Saturday, April 18, 2009

New CSUB rec center ready to open, another step in school's drive for a total "student experience"

Passed by the new Student Recreation Center over at Cal State today and it's looking almost ready to open. It's a stunning facility from the outside and should help the school in both recruiting new students and retaining the ones they have. The rec center is funded by student activity fees. You have to hand it to CSUB President Horace Mitchell: he is determined to help the university evolve from the commuter school it is today to a full fledged university with a true "student experience." Part of that "experience" is having a top notch workout facility and that looks like it's about to happen. Mitchell has already welcomed Greek organizations to the school (another key part of the "student experience") and the school now has a Division 1 baseball team playing on campus. The final, and most difficult hurdle will be dormitories for students living on campus. No word on when - or if - that will happen but it's a key ingredient.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bako Bits: From CASA's "Light of Hope" event to warnings to keep your doors locked at night

Heading into what should be a splendid weekend, I'll leave you with a few nuggets from our town to chew on:
* CASA EVENT: April is national Child Abuse Prevention month so it's time for CASA of Kern County (Court Appointed Special Advocates)to hold its "Light of Hope" event, set for next Thursday (April 23) at the Marketplace grand fountain. CASA is a wonderful local organization headed by Coleen McGauley that does so much to help kids in need. The Light of Hope begins at 6:30 p.m. with the lighting of candles placed around the fountain recognizing child advocates. The names, which are placed on the candles, are purchased for $5 each. Call Nicole Stanford at 661-631-2272 for more information.
* LOCK YOUR DOORS: Not sure I would call it a "crime wave" yet but there sure have been a lot of reports of home burglaries across our city, regardless of neighborhood. Heard the other day about a homeowner being tied up and assaulted by two men who entered his house off White Lane near Seven Oaks at 3 p.m. They were arrested when the stolen car they were driving was found at the Motel 6 off Easton Drive. A couple weeks earlier a homeowner in my neighborhood was awakened in his own bed by someone shining a flashlight in his face. Turns out the "intruders" thought no one was home because there were two newspapers on the driveway. Guess these guys weren't smart enough to realize that some folks actually take two different newspapers every day. The homeowner and his wife chased the intruders out of the house before anything could be taken. Cops will tell you our city is teeming with opportunist criminals who spend the darkest hours checking cars and homes for unlocked doors. Keep your alarm on.
* GUN RUSH: The Wall Street Journal took notice of the surge in gun sales by Americans fearing that President Obama and the Democratic Congress will impose new restrictions. The Journal said four million background checks were performed in the first three months of this year, a 27 percent increase over last year. Walk into any gun store in Kern County (see previous post on this subject here.) and you will understand why. Weapons are flying off the shelves and you can hardly find ammunition for handguns
* WIDE BODY: The most overlooked story of the week was in the Los Angeles Times, which reported that United Airlines - after receiving more than 700 complaints - will now start forcing overweight people to buy two seats. The airline has been inundated from complaints about the discomfort of being seated next to the truly obese. This is particularly true in the small 50-passenger jets that serve Bakersfield with flights to Meadows Field.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A dismal report card on Kern County's children: so is it really "Life as it should be?"

With all due respect to my friends over at Vision 2020, sometimes it's hard to look at the statistics and believe in Bakersfield's unofficial motto: "Life as it should be." That said I do recognize this is a message of aspiration if not reality, and I am all for putting our best foot forward when we promote all that is good with our community. And certainly if your view is from Grand Island in Seven Oaks or Old Stockdale, it would be hard to argue that this is as good as it gets. But we all know the stark reality of our community, and it hit home as I reviewed the 2009 Report Card from the Kern County Network for Children. This is the real work of Vision 2020, beyond slogans and bumper stickers, and that is focusing on those issues that will determine what we will be tomorrow, not today. Of course when I look at these dismal statistics, I can't help but think about all the other issues - adult illiteracy (25 percent!), obesity, drug use, smoking, rampant diabetes, poor diets, lack of education, etc - that form concentric circles around the issues facing children. And who is tackling those? (You have to believe education - or the lack thereof - is at the root of all of our ills)
Vision 2020 is only an advisory group, but let's hope our elected officials are listening to their recommendations and not just paying lip service to these folks who volunteer their time to improve our community. So here they are, the highlights from the 2009 Report Card on the state of Kern County children. Brace yourself.

