Local Politics

Wednesday, Dec 25 2013 08:00 PM

GOVERNMENT STORIES OF THE YEAR: Firings, lawsuits, a wall and a freeway

  1. 1 of 7

    By Tomas Ovalle / Special to The Californian

    In this file photo, Andy Vidak holds an election gathering at his cherry farm in Hanford where he and supporters check results in the 16th Senate District special election against Democrat Leticia Perez.

    click to expand click to collapse
  2. 2 of 7

    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    Traffic moves steadily on the new Westside Parkway near Calloway Drive. The new east-west freeway, which began to take shape in 2009, extends five miles from Truxtun Avenue to Allen Road.

    click to expand click to collapse
  3. 3 of 7

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield on Mt. Vernon Avenue.

    click to expand click to collapse
  4. 4 of 7

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Then-newly elected Ward 1 City Councilman Willie Rivera helps Patricia Warner, a Ward 1 constituent, with a problem in her front yard with standing water in the gutter.

    click to expand click to collapse
  5. 5 of 7

    By Theo Douglas/The Californian

    In a Nov. 27, 2013 photo, a flier is posted on a wall that blocks a walkway between Amberton and Stokdale Estates. Homeowner Michael Hansen constructed the wall to block foot traffic between the developments. Neighbors in the area have been fighting against the wall.

    click to expand click to collapse
  6. 6 of 7

    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    In this file photo, opponents of the proposed Human Life ordinance wear pink and raise their hands to silently "cheer" a speaker during a Bakersfield City Council meeting.

    click to expand click to collapse
  7. 7 of 7

    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    In this file photo, Terri Palmquist speaks in favor of an anti-abortion resolution approved by a Bakersfield City Council committee. Following her speech, Palmquist gave the council committee a tiny toy baby.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY JAMES BURGER AND THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Leaders were fired, political fortunes were made and lost, tax squabbles drove wedges between local governments and Bakersfield got its first new freeway in 37 years.

There was a lot of big news in government and politics in 2013.

16TH SENATE DISTRICT RACE

A heated, multimillion dollar fight for California's 16th Senate District seat -- triggered when Michael Rubio resigned mid-term -- ended in July when Republican farmer Andy Vidak of Hanford soundly defeated freshman Kern County Supervisor and Democrat Leticia Perez.

An early Vidak lead in the five-candidate May primary election prompted Perez to concede the morning after the vote. But, in a shocking reversal of fortune, Vidak slipped below the 50-percent-plus-one-vote margin needed to win outright.

That set up a dramatic runoff. Vidak's campaign didn't miss a beat against the better-funded Perez and he defeated her in July -- embarrassing the powerful California Democratic Party.

FREEWAY CONSTRUCTION

In August, the Westside Parkway -- Bakersfield's first new freeway in 37 years -- opened, closing the book on another Thomas Roads Improvement Program project.

Though it was jokingly, and quickly, dubbed the "Westside Barkway" for its temporary woodchip landscaping, the parkway offers drivers a smooth six-minute ride from Truxtun Avenue to its current terminus at Allen Road.

Other ongoing TRIP-managed roadworks include the highly controversial Centennial Corridor link between Highway 58 and the Westside Parkway, which would require demolition of more than 199 single-family homes and 36 businesses -- if it is built.

KERN MEDICAL CENTER

Kern Medical Center took a big financial sucker-punch, costing CEO Paul Hensler his job and throwing the county into budget triage mode.

In early September, Kern County supervisors learned that hospital employees had repeatedly miscalculated how much money they could expect from state and federal programs for caring for the indigent.

The gap, which had grown since 2006, was $64 million.

Supervisors fired Hensler, reorganized the county budget to handle a $9.6 million budget shortfall through the end of 2013 and otherwise set to work cleaning up the mess.

In December, new CEO Russell Judd took over.

