Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Have we dodged the bullet when the Big Melt comes in June? One top official says flooding will be minimal in most places, a prominent businesswoman battles an illness and some really bad behavior in Old Town Kern

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

 * ... BIG MELT FLOODING: We are finally hearing some good news on the fears of local flooding during the Big Melt of the historic seasonal snowfall. And the reasons for hope came from Ryan Alsop, the county Chief Administrative Officer, in a wide ranging and candid interview with host J.R. Flores on

KERN talk radio this week. Alsop said the area of town west of Manor Street, meaning all the way down through town to Beach Park and all the way west past the Park at RiverWalk, should be spared major flooding when we hit the peak snowmelt in mid to late June. For folks living off the Kern River up Highway 178 and the riverfront property homeowners off Goodmanville Road, Alsop predicted there would be some issues with rising water, but nothing catastrophic. That's the best news we have had in a long time.


 * ... EL NINO: And speaking of the weather, forecasters say we may be in for another El Nino year, and that could mean yet another wet winter. More specifically, forecasters say there is an 80 percent chance we will transition to El Nino between May and July. Once that happens, the El Nino is expected to strengthen in the fall and winter. El Nine typically brings a lot of rain to California, even though we gave see plenty of that already.

 * ... MARY CHRISTENSON: One of the most prominent and visible Realtors in town, Mary Christenson, has been diagnosed with Rapid Onset Alzheimer's, her family has announced. Christenson is one of most successful Realtors in town, working for Watson Realtor for four decades by specializing in high end property and homes in the Southwest. The family made the announcement on Facebook and is asking for contributions on a GoFundMe page to help offset expenses. Forever positive and upbeat, Mary built a business based on customer service and personal care. She was also known for her lavish Easter decorations at her Seven Oaks home, which she opened to the public for pictures. Keep Mary and her family in your thoughts.

 * ... SPOTTED: East Bakersfield and Old Town Kern are home to some of our tastiest and most unique restaurants - Woolgrower's, Pyrenees Cafe, Arizona Cafe, Luigi's among others - but make no mistake the streets belong to the vagrants and homeless. Check out this post from some who spotted a street woman mistreating a dog.

 * ... FLOOD ZONE: The county of Kern has put out some preliminary maps predicting which areas are most likely to flood, and for now the danger zones seem to be for those living near the river or off the low spots on Highway 178. For your neighborhood, check out the Kern County flood maps here.

 * ... MEMORIES: The La Cresta neighborhood is one of the most desired in town, anchored by both Garces Memorial High School and Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH). Check out what one house on El Cerrito sold for years ago. Thanks to the group Kern County History Fans.

 * ... MORE MEMORIES: And who remembers Larson's dairy? This picture of his old Larson's milk jar was spotted on the Kern County of Old Facebook page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Petty crime, vandalism an break-in mar a Mother's Day weekend, California ranks at the eighth most healthy state and celebrating a picture of Lake Shasta reservoir filled to the brim

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

* ... MOTHER'S DAY WEEKEND: You could have spent Mother's Day at brunch, with the family at the beach or just hanging around the pool on a sunny Sunday. Or, perhaps less glamorously, you spent it dealing with the seemingly never ending chaos caused by vandalism, drugs and homelessness. For one homeowner on 21st Street, her weekend was ruined when she awoke to find her wood fence virtually

destroyed by vagrants who made off with lawn furniture. "When will it end"? she asked me. "Who do we call? We all feel so helpless." If you were the CPA Andrea Rutherford Hill, whose neat, tidy office is on 19th Street, someone smashed the front window to her office. It was the fifth time this has happened since last Oct. 31. And then there was the newly wed couple in Riviera Westchester, who spent part of Sunday afternoon watching a homeless man light a series of fires along the bike trail along the Kern River, igniting a large area of brush and trees until fire units arrived. And so it goes.

 * ... FREELOADER: And then I spotted this post about a random woman in the Olive Drive area who allegedly walked into someone's home in the middle of the night, had a snack and even showered before leaving. This note was left by a resident on the Ring network: "This girl tried to walk into my daughter's home at 3xam. She then broke into her car, ate her kids snacks, and went to the neighbors home, walked in their front door, stole an Xbox, Apple Watch, and a laptop all while the family slept.She then went into another homes doggie door. Ate food, and showered. Walked right out their front door!! Keep an eye out!! Stay safe!"