Among the findings:
* More than half of Kern County children are Latino (54 percent), followed by Caucasian (35 percent) African American (5 percent) and Asian (3 percent)
* Single mother households are the majority of single parent homes. Sixty-eight percent of single parents homes are headed by mothers.
* Grandparents are increasing their role as primary caregivers in Kern County. Four percent of kids under 18 are being cared for by their grandparents.
* Child abuse here is more prevalent than other parts of the state. In 2007, we had 17,157 referrals for child abuse and neglect for a rate of 69.1 per 1,000 children, higher than the state rate of 49.2.
* In 2007, 5,187 children were abused or neglected in Kern County. That gives us a rate almost twice the state average.
* Our media family income was 28 percent less than the state and 24 percent less than the nation. It was $44,469 in Kern County compared with $62,040 in the state and $58,686 in the nation.
* Latino and African-American kids have higher child poverty rates than other races. Together these groups comprise 60 percent of Kern's total child population but they comprise 79 percent of the total children living in poverty.
* Six out of every 10 public school children receive free or reduced price school meals.
* Good news: the overall rate of births to teenage mothers has declined since 2000.
* Bad news: the high school graduation rate is getting worse. For the 2006-2007 school year, the graduation rate was 73.5 percent, compared to 80.6 percent in the state.
* One in four Kern County high school students dropped out of school for an adjusted four-year dropout rate of 25 percent, higher than the state average of 21 percent.
* Juvenile felony arrests for violent crimes have increased 44 percent since 2005.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Equestrian group pitches in to clean up the trails

This is one of those "it takes a village" posts that pays tribute to local organizations who actually do more than talk about the need to volunteer. I saw this post on "Ride the River Kern," a local website devoted to folks who are (see the entire post here) interested in equine events in Bakersfield, particularly riding along the Kern River. The group is planning a couple of cleanup days to spruce the area up, and given our city's reputation for making a mess (check out our parks after a holiday weekend; does everyone simply just toss their chicken bones and used napkins on the grass?) it's nice to see folks getting together to do something about it. From the blog:

"April 25th 8am-12noon ... May 9th 8am-12noon

The April cleanup will be concentrated around the staging/parking area on the north side of the river. We will be pulling weeds in the parking lot and clearing trash and dead shrubs and trees. We will also be repairing the fencing where it is sagging. If that is finished early, we may weed and spread mulch around the young trees on the Preserve.

The May cleanup is sponsored by East Rotary Club. Again, on the north side of the river we will be collecting tumbleweeds and disposing of an old wood pile and as time allows may weed and spread mulch around the young trees.
We will provide water/drinks and a snack. Please bring gloves, rakes, shovels or anything you think might be helpful.

"If you have any questions, please call me at 872-3569 or e-mail me at

Photo courtesy of their website.

Bako Bits: From bad grammar to good marketing to honoring Dr. Hans Einstein

It may be national "Tea Party" day today as folks around the nation gather to sound the alarm over taxes and spending, but there's plenty of other things happening around our community. But let's begin with the "Tea Party:"
* GOOD MARKETING: You have to hand it to KERN AM 1180, home of conservative talker Inga Barks, for some shrewd marketing to tie in with the Tea Party. Parent company American General Media took out a full page ad in today's Californian with bold black print screaming "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!" and urged folks to take it to the Tea Party today at noon in front of City Hall. Inga will be speaking at the event which will certainly provide some good local theater.
* GOT SPELLCHECK? Spotted this license plate holder the other day on a small black car on Ming Avenue: on the top it read "I know, I know" and on the bottom "Licence and registration." The driver should be ticketed and her license revoked for failing to use spellcheck.
* BICYCLE RACE: Looks like they're going to have another bicycle criterium race in downtown Bakersfield May 1. They're looking for sponsors to support the "crit," which will feature fast and agile and very strong riders doing a circuit race in the downtown area. It's worth a look-see if you have never witnessed it and it is certainly an upgrade over some of the other more dubious and ill attended "downtown" events like the car shows and street fairs.
* CSUB WINE TASTING: Tickets are also on sale for the 13th Annual CSUB Party in the Park Wine Tasting, which coincides with the annual Jazz Festival. This is one of the nicest events at the university all year and is put on by the CSUB Alumni Association. The event will be held Friday, May 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with music from the Jazz Festival to start later that evening. You can buy a package just for the wine tasting or include the Jazz Festival as well. Call 661-654-3211 for more information.
* EINSTEIN PAVILION: Sue Benham, city council person and development director over at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, corrected me on an earlier post about the event next week (April 21) to pay tribute Dr. Hans Einstein. The actual Einstein Pavilion will not open until later this year but the 6:30 p.m. event next Tuesday will honor his contributions to our community.
* JUST FOR FUN: From the list "You know you are from Bakersfield when..." And the answer is: "You know a swamp cooler is not a happy hour drink." (read the complete list here)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Don Martin's eternal quest to bring art to B-town

