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Monday, Oct 21 2013 11:00 PM

WILLIE RIVERA: Bakersfield's Ward 1 has great, untapped potential for growth

During my campaign for the Bakersfield City Council, I had the privilege of speaking with the residents of Ward 1 on how to improve our community.

Their concerns and ideas were as varied and diverse as the area I now have the honor to represent. One repeatedly expressed concern stemmed from Ward 1's lack of development and investment. Ward 1 has great potential for both.

Southeast Bakersfield makes up the majority of Bakersfield's Ward 1. Its boundaries span over 25 square miles and boasts a population of over 50,000 people. The ward includes the Bakersfield Municipal Airport, restaurants, small businesses and many unused or otherwise, abandoned acres. It is within this unused land that southeast Bakersfield has the potential to lead the city of Bakersfield and, in fact, the state of California in growth.

Earlier this year, the California State Legislature voted and approved Assembly Bill 93, which essentially repealed the provisions allowing for enterprise zones, manufacturing enhancement areas and targeted tax areas, by January 2014.

At the same time, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 90, which overhauled California's biggest business incentive program. While SB 90 offers an opportunity to encourage manufacturing and job growth, it does not go far enough. Some argued that the existing program was wasteful and ineffective while groups like the California League of Cities believed that it was the only economic development tool left available to local government.

Given the passage of both bills and the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, the need for the city of Bakersfield to be more creative than ever is critical.

One thing was and still is for certain: a commitment to pro-growth and pro-business policies is a win-win for Bakersfield and the rest of California. Economic growth is the answer to many of the problems that Ward 1 faces. Our number one priority must be seeing to it that both existing and new businesses are able to thrive in Bakersfield.

Bakersfield's Ward 1 has many advantages that make economic growth possible. Unlike many other parts of Bakersfield, southeast Bakersfield offers tremendous opportunities for infill development. Countless acres of unused land exist that would allow for development within built-up areas. Instead of building out, developers could simply build within. It is imperative that we identify ways to make local infill development more attractive for investment.

The state Legislature has passed down several changes affecting local government and we are faced with the challenge of tapping our more creative side in order to promote growth and infill development.

With no clear business partner at the state or federal level, the city of Bakersfield must be the leader in ensuring that we are doing everything possible to promote economic growth. Southeast Bakersfield contains seemingly countless acres of land ready for development and the residents of Ward 1 are ready, willing and able to be a successful partner.

Over the next several months, I will engage in a discussion with manufacturers, business owners and developers to develop a pro-business and pro-growth plan for southeast Bakersfield. I invite anyone who believes that economic growth is a key component of moving our city and state forward to join the conversation.

Willie Rivera represents Ward 1 as a member of the Bakersfield City Council. Community Voices is an expanded commentary. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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