Saturday, February 13, 2010

Bakersfield Christian High celebrates a birthday and some chuckles on living in Bako

* ... BCHS BIRTHDAY: Reader Cherilee Ezell wrote to remind me that Bakersfield Christian High School is celebrating 30 years as a private, college preparatory school serving our community. She said last year the school kicked off an annual drive to raise funds for its financial aid program. She was proud to report that fully 30 percent of the school's students now benefit from some form of financial aid. The funds are being raised via "The Key Event," a black tie optional dinner with silent and live auctions to be held March 20 at Seven Oaks Country Club. For more information, call 661-410-7000.

 * ... BRAIN DRAIN: Susan Hersberger is the public affairs director over at Aera Energy and the proud mother of Mark and Kate, both of whom graduated from Stockdale High School and later UCLA. Neither returned to Bakersfield, but Susan's take on the "brain drain" is an optimistic one. "While my children's careers may not bring them back to Bakersfield, at some point in their lives they will perhaps move to a Bakersfield somewhere and contribute to that community. Meanwhile, some of the best and brightest from other Bakersfields will find their way to this community - the oil industry for example is bringing in some terrific young people - so over time it will all even out." Well said.

* ... REMEMBER CLINT OLIVIER? I received a nice call from local resident Janet Beckman who reports that her son in law, Clint Olivier, is running for the Fresno City Council. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Olivier was an on air reporter for KGET 17 here in Bakersfield before leaving for another TV station in Fresno. He married Beckman's daughter, West High and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate Alisha Gallon. Alisha works at the ABC affiliate in Fresno.

 * ...  PADRE OR PETROLEUM CLUB? The reopening of the old Padre Hotel downtown has been the talk of downtown this week, and it has all been well deserved. The crowds have been impressive and owner Brett Miller told me he could not be happier. Saturday night every available room was sold out and there were waiting lists for both rooms and the main ground floor restaurant. Meanwhile, I stopped by the Petroleum Club on Friday and chatted with operations manager Lili Marsh, who reported business has been steady and good. Lunch was busy and I spotted Congressman Kevin McCarthy, retired oilman Harley Pinson and others enjoying the view Meanwhile over at Uricchios Trattoria Saturday night, it also was sold out and standing room only. Good to see all these places doing well.

 * ... BAKERSFIELDISMS: I've had several readers forward me an email full of hilarious 'Bakersfieldisms," so thought I would occasionally offer them up for a morning chuckle. For example, you know you are from Bakersfield when: "You realize that Valley Fever is not a disco dance" and "You think a red light is just a suggestion."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Remembering Sister Kay O'Brien and the surprising choice for a new Kern Foundation president

* ... REMEMBERING SISTER KAY: I was saddened to hear that Sister Kay O'Brien, the last member of a religious order to serve as principal of Garces Memorial High School, died last week. Sister Kay was a member of the Sisters of the Tacoma Dominican Order and served as principal for seven years, from 1971 through 1978. No doubt there are many in our community who fondly remember her tenure at Garces. She was responsible for hiring many of the school's former and current staff members, including V. Robert Garcia, who eventually returned as principal for three years before dying two years ago. Also hired by Sister Kay were John and Vince Fanucchi, Mike Phillips, Janie Reiland and Lela Steiber. After Garces she served as principal at St. Ann Catholic School in Ridgecrest and then as principal at St. Aloysius Catholic School in Tulare.

 * ... THE REEP GIRLS: I ran into local artist and educator Susan Reep the other day and she updated me on her three daughters, each of whom swore she would never return to Bakersfield after college, but of course did. Her youngest, Kimberly Smith, graduated from Cal State Northridge, lived on the coast but "made her way back to good ole Bako and opened Kern Train Your Brain, a neuro feedback business." Middle daughter Karen married Steve Davies and both taught school in Bakersfield but left for Colorado because Steve "found it easier to breathe there." Finally, oldest daughter Jennifer was dead set against returning but husband Matt Constantine wanted to live here. He is head of the Department of Public Health and Jennifer is a reading specialist at Endeavor Elementary.