* .... FITNESS: It's no secret that California makes a lot of lists: it ranks as one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, we house the lion's share of the nation's homeless and we have some of the most liberal criminal sentencing laws in the country. But here's a list we can be proud of: California is ranked No. 8 on the list of the most healthy states. We were helped because we aren't as fat as other states even with bad air, but it does reflect the Golden State's fondness for a healthy lifestyle. The top ten list was led by Hawaii, followed by Colorado, Vermont, Utah, New Hampshire Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Rhode Island and New Jersey. The most unhealthy states? Kentucky and West Virginia.

 * ... PHOTO GALLERY: Here are two remarkable post storm pictures from California, featured in the MHIC (My Home Is California) Facebook page. The first picture of Avila Beach is taken by Angela Churchill and the second of the Lake Shasta dam by Paul Kim. Enjoy.

* ... MEMORIES: The Kern County History Fans is a local group dedicated to sharing our common history, and its Facebook page is a treasure trove of goodies. Here are a couple of items that appeared on its page. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Are you sick of being asked to tip at self-serve checkouts? Plus the Oakland Diocese declared bankruptcy amid hundreds of sexual abuse claims and the number of injured and lost dogs grows

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

 * ... SELF-SERVE TIPPING: Are you among those people who wince and recoil when asked to provide a tip at self-serve checkouts? It's happening more and more - at Starbucks, at your friendly independent

breakfast place etc - when people are asked to provide healthy tips to people who often do little more than simply ring up your bill. Critics call this "emotional blackmail" and they say retailers are reducing costs with self-serve checkout but now are expecting full service tips. Said The Wall Street Journal: "Tipping researchers and labor advocates said so-called tip creep is a way for employers to put the onus for employee pay onto customers, rather than raising wages themselves."

 * ... DIRTY PRIESTS: Lawsuits charging that Catholic priests routinely targeted, groomed and molested hundreds of young Californian men over the decades are making their way through the courts but one diocese (Oakland) has responded by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Lawyers for Anderson and Associates, a Minneapolis firm that specializes in holding dirty priests accountable, called the move "an attempt by the bishop to harbor perpetrators, conceal assets, and shield the truth from survivors of sexual abuse. Historically, organizations such as Catholic dioceses and religious orders have used Chapter 11 Bankruptcy as a shield to prevent embarrassing jury trials, allowing the institution to continue 'business as usual' while continuing to hide its secrets. Bishops use this legal tactic to prevent survivors of child sexual abuse from pursuing legal action, exposing predators, and holding the Diocese accountable." The law firm's website contains a list of more than 300 former and current priests who have been accused of sexual abuse and it also identifies priests in the Diocese of Fresno who face similar allegations. One of them is Craig Harrison, a former Bakersfield priest who has been accused by multiple young men of sexual grooming and abuse. Harrison left the church, which found that the charges against him were credible, and he has since tried to resurrect a career as a religious counselor an spiritual adviser. He does not face criminal actions because the statute of limitations has expired, but he does face liability in the civil lawsuits.

* ... SNAP RESPONDS: The organization SNAP (Suvivors Network of those Abused by Priests) took little time to respond. "Everything about this bankruptcy is improper. It is all about keeping money and secrets. From one coast to the other, the same ruse is being used by Catholic bishops. Deny the reality while rearranging the molesters. Fight against changes to the statute of limitations. When secular laws act against them, they go to federal bankruptcy courts and pretend that they're bankrupt." It went on to charge that the Oakland Diocese was "morally bankrupt... We'd like to know if Bishop Barber considers the 330 innocent victims who have filed lawsuits against his Diocese. He never admits that these wounded souls were members of the Oakland Diocese. They had been baptized and confirmed, served as altar servers, or went to Catholic schools. Their families trusted the priests who assaulted their children, and those families donated time and money to the Diocese. They effectively compensated the clergy who had damaged their children's life. There are 80 parishes in Oakland, and there are 330 victims so far, although not all the lawsuits have been logged at this time. That could well mean every single parish and school in the Diocese harbored abusers."

 * ... HEARTBREAK: Did you see the heart breaking picture of the large white dog that had been hit by a car in Delano? The picture was circulated on social media (Facebook and other websites) in the hope the owner could be found, but now we learn it is all a scam. Click on the photo and you learn it is a way to trick you our of your money.  The second photo of the dog appears to be real. It was found near west Shaw and Highway 99 in Fresno.

 * ... PICTURE THIS: One of my favorite Facebook groups is called My Home is California (MHIC) which displays some amazing citizen photographer. Enjoy this incredible shot of the Bay bridge shrouded in fog.