WARD 1 ELECTION

In a six-way June contest that attracted a measly 13 percent turnout, southeast voters liked what then-22-year-old Willie Rivera, a state senate staffer, had to say about the area's lack of infrastructure and dire need for a champion.

They elected him the new Ward 1 Bakersfield City Council member. Rivera replaced Rudy Salas, who resigned in November 2012 to join the state Assembly.

AMBERTON-STOCKDALE WALL

When Stockdale Estates homeowner Michael Hansen had a wall built in June dividing his cul-de-sac from one in neighboring Amberton, he closed a walkway used for more than 30 years by adults and children walking to school.

A lawsuit brought against Hansen, his father and 20 unidentified defendants by 15 area residents returns to court Feb. 18 for a case management conference.

CITY vs. COUNTY

A disagreement between the county of Kern and city of Bakersfield over how to divide up property tax money that provides general revenue and fire protection funding ended in a court battle in 2013.

The fight started, Kern County officials said, after the county discovered the split of taxes on property annexed by the city had been calculated incorrectly for years.

City officials said the old way of tallying tax shares is right and the county had no right to withhold taxes the city is due to receive.

When the county wouldn't give the money back, the city sued.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Both the city and county continued battling in court with groups alleging their ordinances banning and severely restricting medical marijuana dispensaries, respectively, are illegal. The lawsuits allege neither agency adequately considered the state's environmental quality act before their ordinances became law.

The county is expected to let a Kern County Superior Court judge know soon whether its ordinance will need additional environmental scrutiny. A judge has set a trial date of April 4 in the city's case.

HUMAN LIFE ORDINANCE

The so-called human life ordinance, which would have restricted abortion in Bakersfield, drew more public comment than any other issue a Bakersfield City Council committee considered this year.

While a committee tabled the proposed ordinance in May, the underlying issue generated passionate debate throughout the year, until October, when the council considered a less-restrictive human life resolution -- then voted to drop the entire issue.

MANAGED CARE SYSTEMS

Kern County supervisors awarded a contract to manage health care benefits for more than 5,000 county employees to three out-of-state companies: Zenith American, Clinix Healthcare and Burns Consulting, in a decision that ended months of angry debate.

The vote was a rare narrow one: 3-2.

Supervisors Mike Maggard and David Couch wanted Bakersfield-based Managed Care Systems to keep the $11 to $13 million contract.

But the MCS bid was haunted by the fact the company was owned by Dignity Health -- which also owns Mercy, Mercy Southwest and Bakersfield Memorial hospitals.

The three other supervisors agreed that the fact MCS could use its control of county employees' health care to steer business to its corporate partner hospitals made awarding the contract to the local group unethical.

INTERNET CAFES

A court appeal from Internet cafe owners shut down by the city has gone all the way to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno, and until judges rule, the Kern County District Attorney's office isn't filing any more cases against the cafes.

The city attorney has said the cafes offer illegal gambling, and her staff is putting together public nuisance cases against them. Cafe owners say their games are harmless entertainment.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014

* New executive staff at Kern Medical Center are sure to report new surprises about the serious challenges the hospital faces.

* The Centennial Corridor issue will explode into a massive, emotional debate about Bakersfield's transportation future.

So could the widening of 24th Street: neighbors on six "tree streets" have agreed they want the city to build them cul-de-sacs, shielding them from 24th Street.

A discussion of this by the Bakersfield City Council, plus environmental impact reports on both TRIP projects, are due in January.

* Kern County and the city of Bakersfield will continue to fight over territorial issues and could expand their disputes beyond animal control and property taxes.

* And 2014 will be a big election year, the biggest local race likely to be between freshman Congressman David Valadao, R-Hanford, and former U.S. Senate staffer Amanda Renteria, a Democrat from Sanger.

Have something to share? Comment on this story

Bakersfield.com Daily Deal!

Stylz MMA

Daily Deal

$20 of Merchandise for $10 from Stylz MMA

Value
$20
% Off
50%
You Save
$10
0 Bought
Buy Now! See more deals