City leaders recapped their achievements over the last year and gave updates on Thomas Roads Improvement Program plans at the annual State of the City forum Tuesday.
City Manager Alan Tandy and Mayor Harvey Hall championed events such as the completion of the first phase of Sports Village, the Blaze baseball team being bought by local owners and the city hosting a major portion of the Amgen Tour bicycle race.
About 360 people attended the sold-out event at the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center. Among them were city council members, city staff and local business people.
Tandy said the recent approval of the city budget will allow Bakersfield to add city staff for the first time in six years. Although the city cut about 17 percent of its staff over the last several years, "The city is gradually pulling out of the recession," he said.
The police department also lost positions over the past several years, dropping to 486 authorized spots in the 2011-12 fiscal year from 517 in 2008-2009. As the fiscal situation improves,
"We are doing our best to resurrect those officers," Tandy said.
Tandy opened his remarks with a comment about the city's ongoing dispute with the Bakersfield police officers' union over pay raises and pensions. "I should also say a special thanks to the Bakersfield Police Officers Association," Tandy said, to laughs. Outside the Convention Center, a handful of people representing the union carried signs calling for a new contract with the city.
Tandy also outlined progress on TRIP projects, such as the widening of 24th Street, a project that has created push-back from residents in the areas north and south of the street.
"We created some community discussion with this," Tandy said, referring to the ongoing public comment period for the project. "That's good because it helps us understand what the ... concerns are."
Hall mentioned other efforts over the last year, on such issues as homelessness and litter.
He said that since he began volunteer litter pick-up efforts several years ago, volunteers have bagged 7,746 bags of trash. Hall said clean-up efforts will soon be expanded even further.
Hall also set the goal several years ago to end homelessness in Bakersfield and noted developments there. One of those was the creation of the Home First 12 program, an effort by the Kern County Homeless Collaborative and of which Bakersfield is a part, to house 12 of the most needy homeless people in the city.
"Bakersfield is such a great city," Hall said. "Across the country, people are emulating Bakersfield."
In Cincinnati, a local Mexican restaurant named after Bakersfield has opened, and Hall said he plans to present the owners with a key to the city of Bakersfield when he visits later this month.
The Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce hosted the event. Debbie Moreno is stepping down as head of the organization, and Hall presented her with a key to the city.
David Lyman, manager of the Bakersfield Convention and Visitors Bureau encouraged the audience to bring new events into the city.
"For some reason, people in Bakersfield do not think we are a place that attracts visitors," Lyman said. But Bakersfield's size -- it's the 51st largest city in the United States, Lyman and Hall said -- make it comparable to other large cities with urban amenities.
"We need to start thinking about Bakersfield in those same terms, because ... other people are," he said.
Lyman said on several nights and weekends this year, such as when the Amgen Tour and the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Convention took place, Bakersfield hotels were completely booked.