Terry Maxwell, the next Ward 2 Bakersfield city councilman, said Thursday that downtown Bakersfield needs unique stores and restaurants, better lighting and more police to draw in more residents.
"What we want is a vibrant downtown, but we've built ourselves so that if you live in the southwest, the northwest or the east, you really don't need to go anyplace," Maxwell told the Bakersfield Congress of Republicans during its monthly lunch meeting. "Every service that you need is within a relatively short distance from you. So the downtown has got to develop something that nobody else has," he said.
As Kern County elections workers processed votes during the last three weeks, Maxwell maintained the lead in a three-man race to replace outgoing Councilwoman Sue Benham in representing a wide swath of downtown Bakersfield.
Later Thursday afternoon, elections workers finished processing a few thousand provisional ballots and posted the final results, cementing Maxwell's win. At final count, Maxwell had 46.2 percent of the vote and Elliott Kirschenmann, a Bakersfield Planning Commission member who works for a real estate developer, got 41.6 percent. Maxwell owns T.L. Maxwell's Restaurant and Bar off Chester Avenue downtown.
Redevelopment, when the city had a redevelopment agency, didn't focus on Chester Avenue through the middle of downtown like it did for Central Park farther east, Maxwell said at the lunch meeting.
"To me, there's a lack of leadership. We have how many places on the downtown Chester Avenue that sit vacant and have sat vacant for a long time?" he said. "Why did somebody sit on a piece of property on Chester Avenue that should be a prime target and let it sit? So on the city council I am hoping to find out ... what can we do to change that?"
He briefly outlined several ideas, including better lighting and parking, but also addressing homeless people.
"We cannot ignore the fact that we have a significant population of people who roam this downtown area and are really hurting the businesses down there," he said.
People who would otherwise come downtown stay away because they don't feel safe, he said. Maxwell said the city should work with churches, public service groups like the Rotary Club and police.
"We do not have enough police officers, and part of this has to be police action," he said. "I know that these people are down on their luck ... (But) they have to have respect for people's private property."
Moreover, he said, the city wastes money in some areas when those dollars could be spent on more police.
"If I see that we need resources in one area, and I think that area is police, I will look at everything else that we spend our money on and figure out how I can take some more revenue and put it to the police, because you know as well as I do there is plenty of waste in Bakersfield."
The Shops at River Walk and the Marketplace attract people in the way that downtown needs to, Maxwell said. For one thing, an abundance of outdoor lighting attracts visitors to those two commercial developments and reduces crime, he said.
Also, Maxwell repeated a theme from his election campaign, that some city ordinances should be changed to smooth the way for new businesses to establish themselves.
Maxwell and another new city council member, Bob Smith representing Ward 4, will be sworn in at a council meeting on Dec. 11.