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Sunday, Jul 15 2012 11:05 PM

HITS & MISSES: New Sister City Gardens: latest downtown gem

By The Bakersfield Californian

HIT: If international travel is not in your vacation budget this summer, consider this alternative: Sister City Gardens, a collection of three immaculately landscaped and unique gardens that commemorate Bakersfield's relationships with its sister cities.

OK, that may not come close to a tour of exotic overseas locales in terms of excitement, but you can't beat the admission charge: It'll be free.

The $1.2 million first phase, under construction where Mill Creek Linear Park crosses 19th Street, opens in late August; it incorporates allusions to sister cities in China, South Korea and Japan. A state grant through the Economic and Community Development office paid for it. Up next: Landscapes honoring sister cities in Mexico and India.

MISS: Kern's credit woes

Medical debt, student loans and home mortgages are weighing down Kern County more than most regions of the U.S., says CreditKarma.com. Kern consumers have worse credit than their national counterparts, with an average credit score of 635 versus the U.S. average of 655. It could be worse, however: U.S. credit card debt averages $5,576, but in Kern County it's "just" $4,147.

HIT: Reprieve for student loans

The Kern Community College District is pulling back from a plan to stop offering federal student loans at Bakersfield College next year. For now, anyway. Trustees have asked district officials to hold a study session on the idea before implementing it starting in July 2013. The move, motivated by the district's concerns about the rising default rate on student loans, which could trigger federal fines and sanctions, would force thousands of BC students to seek private loans or other aid to pay for their studies. Representatives from three statewide organizations had urged the trustees to reject the plan. Fortunately they did, tentatively. Now they should reject it permanently.

HIT: Hope for Animal Control peace

Sanity has prevailed, for the time being, anyway, in the squabble between the city of Bakersfield and the county of Kern over their on-again, off-again animal control partnership. The county had threatened to pull out of its longstanding arrangement with the city, which owns the Mount Vernon Avenue facility they share. Now the city is not only offering the county more money but more active participation in fighting animal overpopulation. Here's hoping cool heads prevail and the two government agencies figure out a way to work together long term.

HIT: Almonds may soon rule the world

Does the world want more almonds? Yes! That seems to be the only possible conclusion we can take based on the USDA's almond harvest forecast: a record 2.10 billion meat pounds, up 3 percent from last year's crop.

Global appetite for almonds seems insatiable, and few in the industry are worried about a glut. If anything, it's likely local growers will be adding trees. Almonds are Kern County's second largest agricultural commodity by value; the crop was a $727.4 million industry last year. Kern had 151,765 acres of almonds in 2011, making it the county's largest crop among orchards and vineyards.

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