As we look toward ushering in 2020, Bakersfield Observed takes a look at the top ten stories we will be tracking this year. It will be an important year, so hold onto your seats.
10) CITY MANAGER: Bakersfield city manager Alan Tandy retires Jan. 10 after almost three decades as the city's top administrator. To say Tandy's retirement is significant is an understatement, and in fact on a local level, one insider likened it to the rise of a new pope. "In our form of government no one is more powerful than the city manager," said one city employee. "This is a chance to set a new tone." Tandy's list of accomplishments is long, but his personal "take on prisoners" style rankled many and did little to improve relations with the county. When the City Council hires his successor, it will set the mood for possibly the next three decades. Expect that decision in the first quarter of 2020.
9) LETICIA PEREZ: We will also learn the fate of Supervisor Leticia Perez, who is facing a misdemeanor charge related to charges she did not disclose that her husband (Fernando Jara) was representing cannabis interests while the Board of Supervisors was considering legalizing the retail sale of it. Many had written off Perez, expecting her to fade out of the public limelight, but she has signaled she is back and appears reenergized after her near fall from grace. Perez is the incoming chair of the Board of Supervisors and many are expecting an out of court settlement on the misdemeanor charge, clearing the path for Perez to go forward. Perez is smart, ambitious and not to be underestimated. Among her off-duty goals: grooming young Latino and Latina candidates for office as Kern County grows younger and browner and more diverse.
8) THE HOMELESS: This will be a critical year in the battle against homelessness. The county's low-barrier navigation shelter will open in early February and the city is moving forward with its own plans to open a similar shelter. County CAO Ryan Alsop and Mayor Karen Goh are at the forefront of the local effort to combat the problem and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been allocated for everything from "poop patrols" to daily cleanup crews to additional prosecutors to handle misdemeanor cases. This will be the year when we determine just how committed we are as a community to reclaim our streets.
7) FATHER CRAIG: Will 2020 be the year when we learn if Father Craig Harrison will either return to St. Francis Parish or be defrocked from the clerical state? Let's hope so because the uncertainty surrounding his status is a boil on the public consciousness that needs to be lanced. The problem: the final decision will be made by the head of the Diocese of Fresno, Bishop Joseph Brennan, and he is keeping his own counsel for making a decision. Word is that Brennan is waiting for the authorities in Firebaugh to first indicate if they will prosecute Harrison for a decades-old allegation of sexual abuse. But in truth, it will be Brennan's call in the end and Harrison will either find himself "laicized" (it means a person loses the clerical state and no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry) or he will be returned to St. Francis or possibly moved to another church. If Harrison does not return to St. Francis, as many expect, what will be the second act for this once popular priest who - despite allegations from multiple men of sexual abuse over several decades - remains beloved by so many?
6) ABUSE ALLEGATIONS: While we wait on word on Father Craig, expect a virtual flood of lawsuits to be filed as victims come forward to tell their stories of sexual abuse dating back decades. Thanks to a new state law that goes into effect Jan. 1, the state has given victims of sexual abuse a new window to file lawsuits against their abusers. Expect dozens of people to come forward across the state, and some of those cases may come locally against priests in the Diocese of Fresno.
5) KEVIN MCCARTHY: With impeachment haunting President Trump, there are few people in the country with more to win or lose than our own Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who as House Minority Leader has been the tip of the spear defending the president. McCarthy may be criticized by the left for his defense of the president, but McCarthy remains wildly popular in his home district and few work harder on forging local ties than "KMAC" as he is affectionately known. If Trump wins and the Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives, we could be referring to KMAC as "Mr. Speaker."
4) NEW ENERGY, NEW JOBS: Is Bakersfield beginning to shake its image as an "oil and ag" backwater? Some say it is, and they point to the new Amazon distribution center across from the airport and the fact that Bakersfield is outperforming 46 other metro areas in net job and business creation. Helping in that evolution is Bitwise Industries, a Fresno-based tech academy and software startup that hopes to create 1,000 jobs in the city. Bitwise is renovating the building across 18th Street from the old Padre Hotel as part of its Bakersfield investment. With our traditional job centers like oil and agriculture under attack, this is the stuff that could decide our future.
3) CRIME: Every indication is that crime is on the rise, particularly "petty" and "non violent" crime that the state has largely decriminalized. We now live in the state that has decriminalized everything fro possession of heroin to prostitution, and suddenly our communities are full of "petty" criminals stealing indiscriminately, breaking into cars and trucks with impunity and waltzing into grocery stores and Rite-Aids and filling their arms with whatever they desire. Locally, we are thankful for people like District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer who throwing the weight of the DA's office to maintain law and order, but all this will come to a head this year as things will undoubtedly go from bad to worse.
2) WATER: This will be an important year for water in California as local water agencies begin establishing protocols to track water inflow and outflow within their jurisdictions. Huge parts of the Central Valley are literally sinking as local water agencies continue to draw down groundwater supplies, and for the first time the state is trying to get a handle on balancing the needs of agriculture against the reality of groundwater levels and the needs of urban population centers. This could lead to hundreds of thousands of acres of productive farmland being taken out of production.
1) OIL: And finally, 2020 could prove to be a pivotal year in the war against fossil fuels being waged by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the ruling Democratic party in Sacramento. Never before has California had a governor so openly hostile to the oil and natural gas industry as Newsom is, and his actions could directly impact the exploration and production of oil here in Kern County. For oil path communities like Taft and to a lesser extent Bakersfield, Newsom's decisions could have a devastating impact on our tax revenue, our growth, the value of our homes and our future.