The city of Bakersfield will move forward with a collaborative plan that will use donated money to pay clients of the Bakersfield Homeless Center to clean litter from the city's freeway shoulders, on-ramps and off-ramps.
Members of the Bakersfield City Council voted unanimously to launch the program with $262,640 in grant money from Caltrans and the Kern Council of Governments.
They cheered the program as a stellar example of what the community can do by working together.
The decision was especially satisfying for Mayor Harvey Hall, who has been cleaning up Highway 99 with volunteer crews for eight years.
He said the decision was his "second-happiest moment" after the moment he was sworn in as mayor.
"Not only are we giving (people) jobs, but we're creating opportunity for these homeless gentlemen to have their own home," he said.
Bakersfield Homeless Center CEO Louis Gill said his crews will start working on Friday, after a ceremony launching the effort.
Initially eight clients will be hired to fill out the six-person crew, which will be working freeways across Bakersfield 30 hours a week.
And, if the program works well, both the city and the homeless shelter hope to expand to three full clean-up crews, Gill said.
City solid waste superintendent Sal Moretti recognized the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful program, the Kern Council of Governments, Caltrans and the Bakersfield Homeless Center for teaming up with the city to make the litter program happen.
"Through our partnerships, we're going to solve this problem," he said.
The Kern County Sheriff's Office will also be working on a program to remove litter from freeway medians and enforce anti-litter laws, Moretti said.
The city of Bakersfield's operating budget for 2013-2014 would increase 3.64 percent to $415.4 million under the staff proposal delivered to the council Wednesday evening.
Most of the increased spending would go to replace 26 city jobs in the police, fire and public works departments cut in leaner times, according to the summary report City Manager Alan Tandy shared with the council.
Tandy's report stated that 10 of those jobs would be sworn police officers in the Bakersfield Police Department -- three sergeants, two detectives, four senior police officers and one police officer.
"This will be the largest department in the history of the city," Tandy said.
But council members said they want more.
Council member Russell Johnson called for additional police officer positions to be worked into the budget for the coming fiscal year.
"We need to be nimble. The state has allowed realignment to impact our community. We need to act now, not in five years," Johnson said.
Another focus of the budget is the city's ongoing efforts to construct the complex of road improvements and freeways known as the Thomas Roads Improvement Program.
Work on the Parkway will continue while a $12.6 million project to widen Rosedale Highway between Gibson Street and Calloway Drive and the addition of auxiliary traffic lanes on Highway 99 are scheduled to start construction.
A $22.5 million effort to do final design on the Centennial Corridor project will also be funded in late 2014, if the project gets environmental clearance from Caltrans.
In his report to the council, Tandy said the city still faces financial challenges from the state of California and the county of Kern -- and must deal with the increased incidents of crime attributed to the return of state prisoners to county jails under prison realignment legislation.
Tandy said the proposed budget, while still funding 120 fewer jobs than the city did in 2008-2009, is moving in the right direction.
Final approval of the budget is expected to take place in late June, following a number of public hearings and discussions.