Local Politics

Thursday, Dec 27 2012 07:00 PM

Top government stories of 2012: Freeway planning riles neighborhoods, Obama drops in, Bakersfield finally gets with the (recycling) program

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Mason Garla, 2, plays on his scooter in front of the La Mirada Drive home he shares with his sister, mother and grandmother. Cherie Cadena's house, where she grew up and now lives with her two kids, Mason Garla, 2, and Mackenzie Cadena, 16, and her mother, Diana Hodge, would be taken down if Alternative B is built for the Centennial Corridor project. A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for this Monday.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard holds a kitten at the shelter.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    In this October photo, President Barack Obama places a rose at the gravesite of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez. Obama was there to announce the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. At right is Chavez's widow, Helen Chavez.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Space Shuttle Endeavour, mounted on NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA,) lands at Edwards Air Force Base Sept. 20.

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BY JAMES BURGER, ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL AND CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, aboessenkool@bakersfield.com, cbedell@bakersfield.com

This past year was filled with ups and downs in local government news, as President Barack Obama came to visit and Endeavour made a final tour, officially ending NASA's space shuttle program.

Meanwhile, local city and county administrators were cautiously optimistic as they put together the most positive budgets in several years since the recession began.

On the other hand, some Bakersfield residents were anxious over the futures of their homes as two major road construction projects moved forward.

 

CENTENNIAL CORRIDOR

Caltrans set the stage for two big fights in 2013, most notably when after years of rumors, discussion and planning, it in November recommended the Alternative B route for the Centennial Corridor project linking Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and eventually to I-5.

The decision isn't final, but Caltrans' recommendation gave people living in the Westpark neighborhood northwest of Stockdale Highway and Highway 99 some degree of certainty about the future of their homes. It also gave opponents of the project something concrete to contest.

Caltrans has said Alternative B, the cheapest option and which also would avoid parks and historic properties, would completely demolish more than 200 houses and partially impact dozens more.

 

24TH STREET

Caltrans also riled up downtown neighbors In May when it released its environmental study on the widening of 24th Street. The project's aimed at accommodating an expected surge in rush-hour traffic by 2035 between Highway 99 almost to M Street.

The city has yet to decide whether to expand the street on the north or south side, but with the document's release, area residents saw if their homes would be torn down with either route.

The proposal became a source of contention in the neighborhoods north and south of 24th Street, with factions forming to advocate for an alternate design with bike paths and sound walls or to oppose the project altogether.

The widening would take down about two dozen homes, some of which residents have said are historic.

 

RECYCLING

The city of Bakersfield joined the modern era and added universal curbside recycling service -- without increasing trash fees, at least for now.

The city delivered the first batch of several thousand blue carts to customers in October, and it will add more in stages over the next two years, eventually delivering 82,000.

Kern County supervisors, which don't like differences in services between city and county folk in metro Bakersfield, followed suit in the fall. But incorporated Bakersfield residents will see a $36 increase in their annual bills.

 

ANIMAL CONTROL

From the "Can't we all get along?" file: county and city leaders struggled to run their joint animal control and shelter operations, which take in some 30,000 animals a year and have to euthanize more than 60 percent of them.

The county, which under a contract houses thousands of animals found inside city limits, complained the city wasn't paying enough for its services. City officials balked at tripling their payments and objected when county staff proposed an expensive spay and neuter contract without getting their input.

The two agencies nearly dissolved their relationship -- which is designed to streamline services for the ease of metro Bakersfield residents -- and the county picked a new spot for its shelter, since the old one sat on city land.

But cooler heads urged restraint and the city and county continued negotiating a deal -- though they recently pushed back a December goal date for reaching a long-term agreement.

 

BUDGETS

The city and county were able to loosen up their tightened budget belts in 2012.

For the first time since the effects of the recession smacked the county in late 2008 and early 2009, the Board of Supervisors passed a spending plan that didn't rely on job cuts and service reductions.

Library hours remained slashed and park services limited. Jobs remained unfilled. But the county was able to use an increase in tax revenues from oil development and massive new wind energy farms in the Tehachapi Mountains and Mojave Desert to stabilize the county's spending.

It also used one-time funds to again begin replacing critical equipment and take care of other long-delayed priorities.

For the first time in four years, the city passed a budget with a notable increase in city staff, adding 26 positions, including five officers and seven other employees for the police department. The $535 million budget also included a big chunk, about $94 million, in already-approved federal dollars for Thomas Roads Improvement Program construction.

 

SPACE SHUTTLE

After 25 flights, 299 days in space and about 123 million miles of travel, the Endeavour space shuttle returned to its birth state of California in September.

It landed first at Edwards Air Force Base atop a 747 before being flown to Los Angeles and paraded through the streets on its way to its permanent home at the California Science Center.

Endeavour was the last of NASA's four surviving shuttles to be installed in a permanent exhibit, marking the final stage of NASA's shuttle program. The landing also marked the end of an era for the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards; it was the last time a shuttle will land there.

 

UNION DEALINGS

The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved deals with their unions after years of haggling, but the city continued to clash with its police union.

Supervisors, seeing more favorable times ahead, stepped back from their adamant insistence that there be no raises for county employees. They agreed to hand out, over three years, two 2 percent raises to most unions. In return, unions agreed to have senior members, who were not contributing to health care and retirement premiums, begin doing so.

The city of Bakersfield, however, is still at odds with its police union.

The Bakersfield Police Officers Association has asked for retroactive pay raises going back to 2007, the last time it had a contract in place, but the city has refused. The city did offer raises going forward, for about half the amount BPOA demanded, but the union's members voted it down.

BPOA launched a campaign with full-size billboards decrying its lack of raises.

 

CESAR CHAVEZ DEDICATION

Kern County got its first visit from President Barack Obama in October when he dedicated Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz near Keene, the home of United Farm Workers union co-founder Cesar Chavez, as a national monument in the labor leader's name.

Air Force One landed at Meadows Field and a motorcade took the president up into the Tehachapi Mountains. At Keene he placed a rose on Chavez's grave and spoke to a massive crowd that had waited hours to see him before dedicating the monument.

 

FAMILY PRACTICE

In a challenge that will continue well into 2013, Kern Medical Center officials grappled with how to save an expensive family practice medical residency, credited with growing and keeping here needed primary care doctors.

In February, the CEO of the county-owned hospital decided to suspend the program, but public outcry compelled supervisors to keep it going.

Over the next several months, CEO Paul Hensler and a consultant sought help from the medical community to financially support the doctor training program. Hensler told supervisors Dec. 11 he was "disheartened" by the response.

Clinica Sierra Vista, a local health clinic chain that largely serves the poor and survives on government funding, did step up. The residents may work at a planned Clinica facility in east Bakersfield, which could drop county costs from about $4.5 million a year now to $1 million to $1.5 million annually.

 

NEW JAIL

The Board of Supervisors committed to take a $100 million grant from the state, match it with $28.4 million of county money, and construct a new 790-bed wing at Lerdo Jail for medium- and maximum-security inmates.

The jail expansion will also sap an additional $15 million from county coffers each year for the first few years for operations. Later that cost is expected to go up substantially.

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