Thursday, January 23, 2020

City of Bakersfield moves forward to buy Calcot for a homeless shelter, Catholic priest Eric Swearingen dies and local leaders seek common ground with Gov. Gavin Newsom

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 person or organization.

 * ... HOMELESS SHELTER: The city of Bakersfield has opted to to move forward with
purchasing property on East Brundage Lane to create a low-barrier homeless shelter. The decision came after a long (and often emotional) meeting where the council had to decide between purchasing East Brundage (the old Calcot facility) or partnering with the county on its homeless shelter being build off Golden State. The vote was 4-3 (voting for East Brundage were Andrae Gonzales, Bob Smith, Bruce Freeman and Ken Weir and opposed were Willie Rivera, Chris Parlier and Jacquie Sullivan). Remember these voting coalitions. Is this what we can expect in the post Alan Tandy world?

 * ... MORE HOMELESS: Louis Gill, executive director of the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter, was encouraged by the vote: "Congratulations to the City. Last night they voted and took action. Proponents faced a huge headwind that had been building for months from those opposed but they prevailed. First they voted to purchase the property on Brundage and to open it as a Low Barrier Shelter. We absolutely need more beds AND the professionals that can help people transition as quickly as possible to a permanent home. It was bold and impressive. Second, they voted to financially support the County Low Barrier Shelter. That was a good first step in collaboration on homelessness. Third, they voted to make curb and gutter, lighting improvements around both facilities. We will all need to support this new project for it to be successful. Those of us that will be involved in supporting the work now have an obligation to address the concerns raised by the neighbors of the site and to everything possible to partner / collaborate. The additional emergency beds are just the first step. We have much to do to but after last night... I am optimistic."

 * ... GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM: Look, it's no secret that Gov. Gavin Newsom is no friend of Kern County. He is waging an unapologetic war on fossil fuels, and his water policy is widely seen as hostile to local farmers. But Newsom isn't going anywhere, and I applaud efforts by a handful of influential local leaders who are building relationships with the governor in a bid to find some kind of common ground to help Kern County. This week, Greater Bakersfield Chamber Nick Ortiz and Kern Community Foundation executive Kristen Watson drove to Sacramento to spend time with Newsom to promote Kern County, and last week the Board of Supervisors hosted members of Newsom's team to hear our side of the oil industry. Supervisor Leticia Perez (a Democrat) has been particularly active in providing a bridge between politically conservative Kern County and the governor's office, an acknowledgment that finding common ground may be the only leverage we have in protecting our interests.

 * ... SPOTTED ON FACEBOOK: "Count the rainbows in your life, not the storms."

 * ...  BAD NEWS: Now here is a list that Bakersfield didn't need to make. That's right, but researchers at Brandeis University ranked Bakersfield as the hardest place to grow up in America. Using factors like poverty rate and green space to assist and "opportunity score" to growing up in various locales, the university said Bakersfield was the worst, citing among other things that half of all residents under the age of 18 live in low opportunity neighborhoods. Other cities on the "worst" list included Fresno, McAllen, Texas, Stockton and Riverside. The best city to grow up in? Madison, state capital of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin.

 * ... FATHER CRAIG: Nine months after he was suspended from the priesthood because of allegations of sexual abuse, Father Craig Harrison presided over the burial service for longtime RV king Mike Stier at the veteran's cemetery in Arvin. Harrison performed the ceremony without his clerical collar and presumably as a private citizen, but one has to wonder how this will be received by the Diocese of Fresno which is weighing his future as a priest. Is it a sign Harrison knows he won't be returned to the priesthood? Could the Diocese possibly be happy about this? Or is this Harrison's way of establishing his next chapter outside the church? Stay tuned as we wait the final word from the Diocese on Harrison's future.

 * ... ERIC SWEARINGEN: And speaking of priests who have faced charges of abuse, Eric Swearingen has died after a lengthy illness. Swearingen, who was based at a church in Visalia, was the target of a high profile lawsuit involving former altar boy Juan Rocha, who accused Swearingen of sexually abusing him from 1989 to 1993 during the priest’s first assignment at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield. According to reports, the jury found Swearingen guilty of child sexual abuse in a 9-3 vote "but fell short of the nine votes required to find the Diocese of Fresno guilty of wrongdoing resulting in a mistrial. Instead of a retrial, Fr. Swearingen and Rocha entered a binding arbitration to settle the lawsuit, the terms of which remain undisclosed." Like Harrison, Swearingen was a popular priest who maintained a level of support even after being accused of abuse, yet another sign that some local Catholics are content to elevate the popularity of the individual over the pain of his potential victims.

 * ... SENOR PEPES: So did you hear about the scumbag who stole a tip jar at Señor Pepe's Mexican restaurant off Rosedale Highway? It was all captured on video surveillance and as it turns out, the tip jar was raising money for a longtime employee was it battling cancer. Once the story went viral, Bakersfield stepped up and dozens of people dropped off donations to make up for the lost money. That's Bakersfield for you.

 * ... SPOTTED ON FACEBOOK: I saw this on Facebook. You be the judge: "Bakersfield Water Resources does riverbed maintenance this time of year, in order to fulfill their obligation to keep the river flowing. They often bulldoze the grooves in the riverbed to smooth it and help water flow. This before/after shows the view from the green bike path bridge at Riverwalk looking west toward Stockdale Bridge. Was this hideous scraping really necessary? Surely this could have been done in a less brutal manner. That was one of the prettiest views in town. Can't we ever have nice things here?"

 * ... MEMORIES: Check out this wonderful old photo of the original Noriega Hotel on Sumner Street.

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