Parks, police to be discussed by Measure N oversight committee at Friday meeting

Sam Morgen, The Bakersfield Californian
·4 min read

Apr. 8—Bakersfield officials will meet Friday to discuss "Phase 3" of the city's Measure N spending priorities.

Those priorities include the final increases to city staff since the 1 percent sales tax increase known as the Public Safety and Vital Services Measure was passed by voters in 2018. Notably, the Bakersfield Police Department believes it will reach the goal of hiring 100 new sworn officers within three years.

Plans included in the agenda for the Public Safety and Vital Services Oversight Committee say BPD expects to hire 28 officers and 17 civilian employees by the end of fiscal year 2021-22, which ends in June.

The hirings would represent a $5.8 million increase to the BPD budget. Overall, BPD will be the prime beneficiary of new positions within city government. Of the 68 new hires, 66 percent are planned to come from BPD.

BPD says the new hires will allow the department to improve response times and visibility. Six new detectives are planned for hire, which the department says will allow it to conduct follow-up investigations to financial and property crimes. Currently, BPD says many crimes do not get follow-up investigations, which leads to frustration among the public.

In addition to increasing investigations, BPD says the new detectives will allow serial offenders to be arrested at a higher rate along with follow-ups of older sexual assault cases and cold cases.

"The goal of 100 officers over three years is an aggressive one but we do believe we will accomplish it," BPD spokesman Sgt. Robert Pair wrote in an email to The Californian. "The hiring process for a police officer is complex and lengthy. Over the last year, working closely with Human Resources, we have streamlined some processes and increased our engagement with candidates going through the hiring and academy processes. We believe this strategy will help us be successful in this goal. However, we are committed to hiring only those candidates who are physically, mentally, and morally capable of successfully performing the duties of a police officer in our community."

In its third full year of existence, the city expects to earn $77.9 million from the sales tax increase, up slightly from the projected $74.8 million the city expects to bring in this fiscal year. Around half of the funding will pay for ongoing expenses from prior year programs, with $50 million devoted to ongoing costs like salaries.

The plan has come under criticism from the local chapter of the Sierra Club, which contends that the city does not go far enough in rehabilitating urban parks and the Kern River Parkway.

The city has proposed $4.6 million in park improvements, but Sierra Club member Eddy Laine pointed out the nearly $5 million devoted to enhancements of two freeways as money that would be better spent improving the quality of life for local residents.

The city is also proposing $1 million for a street light improvement study, supplementing an additional $1 million that has already been set aside for the purpose.

"There needs to be an awakening of the broader community priorities. This should not just be a staff wish list," Laine said. "The issue is the health of the community. The recreational opportunities that are in neighborhood parks give families an opportunity to spend quality time, and those opportunities need to be protected and enhanced."

In response, city spokesman Joe Conroy said the city had designated nearly $18 million toward Recreation and Parks projects since the beginning of the tax increase. Still, the figure includes $12.4 million that has gone to two regional sports parks on the outskirts of Bakersfield, the Mesa Marin Sports Complex and the Kaiser Permamente Sports Village.

Nevertheless, Conroy said 100 percent of this year's $4.6 million was planned to be allocated to urban parks in every ward of the city.

"The city understands these issues are important to the public and both deserve to be addressed," he wrote in an email to The Californian. "Staff is diligently working to present the PSVS Citizens Oversight Committee and City Council with balanced options to accomplish those goals."

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.