly bus trip Thursday to see how residents are doing cleaning up after themselves.
The group has done this for at least eight years through fair weather and foul, Mayor Harvey Hall explained, as a requirement to maintain its affiliation with Keep America Beautiful, the nationwide organization.
But Thursday's tour was also a chance for nine KBB members to try a new route, staying off freeways for the most part and visiting all seven council wards -- a new path.
KBB members scored seven areas of the city, in all seven council wards, on how much trash they saw.
Low scores were good; a 1 meant no trash, a 2 denoted land that was lightly littered, a 3 stood for littered, and a 4 was extremely littered.
"Before we made the impact on the freeways, we would always get graded up because the freeways were so bad. It was important, though, that we get the wards covered so that's why we're changing the route a little bit," explained Hall, who is an ex-oficio KBB committee member.
Bakersfield's freeways became infamous for their litter and brown landscaping -- the latter a function of Caltrans' watering Kern County highways at least 50 percent less to save water during the drought.
During the past year, however, the city has hired Bakersfield Homeless Center crews at minimum wage to pick up trash on the freeways in an arrangement partially funded by Caltrans, which controls the freeways.
To date, BHC crews have picked up more than 200 tons of trash.
Seeing Bakersfield's success, the Kern County Sheriff's Office has joined in, using inmate crews to clean the freeways as well.
Staying off the freeways left more time to see how the actual city is doing, Hall said, and others agreed.
"Hopefully, we can get to people who cause the issue, to let them think about what they're throwing out," said Kern County Parks and Recreation Director Bob Lerude, pointing out officials have begun visiting area schools to discuss the importance of throwing trash away properly.
KBB members sat mostly silent, looking out the bus windows as they left City Hall South, but erupted in a chorus of dismay when the bus stopped at a railroad crossing at South Chester Avenue and Sandra Drive and they saw drifts of household trash along the tracks.
"There went our numbers," joked KBB member John Enriquez -- and members made notes on their scoring sheets.
The Ward 1 intersection has been a ongoing dumping spot, members said, discussing the idea of a possible future KBB clean-up in the area.
Elsewhere, however, members gave much of the city higher marks.
"It's better than what it was a year ago," said BHC employee Barbara Paulson.
Traffic on 21st Street has increased only slightly since crews closed streets by cul-de-sac south of 24th Street, Acting Public Works Director Nick Fidler wrote in a recent memo to City Manager Alan Tandy.
However, some vehicles that use 21st Street appear to be exceeding the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, Fidler wrote to the city manager May 6.
He and his staff examined the issue in response to a request from Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, whose area of the city includes 24th Street.
Tandy, in turn, included Fidler's response in his most recent weekly memorandum to the mayor and members of the Bakersfield City Council.
Beech, Myrtle, Spruce, Pine, Cedar, A, B and C streets were made eligible for cul-de-sacs in 2012 by the Bakersfield City Council -- and that status was reaffirmed earlier this year.
To date, all streets except Beech have chosen cul-de-sacs.
Cul-de-sacs on B and C streets as well as on Elm Street, which was closed by a white concrete "k-rail" in 2006, will be built when 24th Street is widened.
As the streets have been closed, however, many residents including Maxwell have wondered how traffic will get through downtown -- and what that will do to congestion.
The city's traffic engineering division analyzed speed and volume data on 21st Street during the week of April 21, and compared it with previous traffic counts from Kern Council of Governments.
Kern COG found an average of just more than 7,000 vehicles per day used 21st between Oak and F streets in 2009. In 2010, that number dropped to 6,944, and in 2013 it dropped to 6,841.
In April, however, city traffic engineers found a daily average of 7,205 vehicles used 21st Street.
City officials also found that while most motorists stayed within about 7 miles per hour of the posted speed limit, they drove faster between F and Oak streets than they did closer to downtown.
In response, Fidler wrote that his department will inform Bakersfield Police Department and request it place a "feedback trailer" on 21st Street to clock drivers and show them how fast they're going.
Maxwell said the news didn't surprise him.
"I, quite frankly, would like to see us reduce the speed limits throughout that area," the councilman said. "I don't know that people need to be doing 40 miles per hour, even on 24th Street."
WHAT YOU'RE SAYING
Readers typed their thoughts about Bakersfield's new anti-panhandling statute, on The Californian's website:
Gloria Lopez: "It's about time. Sorry if that seems cruel but I'm honestly tired of it. It's getting worse as time goes on."
Ed Alexander: "Did I miss something? The panhandlers may be one problem but look at the ground around the (Lucky Seven Food Store) ... the panhandlers are not the only problem for downtown."