You really have to admire Don Martin over at Metro Galleries. I've featured Don many times on this blog and all for good reason: he's one of the pivotal players in bringing a thimble full of culture to our community, which after all is known more for its adult illiteracy rate than for art. (read previous posts here) One caveat: lots of other folks have been busy on the local art scene, like the Arts Council of Kern and the Bakersfield Museum of Art, but what Martin and his involvement with First Fridays has done is to make it fun and cool and relevant to a much younger crowd. So you have to really hand it to Valley Republic Bank, the new bank in town, for asking Don to handle a special exhibit coinciding with the bank's grand opening this week.
Don says he sold the bank several pieces for its permanent collection but he'll also have works by Keith Wicks, Art Sherwyn, David Gordon and Bonnie Hineline-Kemper on view. The show is set for this Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the new Valley Republic Bank at 5000 California Avenue, Suite 100. Wine and cheese will be served. Art Sherwyn (read a previous post here) is a local artist and high school art teacher and of course David Gordon works at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

Sure everything must change, but even Floyds?

Floyd's is one of those Bakersfield institutions that binds a community together. Small and crowded and slightly dusty, Floyd's is like a comfortable easy chair that's a tad frayed at the edges but you just can't seem to let it go. This classic general store has about anything you want: from Wrangler's to plumbing supplies to WD-40 to the smallest and rarest of electrical parts. Part of its charm is that it literally hasn't changed in years, but all that is about to change. I stopped by Floyd's today to pick up a light bulb and some lubricant and learned they are just days away from moving a few blocks south on North Chester Avenue to a sparkling new building. I wasn't even aware they were moving and while I'm sure it will be an upgrade, somehow it just won't be the same. And speaking of North Chester, the streetscaping and improvements along North Chester done by San Joaquin Hospital near 24th Street are some of the nicest in town, converting one of the worst strips to one of the nicest. Check it out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bako Bits: From whitewater rafting to some downright appallingly bad behavior at our parks

Checking in from Easter weekend which was - in a word - glorious. Could not have asked for better weather after a week of being sand blasted by ugly wind storms. Here's some Bako Bits to chew on:

* BAD BEHAVIOR: It's a sign of the times that you can pretty much rely on a few dozen people being arrested for fighting and gun slinging virtually every holiday weekend in Bakersfield. And Easter was no exception. Today's Californian shows a picture of ambulance personnel wheeling away victims after 60-70 people got in a fight at Pioneer Park in the afternoon. Let me repeat: SIXTY OR SEVENTY people! This wasn't some isolated fight between a couple of drunks but rather a wholesale brawl. One person was stabbed and another clubbed with a baseball bat. Meanwhile three people were detained after fights broke out at Beach Park while over at Hart Park, cops had to close the place off because of crowding. Happy Easter everyone!
* GOOD BEHAVIOR: I did happen to drop by the Riverlakes Church morning service over at the amphitheater at River Walk Park. There were at least a couple thousand worshipers there and - voila! - they managed to get through the service without a single stabbing or clubbing. See? It can be done.
* MORE BAD BEHAVIOR: Another wild scene over at Pioneer Park where they had planned on an Easter egg hunt for 1,500 kids and some 3,000 showed up. And of course - you can guess what happened next - the parents ended up shoving kids aside to grab eggs during the hunt. Sheesh.
* SOME GOOD PRESS: Nice to see Kernville and our white water rafting featured in Forbes magazine as one of the best rafting sites in the nation. They are highly complimentary of the rafting and give us some good ink. Read the complete story here.
* ROAD EXTENSION: I also happened to end up on the bike path extension headed toward Enos Lane and noticed that the Allen Road extension - it will connect Stockdale Highway with Ming Avenue - seems near ready to open. That will be a welcome event for those Southwest residents.