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By Dave Weaver / AP
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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
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By Alex Horvath / The Californian
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By Courtesy Gordon J. Leaman
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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
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By Casey Christie / The Californian
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By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian
By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
There's a trio wanting to spur interest in and to reform local government. One hopes to go for the gold in London. Another's taking on Kern County scourge of mortgage fraudsters.
Those are more of Kern's People to Watch in 2012.
2012 is an Olympic year, which for most of us means learning about sports we've never heard of and breaking out the old "USA" chant while watching tape-delayed swimming.
For Bakersfield High graduate Jake Varner, next year's London Games mean a whole lot more.
Varner is the top-ranked American freestyle wrestler at 96 kilograms (212 pounds) and is the favorite to qualify for the Olympics.
"That's the goal," said Varner, who just returned from London to scope out practice and competition facilities. "London is nice; it's a lot more like America than competing in Russia or somewhere."
Of course, Varner will do that in the coming year, too. He'll wrestle in the prestigious Ivan Yarygin Memorial Grand Prix in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, at the end of January. He also plans to compete in a tournament in Cuba in February before turning his attention to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which are April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Only the winner of each weight class qualifies for the Olympics, but Varner has a huge edge: As the top-ranked wrestler in his class, he gets a bye to the finals, where he'll face a contender who will have to beat him two out of three times to deny him a trip to London.
This comes after back-to-back NCAA championships in 2009 and 2010 and a banner 2011 in which Varner won the Pan American Games in Mexico and placed third at the Wrestling World Championship in Istanbul.
"I lost one match, in the quarterfinals," Varner said. "I should have beat him, and I didn't do my job."
If 2012 goes right for the former Bakersfield High standout, he won't have to say "should have" at this time next year.
-- Zach Ewing
Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government is the big name of a small new group of three local 30-something entrepreneurs -- two registered Republicans and a decline-to-stater -- whose goal is to influence local government to operate transparently and efficiently. The group thinks government should seek to protect taxpayer dollars while supporting the growth of business and limiting regulation.
John Paul Lake, 33, is a scion of the Lake family, which owns local powerhouse irrigation company Rain for Rent, for which he's director of marketing.
Chad Hathaway, 35, represents the fourth generation of a California oil industry family and runs a business that acquires and re-furbishes faltering oil leases and a services company that does directional and horizonal drilling.
Patrick Wade, 32, owns Precision Pharmacy, billed on the Kern Citizen's website as the "largest compounder of equine medications in the U.S."
Lake said the group will focus on two issues in the coming year -- pension reform in Kern county government and state prison realignment impacts.
While those issues are controversial and partisan, Lake said Kern Citizens isn't interested in playing politics.
"Our mission is not Republican or Democrat or Libertarian," Lake said.
Kern Citizens will hold fundraising events but doesn't intend to spend that money to influence campaigns, he said.
In 2010 the group did back Measure D, the voter-approved initiative that reduced pension formulas for new public safety officers in the city of Bakersfield.
But "We won't be contributing to any (political action committee) or candidate," Lake said. "In politics you don't really don't know where the money goes."
Instead, Lake said, the group intends to use the money to bring speakers to Bakersfield and host forums and debates.
The group will also advertise on radio and billboards, has an active website with news and opinion on top government issues and hired a community liaison to interact with public officials.
Is politics in their future?
Lake said he doesn't think so. He has no personal plans to run for office now.
"I have three small children," he said. "Maybe in 20 years."
-- James Burger
CITY SCHOOLS CHIEF
To say Robert Arias is stepping into a big job in 2012 is a huge understatement. In fact, he'll be leading the largest elementary school district in California -- Bakersfield City School District.
That includes more than 2,500 teachers, staff and managers; 28,600 students and their parents; and a group of five ambitious trustees.
The 49-year-old steps into the job Jan. 9 with 25 years of public school experience under his belt as a teacher, principal and several district-level positions at five Los Angeles-area public school districts.
He's had just one year of experience as superintendent, but he told The Californian in October, after the school board chose him following a national search, that he was ready.
He'll be coming into a district coping with a state report alleging longtime malpractice and misappropriation of funds in two Bakersfield City School District departments. Trustees demanded that policies be revised and strictly enforced to prevent future incidents.
It's a district also undergoing changes to class schedules to fit in PE classes to meet state codes, something one trustee said would "change the complexion" of junior high and middle schools.
And like in all public schools here, BCSD officials will be watching how the state budget might affect the district's $230 million budget.
In late December, Arias visited district offices and several campuses, getting to know the ins and outs of the district, meeting staff and telling nearly each person he met, "Let me know how I can help."
"I want to make sure I understand ... the district," Arias said during a visit to the Rafer Johnson Children's Center Dec. 22. "I'm very excited about all of the possibilities here."
-- Jorge Barrientos
Deputy District Attorney Gordon Isen successfully prosecuted three people in 2011 for grand theft and other offenses in a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme.
This year he's tackling another, potentially bigger mortgage fraud case out of California City that has at least five defendants -- one of whom has already pleaded no contest to two counts of grand theft.
As head -- and sole attorney -- of the D.A.'s office mortgage fraud unit, Isen handles cases that are often incredibly complex and involve a mountain of paperwork.
