Buy Photo

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Californian city government reporter Theo Douglas.

NARDUCCI'S PARKING PURCHASE: Narducci's Cafe was cleared to buy itself a parking lot recently but not before its councilman, Ward 2 representative Terry Maxwell, asked a few questions.

The occasion was a consent calendar vote at the April 16 Bakersfield City Council meeting -- which could have gone quickly with no discussion.

One item on the consent calendar was the approval of the sale of the parking lot Narducci's has used for years to Rodney Wade Crawford and Julie Anne Crawford for $99,000.

The city owns the parking lot, which is also enjoyed by Pyrenees Cafe patrons, so the council had to sign off with a resolution declaring it surplus and documenting the sale.

Maxwell pulled the item from the consent calendar to question the city's Real Property Manager Don Anderson, who handles property acquisitions.

"I just want to be clear, this is not an inside deal. This is something we were approached on. The terms of this deal are in no way giving these people a special deal," Maxwell said.

"This property was sold on a negotiated basis. They contacted us first. They offered the full amount of the appraisal," Anderson said. "It's as if we were selling this on the public market. There's no special consideration."

The Bakersfield City Council eventually voted 5-0 with two members absent approving the sale.

Julie Anne Crawford said she was thrilled.

"I'm very excited about this. I'm really interested in keeping Old Town Kern viable. I think all the restaurants here are really amazing," said Crawford, adding she's the business partner of Narducci's Cafe owner James Narducci. "You can't have a restaurant without a parking lot. The way that I see it is, we'll be able to improve the lighting a little bit, ensure things are a little bit safer for all our customers."

CALTRANS VS. HIGHWAYMEN: Thieves aren't the biggest obstacle to Caltrans' goal of watering Kern County freeway landscaping only half as much now we're in a drought.

They are, however, among the most unpredictable, an agency official said Tuesday.

No one knows when petty footpads will abscond with key parts of the system -- stealing parts made of brass and other metals to sell them, or opening the valves to get water and wasting the precious resource.

Whoever they are, the highwaymen are costing Caltrans more than $5,000 a month in parts to repair freeway irrigation systems in Bakersfield.

The obvious culprits would be members of Bakersfield's homeless population, but Jay Asistin, a Caltrans maintenance supervisor, said he doesn't think the homeless are entirely to blame.

"They're going back and forth so that's a big problem there, having the homeless, having the problems that they're causing as far as the irrigation -- I'm not blaming the homeless for all the dry spots that we have but there are a lot of problems that we're having," Asistin said, meaning that as law enforcement officials have closed homeless encampments on the Kern River, the homeless have relocated along Bakersfield freeways.

By the summer, Caltrans' current freeway sprinkler controllers in Bakersfield -- which are up to 20 years old and have to be controlled manually -- will be replaced along local highways, at a cost of $2.2 million.

When that happens, the new "smart" controllers will be able to automatically shut off a part of the system if it suddenly starts hemorrhaging water.

They'll also save time by being remotely controlled, so workers won't have to drive out to their locations to do manual adjustments.

COUNCIL GIVES A FRACK: Fracking might not get a going-over by a Bakersfield City Council committee before summer -- one possible reason being the fact that the oil company folks who could come to Bakersfield and speak to council representatives are kept busy when the state legislature is in session.

In advance of that, two council members let their feelings fly at their April 16 meeting -- coming out strongly in favor of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial but highly effective oil extraction technique recently regulated by state Senate Bill 4.

One was Maxwell, who referenced the March 28 announcement from oil giant Baker Hughes it would lay off or reassign 110 workers in Bakersfield, Shafter and the Los Angeles Basin because of fracking delays imposed by SB 4.

"I just hope that's not the start of something that's bigger," Maxwell said, referring the issue to the council's legislative and litigation committee. "If the city of Bakersfield and the county of Kern don't start helping to defend the rights of our oil companies and our oil industry in Kern County, we will be the next Detroit."

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson agreed.

"It is just so upsetting, what's going on in Sacramento and with this fracking situation. Fracking is a basic thing, it's been going on for years," Hanson said. "We have a few nuts who are going to do their best to shut down this opportunity, and in the meantime we have these wackos in Sacramento -- not all but most of them -- who vote to flush all water into (the) bay. We need to get rid of these people."

SB 4 requires oil companies to notify neighbors before fracking, and to monitor groundwater before and after they do so, among other things.

State lawmakers like state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, have been highly critical of the law, saying oil companies are taking their jobs to other states instead of wading through California's increasingly complex permitting process.

GRAND THEFT AUTO BAKERSFIELD: Recent vehicle theft statistics show times must be getting tougher for car thieves. Stats from March 28, released April 18 in City Manager Alan Tandy's weekly memo to the mayor and council, show vehicle thefts in Bakersfield fell more than 8 percent in 2013 compared to 2012.

The trend continued this year with the number of "stolens," as Bakersfield police officers might say, dropping more than 25 percent in January and February compared to the same period in 2013.

Bakersfield Police Department Sgt. Joe Grubbs said there are several reasons why, including hard work by police, new license plate recognition software that makes identifying stolen cars quicker -- and an ongoing focus on areas like Valley Plaza, where vehicles sometimes are burgled or purloined.

"There's really not a silver bullet on this thing," Grubbs said, noting targeted enforcement at the mall. "Valley Plaza has historically been, for vehicle burglaries and grand theft auto, kind of -- I don't want to say a hub -- but it's been an area where that type of activity takes place."