 * ... BAKO SEASON: In the debate over whether "Bako" is an appropriate nickname for our town, longtime local sports photographer John Harte reminded me that his parents live in Grover Beach, a popular destination for those of us in the Central Valley. "Over the years I've heard service industry employees say 'the Bakos are coming.' I've also heard a few refer to summertime as 'Bako season.' Never offended me. I got a kick out of it."

 * ... THE BUZZ: More than a few folks were surprised by the choice of an outsider as the new president and CEO of the Kern Community Foundation. Floridian Jeffrey Pickering  is the new president, and he certainly brings with him sound credentials and experience in foundation work. But there were a number of local, well connected candidates who already intimately know the local scene and the players and could hit the ground running. Still, we can be certain that acting CEO Judi McCarthy directed a deliberate, thorough, thoughtful search, so I don't have any doubt that Pickering will succeed. We should all wish him luck.

 * ... RED CROSS: Speaking of jobs, I heard from my friend Scott Garrison that Lorraine Castro was no longer CEO of the Kern County Red Cross office. Apparently she is now working at Turning Point. Garrison is a member of the Kern Red Cross Board of Directors and said it is searching for a replacement.


New CEO named for Kern Community Foundation

 The search for a new president and CEO of the Kern Community Foundation has ended with the selection of Jeffrey R. Pickering, a Florida native with long foundation experience. The KCF role was one of the most sought after in town, attracting a wide and deep range of candidates both locally and out of state. Judi McCarthy, acting CEO since Fred Drew left last October after less than a year on the job, led the search with the help of a professional head hunting firm. Pickering is a graduate of University of South Florida and holds a masters degree from the University of San Diego. From 2004-2008, he served as vice president for philanthropic services at the Community Foundation of Central Florida in Orlando. Pickering was raised in Winter Park, Fla. and has two children.Welcome him to the community.

Amgen Tour of California: Visalia to Bakersfield

 Wonderful promotional video of the upcoming Amgen Tour of California, stage five from Visalia to Bakersfield. If you want to see what why Bakersfield is a cycling paradise, view this video.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bank of the Sierra plans aggressive new growth strategy and Barry Hibbard leaves Tejon Ranch

 * ... HIBBARD LEAVES TEJON: I learned yesterday that Barry Hibbard, the longtime vice president of commercial development for Tejon Ranch, is leaving the company to strike out on his own. Hibbard told me he plans to start a company that will invest in distressed commercial real estate for longer term investors. He said the commercial slump (which is expected to get worse) represents a "generational opportunity that I wanted to be in on." The two primary areas of investment will be the Central Valley and Central Coast. In addition, Hibbard said he has grown weary of the commute to Tejon, his wife is two and a half months pregnant and he'd like to spend more time at home. At 6-foot 7 inches, Hibbard is a former Big Ten scholarship swimmer at Michigan State University and an avid athlete. He worked at Tejon for 12 years and his last day is Friday.

* ... OLAGUE'S RETURN: I had a chance to catch up over lunch the other day with Michael Olague, the longtime local banker who is now Senior Vice President and Senior Area Manager for Bank of the Sierra. Olague joined the bank in November and spent the first two months in Porterville - the bank is based there- learning the culture and mapping an aggressive strategy to position the bank as "the business bank of choice." I was surprised to learn that the bank, which has 25 offices scattered throughout the Central Valley, has $1.3 billion in total assets. Sierra has always had a quiet profile here, but my guess is that will change under Olague's more ambitious direction. Olague brings instant credibility and wide contacts to the bank, which enjoys more visibility and market share in places like Tulare County than it does locally. Previously Olague headed the local offices of Bank of America and Dutch-based Rabobank and worked at San Joaquin Bank.

