The annual State of the City luncheon brought together a full house Wednesday to hear how Bakersfield’s is progressing, and all signs point to a city that is focused on transportation improvements.
The annual luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, featured Mayor Karen Goh and City Manager Alan Tandy providing the two main speeches, while panel discussion with City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, Bruce Freeman and Goh finished the program at the downtown Marriott Hotel.
Tandy provided several tantalizing updates on major projects under way throughout the city, including the Centennial Corridor, a major widening of the under crossing of Highway 99 at Truxtun Avenue, and 24th Street’s ongoing widening project.
The idea that Truxtun Avenue would be widened where it bottlenecks underneath Highway 99 between the Westside Parkway to Oak Street drew hearty applause from the crowd. That project will cost about $3 million, he said.
Tandy presented a drone video of the route the Centennial Corridor will take from Highway 58 to connect it to the Westside Parkway. Projects to bridge the Kern River have been approved and the final building demolitions to make way for the project are nearing completion.
Tandy also highlighted that the city anticipated having to borrow $270 million to complete its various transportation projects, but said that the number has been redueced to about $130 million.
Another element, one discussed on Tuesday’s “The Richard Beene Show,” is for the city of Bakersfield to settle years-long battles with water districts over the Kern River to allow the river to run through the city for extended periods of time. Tandy said an agreement to make that a reality is close, echoing comments made Tuesday by Vice Mayor Bob Smith on “The Richard Beene Show.”
However, he seemed to skirt around one issue — the economy. He told the audience he was going to hurry through the bad news, and that bad news was the city was facing continuing sales tax pressure from the downturn in oil production and a softening in the retail sector — a troubling nationwide trend.
Tandy blamed the retail problems on the rapidity of consumers shifting to online shopping. Of course, that comment comes one day after Amazon had a record day of sales.
Tandy also noted that the city was vulnerable to cutbacks in federal community block grants, but at the same time that if a federal infrastructure bill were to pass the city needed to amass a list of shovel-ready projects in order to take advantage of the funding.
Goh’s focus was on working on bringing the community together to improve “educational attainment and workforce readiness.”
“The single most important factor is driving economic development is education,” Goh said.
Goh highlighted the efforts of Kern High School District, Bakersfield College and Cal State University Bakersfield to work together to improve educational opportunities.
Goh said she also wants to continue to work on improving the city’s external image, and she opened her remarks by playing a clip of late comedian Johnny Carson and highlighting some of his best snide remarks about Bakersfield.
“Gateway to Barstow,” she read to the crowd, which drew a big laugh from those in attendance.
In order to improve this image, Goh proposed a more ambitious branding campaign with many community stakeholders involved in the process.