As the state Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments in a case that will determine the future of such redevelopment efforts, Bakersfield officials were cutting a ribbon at Cityplace, a 70-unit affordable housing project just east of the Mc Murtrey Aquatic Center.
"There was a great need for affordable housing in our community," said Councilman Rudy Salas Jr. "This is going to fulfill that need."
Cityplace is a "poster" example of how redevelopment should work, said James Schmid, CEO of Chelsea Investment Corp., the developer. He said it was the biggest transformation of a blighted neighborhood his company has seen, and remarkably, was financed during the most difficult financing period of his career.
Bakersfield's redevelopment agency spent about $2 million to clean up the property, formerly the site of a defunct home manufacturing company, said Donna Kunz, director of the city's Economic and Community Development Department.
The total cost of the project was about $17 million, with $3.7 million coming from the city, excluding the $2 million for clean-up.
The apartments range from one to three bedrooms and their rents run from $300 to $850 a month.
The development also has a computer room, two playgrounds, a splash pad, a basketball court, a community kitchen residents can rent, two picnic areas and locked gates around the property. After-school tutoring in reading, writing and study skills are planned for a few months from now, as are classes in English as a second language and gaining U.S. citizenship, if there's a need.
About 20 residents have said they're interested in being volunteers to teach some of the classes, which will offer job skills, said Juan Arroyo, executive vice president of Pacific Southwest Community Development Corp., which will manage the classes, tutoring and other activities planned for residents.
Residents were able to move in during the second half of October, and already all 70 units are filled. There's a waiting list of at least 50 more applicants.
Connie Alvarado, who uses a wheelchair, has one of the handicap-accessible apartments on the first floor and told Salas she loves her bathtub.
"I never have to worry about falling down, ever again!" she said.
Gloria Bovadilla, who also lives in one of the handicap-accessible apartments, said she feels safer and more comfortable in her new apartment.
"I see the playgrounds are created with style and safety features. That's wonderful for the children," she told officials.
"It's a big difference," she later told The Californian. "The community is just wonderful. There's a lot going for the kids and the adults."
Cityplace is the first of three developments slated for the South Mill Creek property. A second project called Creekview Villas is about halfway complete with 14 of 36 planned townhouses built. These will be lease-to-own homes for moderate-income buyers and are appraised at $194,000 to $204,000, Kunz said.
Six of those will be for low-income buyers (low income for a family of four is $45,750 a year). The rest will be for moderate-income buyers ($68,600 for a family of four).
Creekview Villas will officially open in six to eight weeks, Kunz said.
A third project is the Courtyard, a planned development of 57 apartments for rent to low- and moderate-income residents. But plans for that project are being restructured and groundbreaking likely won't happen until sometime in the second half of next year, Kunz said.
Next door, across the Kern Island Canal, is a so far empty site planned for commercial tenants, such as restaurants. The city is hoping restaurants with amenities like outdoor seating will want to built there, to take advantage of being along a waterway, said City Manager Alan Tandy.
But, he added, the poor economy has been a factor in attracting commercial investment to that property. And the state Supreme Court's decision could hurt those prospects as well as plans for the Courtyard apartments.
Earlier this year, California took funds from city redevelopment agencies across the state to balance its own budget, and cities, including Bakersfield, are due to hand over more in the future. The state Supreme Court will decide if the state can effectively abolish redevelopment agencies, since it authorized them in the first place.
Several of the speakers called Cityplace an apt comeback to the state's demands.
"This won't be the last of our community redevelopment projects," said Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall. Though city officials hope the state won't take redevelopment funds away, "we have the heart" to keep redevelopment projects going if it does, Hall said.
Larry Koman, chair of the Bakersfield Redevelopment Agency, echoed that.
"All of our projects, in our mind, are protected," Koman told The Californian. "It will impact future projects. We'll have to be more creative where we get money."