* ... HOLD THE COCKTAILS: Sandi Schwartz, a member of East Rotary and secretary of the Plank Foundation, wrote to take issue with Men Health magazine's rating of Bakersfield as one of America's 'drunkest cities.' "I sent this article from Men's Health to my son Bryan Phillips who is Kern County raised, West Point grad, now living in Houston," she said. "He quickly defended Bakersfield stating that the article was unfair due to mass transit in large cities. Don't I have a brilliant son?" Indeed you do Sandi.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Has downtown Bakersfield reached a "tipping point?" And should we be happy to be named a "drunk city?"

  * ... A TIPPING POINT? It's easy to exaggerate these things, but I am sensing downtown Bakersfield has reached a "tipping point" in terms of its long renaissance. And I am saying this with full knowledge that our local economy remains in a deep funk, as evidenced by the latest "Crabtree report" that shows our local housing market stabilizing but flirting with a double dip recession. (more on that later) Still, if you were downtown this weekend, it was impossible to ignore the energy that the newly opened Padre Hotel brought to the local arts and restaurant scene. The Padre was packed all weekend, four deep at the long oak bar until the wee hours of the morning, but so were the other local businesses. Boosted by the monthly "First Friday" festivities, virtually every venue was full of revelers shoulder to shoulder: Metro Galleries, the Surface Gallery, Mama Roomba, Uricchio's Trattoria, even Cafe Med on Stockdale Highway. In addition, entertainer Martin Lawrence appeared at the Fox Theater and the Crystal Palace featured country crooner Clay Walker. Remember, this is downtown Bakersfield, once known more for a salty crowd and the occasional stabbing or bouncer-related incident that ended up in the police files. But something has changed, and it is clearly for the better.

 * ... OVER AT CASA MUNOZ: I stopped by Casa Munoz Mexican Restaurant located at Union Avenue and 18th Street on Saturday, not exactly downtown but a wonderful family eatery nonetheless. Julie Hernandez, the peppy and engaging daughter of owner Joe Munoz, says she too was jammed all weekend, particularly on Saturday when the restaurant was full of kids in their tuxedos and evening dresses headed to the winter formal at Garces Memorial High School. Both Julie and father Joe are Garces graduates and big-time supporters of the Catholic school located on the hill near Panorama Drive. Julie's youngest son Julian is a St. Francis School student and spends his weekends helping out at the restaurant, stopping by tables and charming the diners with his wit and charm..

* ... BULLDOG OR VOLUNTEER? I received a nice note from Dave Price, the retired director of the county Resource Management Agency who now lives in Kingsport, Tennessee. Dave was a first rate public servant with a keen wit and easy style, and one way he keeps up with Bakersfield is through this blog online (thanks Dave.) Although he's an alumnus of Fresno State University, he told me he had made a "successful transition" to becoming a rabid University of Tennessee fan, all part of living in the Volunteer state. He wrote: "All this comes at some personal cost, though, as oilman Les Clark gave me some Fresno State Bulldog gear when I left and told not me not to sell out to the Orange. He and I are both FSU alums and I was even student body vice president and president!" To prove his new loyalty to the Vols, he enclosed a picture of his family, all wearing Orange. Stay in touch, Dave.

 * ... NEW HEAD COP: I had a chance to meet with newly installed Bakersfield City Police Chief Greg Williamson the other day in his Truxtun Avenue conference room. There's no doubt he has taken over at a critical time for the department, which like all city departments is facing an uncertainty over its budget. Williamson did say that he is hiring 17 new police officers funded with stimulus money and that combating gangs remains a high priority. The gang issue is one that is not going away.

 * ... THE BUZZ: So now comes word that Bakersfield has been named one of the "drunkest" cities in America by Men's Health magazine. We have enough image problems already, and this comes on the heels of hearing that "The Biggest Loser" was in town last week rounding up our more obese local citizens to appear on the program. So now we're not only overweight, but drunks as well. At least we can take some comfort that Fresno was ranked the nation's drunkest city, and we were down at No. 10. (The top five were Fresno, Reno, Billings, MT., Riverside and Austin, TX.) The survey was based on DUI rates, alcohol related car accidents and other incidents. Click here to read the entire story.