 * ... THE FOX THEATER: The historic Fox Theater in Bakersfield celebrated an anniversary the other day, the 70th anniversary of the Fox's interior remodel to Art Deco. The Facebook group devoted to the Fox said this: " In the late 1940s and 1950s Fox West Coast Theatres, headed by Charles P. Skouras, initiated a remodeling campaign of its theatres to attract audiences back to their big screens. On May 1, 1953, we opened our doors with a fresh new Art Deco design by architect Carl G. Moeller. The theatre went from an atmospheric Spanish Colonial design to an Art Deco one featuring gold scrollwork on theleft and right sidewalls of the auditorium with fanciful drapes. Now 70 years later, the Historic Bakersfield Fox Theater is one of the last remaining and best-preserved examples of this unique "Skouras-ized"  style! Photos by Mike Hume of historictheatrephotos.com."

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Give Big Kern raises close to $1 million for local charities, Nordstrom and Whole Foods flee San Francisco and remembering the late Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

* ... GIVE BIG KERN: The countywide drive to support non-profits called Give Big Kern is over and it raised more than $919,000 for some outstanding organizations and programs. Topping the leaderboard as the top fund raiser was the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which raised an impressive $226,487 from 345

donors. Independence Through Grace ran second with $126,593 and Bakersfield Pregnancy Center was third with $57,312. My favorite was SJVWater.Org, the non profit run by former Californian investigator editor Lois Henry, which pulled in $7,345 for its work covering the politics of water in California. (Full disclosure: I serve on SJV's board of directors) Interesting, some groups did poorly, reflecting a  disorganized fund drive or a disengaged board of directors. For example the HUB of Bakersfield, which bills itself as a group that hopes to redefine and revitalize downtown Bakersfield (Ward 2 Councilman Andre Gonzales is a big supporter) raised a meager $50 from two donors, meaning some of the HUB's 16 board of directors likely failed to rally to the call to donate. The same was true with American Cancer Society which didn't raise a single dollar. Despite the spotty results, Give Big Kern has evolved in a major positive force in our community and non-profits who choose to participate should take this opportunity seriously.

* ... WHOLE FOODS LEAVES SAN FRANCISCO: Do you remember when Whole Foods made a big gamble on San Francisco, opening a huge new store in a blighted area? Well it is now closed after just a year, and critics are having a field day saying 'I told you so.'" The market has been the scene of just about everything: a machete wielding customer threatening others, vagrants defecating in the aisles, people overdosing on fentanyl in its bath rooms and the mentally ill harassing others. And then there is this: Nordstrom, or what is left of the once influential department store, is also leaving San Francisco. Is anybody surprised by this?

 * ... RIP SEAN MCKEOWN: A popular longtime high school teacher and coach, Sean McKeown, has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and has passed away. The notice of his death was made by Kati McKeown, Sean's wife who works for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the district home office. McKeown worked as a teacher and coach at Bakersfield High, Independence and Stockdale high schools, earning legions of admirers along the way. He was diagnosed with cancer just a few months ago and fought bravely to the end. Services are are set for Saturday, May 28, at St. John's Lutheran Church. (file photo from 2016 courtesy of Kati McKeown)

 * ... PADRE HOTEL: There is nothing quite like opening The Wall Street Journal and bumping into a feature story on the iconic Padre Hotel, the grand dame of downtown Bakersfield. Built in 1928, just two years after the nearby Bakersfield Californian building, the eight-story building was the largest in town at the time and withstood multiple earthquakes over the years. The review mentions the Prairie Fire Grill and the poke nachos, but it recommends the classic Padre burger for the road weary.

 * ... REMEMBERING MERLE: Country singer David Frizzell penned a lovely short tribute to the late Merle Haggard and his wife Bonnie, leaving this entry on Facebook: "Remembering Bonnie Owens today. We were just talking about Bonnie and Merle on the way home from Illinois... I was sitting with Merle one day and he was telling me he went and seen Bonnie at the care facility where she was living at the time (due to Alzheimers)... he was having a great visit with her when she asked 'Do you want to see my room'? Merle of course said yes and they got to the room and walked in and Bonnie pointed up to a poster of Merle hanging on her wall and said, 'You see that guy right there? That is my favorite singer! '
Miss them both!" (photo courtesy of the Kern County of Old Facebook page)

 * ... WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY: How fat are our children today? Well check this out: The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of children undergoing bariatric weight surgery has skyrocketed, multiplying five fold to total more than 500 surgeries. a year Before the pandemic, some 20 percent of all American children were deemed obese, and that number is expected to rise.