A recent preliminary hearing that was expected to last one day instead went on for the better part of a week as he presented evidence to show the defendants should be held over for trial.
There's been a lot of mortage fraud since the housing collapse, and Isen said it's important to hold account those who engage in it.
"They cause a tremendous amount of destruction of people's dreams," Isen said. "They take away their dreams. They take away their future."
-- Jason Kotowski
BANK HEIR APPARENT
Many within the local business community will have their eyes on A.J. Antongiovanni, the new president of Mission Bank, one of only two banks based in Bakersfield.
The Garces Memorial High graduate was promoted from senior vice president and chief operating officer in April and elected to the bank parent company's board of directors in November, all as part of an established management succession plan. He is expected to take over for CEO Richard Fanucchi upon his retirement in the next few years.
The new president takes office at a fairly opportune time, in that Mission pulled through the recession without posting even one annual loss. It reported a $1.9 million profit in 2010, down 17 percent from 2009. Also in 2010, it earned its seventh consecutive Super Premier Performing rating, which is the highest available from industry ratings organization The Findley Reports.
Antongiovanni, who earned a bachelor's degree in finance at St. Mary's College of California and is an alumnus of Seattle's Pacific Coast Grad School of Banking, won kind words from Fanucchi when April's promotion was announced.
"We firmly believe there's no other leader better equipped to lead Mission Bank to the next stage of success in satisfying our customers' financial needs," Fanucchi wrote.
For his part, Antongiovanni said he anticipates keeping community banking an important part of the local economy.
"I'm looking forward to keeping Mission Bank growing and providing that necessary piece of the engine here in Kern County," he said.
-- John Cox
One of the local energy industry's heavy hitters -- Gordon J. Leaman Jr. -- has a lot on his hands these days. But if all goes as planned, 2012 could be a highlight of his career, not to mention a godsend for the 150 or so locals whose jobs depend on his success.
Leaman is general manager of the Alon USA Bakersfield Refinery on Rosedale Highway, which reopened in June after being closed for more than two years.
Some in the industry wondered if the plant would ever run again after the former owner, Utah-based Flying J Inc., declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2008. That was after Shell, the owner before Flying J, tried to walk away from the place, saying it couldn't make money.
While it's true that West Coast refining has been battered for years by tough operating margins, Dallas-based Alon USA Energy Inc. thinks it has a unique formula for success in Bakersfield. The company has been transporting vacuum gas oil left over from its refinery operations in southeast Los Angeles County, and turning the substance into mostly diesel and gasoline.
Some of the plant's fate may lie beyond Leaman's control: Rather than continue bringing in the gas oil by truck and train, as is done now at considerable expense, Alon hopes to negotiate use of a pipeline that goes over the Grapevine. But to a large degree, Alon is looking to Leaman to boost production by 27 percent to process 14,000 barrels a day.
Leaman is a chemical engineer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma. He formerly served as director of operations at Paramount Petroleum, Alon's L.A. County operation. Before that he was senior process engineer at Conoco Inc.
Alon President and CEO Paul Eisman, in an August call with analysts, expressed faith in Leaman's ability to ramp up the plant's volume according to schedule.
"It's very early in the operation, and we are working to maximize the unit performance," he said, "but what we see thus far is promising."
-- John Cox
Bakersfield Blaze General Manager Elizabeth Martin is one of just a half dozen women in her position in Minor League Baseball.
The Blaze is a Cincinnati Reds Single A affiliate of the California League. The team's record was 66-74 last year, but Martin's strategy for improving that includes manager Ken Griffey Sr., who played 19 years in the major leagues.
Martin, 33, grew up in and around Indianapolis, one of three daughters of a father who played baseball in college.
"I was the oldest, so I was the closest thing he had to a guy to throw a ball around with," Martin said.
Martin knew she wanted a career in professional sports from the start, and after earning a business degree from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind.-- where she played tennis -- she earned a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago.
The idea was to become a player agent, but after befriending some people in that field, she decided it wasn't for her.
An internship in professional baseball clinched it for her. "I knew I'd never leave baseball again," she said.
She counts among her mentors Amy Trask of the Oakland Raiders, the only woman to hold a chief executive role in the National Football League.
"She's got it far more difficult than I do," Martin said. "Baseball, I think, is a lot more open for women and minorities. There are six female GMs in Minor League Baseball this year, compared to four when I first started, and there are a lot more women looking for jobs.
"In football, Amy Trask is the only woman, period."
Martin says she speaks to young people all the time about careers in sports, and has this advice for girls coming up today: "Out-work the boys. You're still going to have to work harder and faster and longer and want it more."
-- Courtenay Edelhart
As the face of the most visible athletic program at Cal State Bakersfield, men's basketball coach Rod Barnes' task is to turn around a losing program and help enhance CSUB's entire athletic department so it can attract a potential all-sports conference home.
As long as men's basketball continues to struggle, it will be next to impossible for CSUB to attract an invitation from a quality conference.
-- Jeff Evans
Kevin Harvick, a Bakersfield native, enters his 12th year of Sprint Cup racing in 2012, coming off a 2011 campaign where he finished a career-best third in points.
Harvick, 36, won four races in 2011, bringing his career total to 18. He will have a new crew chief at Richard Childress Racing in 2012 as he guns for his first Sprint Cup Series championship.
-- Mike Griffith