 * ... OUR WILDFLOWERS: I just can't resist sharing the incredibly stunning wildflower pictures from my friend Pam Taylor, whose travels have taken her to some of the most spectacular blooms. Check out these two Pam Taylor shots.

 * ... MORE WILDFLOWERS: And one of my favorite local photographers, JoJo Paredes Butingan, submitted this incredible shot of a field of red flowers.

* ... MEMORIES: Do you remember this scene with Jack Nicholson in the movie Five Easy Pieces (1970, dir. Bob Rafelson)? It was shot on Highway 99 at the 53 off ramp to Shafter and Wasco.  Thanks to the Kern County History Fans for this timely nugget.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Bakersfield residents prepare for flooding when the snowpack melts, get ready to pay more for utilities in California and the daily struggle against crime and vagrancy for the owners of Pyrenees Cafe

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

 * ... THE BIG MELT: All eyes are on the snow capped Sierra Nevada, which holds enough water to easily flood parts of Bakersfield and Kern County depending on how hot it gets. Uncertain homeowners are rushing to buy flood insurance policies (they seem to range anywhere from $800 to $1,500 annually) as experts warn the rush of water could flood parts of Highway 178 in the canyon and other parts of

Bakersfield not protected by berms. How bad is it? The re-emerged Tulare Lake already covers from 100 to 140 square miles with an average depth of 3.5 feet of water. It all depends - say the experts - on if the weather warms too quickly, unleashing a torrent of water that the dams and riverbanks just can't handle. Some experts say it will be mid June when the heaviest surges strike. Stay tuned.

 * ... UTILITY BILLS: If you think your utility bills are high now, just wait. If California utility companies get their way, a new pricing structure will be implanted in which your rate depends on your income. In other words, if you are successful and own a business, you will pay substantially more than the working poor under this so-called "flat rate" plan. According to CalMatters three companies — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — submitted a proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission that includes an income-based pricing system for these fixed charges. According to KTLA 5, the monthly charge would vary between the companies, and range from:
 - Households with annual income from $28,000 – $69,000 would pay $20 a month in Edison territory, $34 a month in SDG&E territory and $30 a month in PG&E territory.
 - Households earning from $69,000 – $180,000 would pay $51 a month in Edison and PG&E territories and $73 a month in SDG&E territory.
 - Those with incomes above $180,000 would pay $85 a month in Edison territory, $128 a month in SDG&E territory and $92 a month in PG&E territory.
* ... PYRENEES: By any measure, Rod and Julie Crawford should be living the American dream. They have worked, saved, invested their money and played by the rules. And for a time, the co-owners of the iconic Pyrenees Cafe and Silver Fox Starlite Lounge seemed to be enjoying the ride. Their 2013 purchase, remodel and reopening of Pyrenees was a huge success and the Silver Fox has never been as busy as it is today. But all that was before the homeless crisis hit Bakersfield, and now the Crawfords feel alone and abandoned by City Hall. For the past five years, the Crawfords have been involved in almost a nightly battle with vandalism and break-ins that plague east Bakersfield and Old Town Kern. Consider the damage just recently: a secure door is ripped off its hinges and the cash register is stolen and ends up in a dumpster, the iconic Pyrenees neon sign is vandalized to the tune of $14,000 to repair and even the folks who come in overnight to clean the restaurant cannot do so without their own cars being vandalized. And it all happens every morning, almost like clockwork, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.  "If we only had a little (police) presence in the neighborhood," he said. "These animals have no fear of law since there isn’t any here. In the last three months they shot out my sign, shot through windows to destroy TVs, broke three windows, need a new door a new ceiling fan. Over $20,000 in damages." When asked if he had talked to his councilman, Andre Gonzales, Crawford replied with an emoji throwing up his hands in frustration.

 * ... OLD TOWN: The real question for the Crawfords and other Old Town businesses is this: is the city serious about combatting crime and creating a relatively safe place to do business, or is it a lost cause? Andrae Gonazles is the city councilman for Old Town Kern and despite his cheerleading - this is the guy who wants to spend millions on the pipe dream of restoring the old train depot, an admirable if fool hardy idea -  crime, vagrancy and homelessness remain out of control. And it leaves landlords like the Crawfords, and other owners of the iconic east Bakersfield businesses, wondering just who is serious about crime and who is more interested in press conferences and promises?

* ... MORE CRIME: And just to show you that crime does not discriminate, 1st District county Supervisor Phillip Peters has become a victim himself, posting this on Facebook: "Nothing like waking up in the morning to find your truck broken into and all of your tools gone. Too bad there wasn’t an extra conscience or work ethic in there so they could put them to good use…"

 * ... AND ON THE COAST: Bakersfield isn't the only place where we are all growing weary of homelessness and crime. Check out this sign that was temporarily placed on the northbound exit to Santa Barbara from Highway 101.

 * ... LIFE AS IT SHOULD BE: Take a drive through downtown Bakersfield on a Sunday morning and you will be treated to the true state of the homeless crisis. As the recent point in time count reminded us, the number of people on the streets has skyrocketed some 20 percent, and the amount of trash, debris and litter they leave on our streets seems without parallel.

 * ... BED BATH AND BEYOND: You can call it a day for Bed Bath and Beyond, the once wildly popular retailer that supplied everything from pots and pans to sheets and flatware for decades,. The company declared bankruptcy on Sunday and signaled it is closing all 360 locations, including its Stockdale Highway location.

 * ... MEMORIES: I just love these old pictures of the famous Blackboard Cafe. Here is a good one thanks to the Kern County History Fans.

 * ... MODERN ART: Some of the most striking citizen photography can be accessed via the "My Home is California" page on Facebook. Check out this shot from Sacramento posted by RubÄ« Nevarez.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

What does a soaring homeless population and a spike in crime and in Kern County say about life in Kern County? Plus the superbloom does not disappoint and an impressive class in the Highland High School alumni hall of fame

Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.

 * ... HOMELESS PROBLEMS: They counted the homeless again and once again the number of people living on the street is up, some 22 percent higher than a year ago. According to Kern County's latest count, some 1,948 people are homeless compared to just 1,603 last year. Now it may be true the number is higher because more people were counting, but the numbers paint a grim picture of what is happening on the

streets day in, and day out. So how does this make you feel? Have our efforts of the past five, six years been a total failure? Record numbers of homeless are being ushered into housing and yet, the numbers on the streets still keep rising. It's not a pretty picture and while local efforts to combat homelessness should be applauded, is there anyone who can say this looks anything like a real successful strategy to turn this around?

 * ... NETFLIX CDs: If you are of a certain age you remember the early, pre-streaming days of Netflix  when our movies arrived in bright red envelopes with a DVD tucked inside. Well Netflix says the last DVD will be shipped on Sept. 29 and after that Netflix will no longer send disks. At its peak in 2010, Netflix had some 20 million customers to its DVD service.

* ... WILDFLOWERS: The wildflower superbloom is here, and you don't have to go far to enjoy it. Certainly the Antelope Valley poppy preserve and the Carrizo Plains are spectacular venues but there are many closer areas that are equally impressive. A casual drive up Breckenridge Road is a superbloom treat, as is Windwolves Preserve and of course Tejon Ranch. Here are a few shots of the wildflowers at Tejon this past weekend, taken by James Burrow.

 * ... MORE TEJON: And check out these photos from Tejon by my friend Mark Duffel, some wonderful superbloom shots for the ages.

 * ... DOWNTOWN GRAFFITI: Koral Hancharick, director of the Buena Vista Museum on Chester, discovered what so many downtown businesses have: their business has been tagged by graffiti artists, or worse broken into. It's another day in the life of Ward 2 where we recently learned homelessness has skyrocketed by more than 20 percent, people sleep on the streets and sidewalks without consequence and our alleys and doorways are being used for drug transactions and more.

 * ... CALIFORNIA SOBER: Have you heard the term "California sober?" It refers to residents of the Golden State who choose not to drink alcohol or do heavy drugs, but they do occasionally partake in cannabis and cannabis-related products. There are no statistics on how many people are "California sober" here, but nationally there has been a gradual move toward non drinking and lighter drinking, and some experts say non-drinkers in states where marijuana is legal are more likely to consume cannabis. In fact, states where marijuana is legal have more people kicking booze than other states. In 2018, 5.1% of adults engaged in heavy drinking in the past year, 15.5% engaged in moderate drinking, 45.7% engaged in light drinking, and 33.7% did not consume alcohol at all.

 * ... HIGHLAND HIGH SCHOOL: Did you see who was inducted into the Highland High School Alumni Hall of Fame? Among those honored were Kern County chief administrative officer Ryan Alsop, San Diego Superior Court Judge Eugenia Eyherabide, Supervisor Leticia Perez, Dr. Willa Crosby Thorson, Joe Barton, Liz Stinson Haley, Pete Gonzalez and the 1977 Varsity Wrestling Team.

 * ... MEMORIES: A couple of historical shots here for your enjoyment, both courtesy of the Kern County History Fans page on Facebook.