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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Californian city government reporter Theo Douglas.

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Theo Douglas/ The Californian

From left, Bakersfield City Council Community Services Committee members Jacquie Sullivan and Bob Smith, and Assistant to the City Manager Rhonda Smiley hear a presentation on freeway art from R. Brad Cole, senior landscape architect for Caltrans. Not pictured is committee member Willie Rivera who represents Ward 1, sitting to Sullivan's right.

KERN CITIES ARE A-GROWING: Bakersfield is growing but McFarland is growing faster, according to revised 2013 and preliminary 2014 population statistics released Wednesday by the state Department of Finance.

Bakersfield's population grew by 1.9 percent, from Jan. 1, 2013 to Jan. 1, 2014 -- expanding from 360,633 residents to 367,315.

It ranked 42nd out 482 cities.

That's "the sixth highest numeric increase of any city in the state," Community Development Director Doug McIsaac said in an email, "and firmly maintaining our position as the ninth largest city in the state."

McFarland, about 25 miles north, has even bigger news, however. It was the fastest-growing city in the state, posting an astounding 8.9 percent population increase during the same period, from 12,624 residents to 13,745.

That was good enough to make it into the state press release -- which showered the winner with cold water.

"The bulk of the growth in McFarland is due to the state housing additional inmates in community correctional facilities to meet the court-ordered prison population cap of 137.5 percent of design capacity," the press release read.


Kern County's population increased about 1.4 percent, from 861,164 to 873,092 during the same time period.


Westside Parkway -- still devoid of landscaping except for wood chips -- could one day be adorned by works of art, thanks a vote Thursday by a Bakersfield City Council committee.

The council's 3-0 vote by its Community Services Committee authorized the continued exploration of installing art along the short freeway stretch.

"What I visualize is art sculptures in places that perhaps would have been landscaped, but since we're not going to do the landscape, maybe it's a way to make it interesting and tell the story of Bakersfield," said Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, a committee member who proposed the idea.

Cities up and down California have freeway art pieces, Caltrans Senior Landscape Architect R. Brad Cole told the committee.

These range from mosaic tile installations in Fresno to brightly-painted road supports in San Diego.

Bakersfield, however, faces several hurdles before this future stretch of Highway 58 can add art.

Funding is foremost. Arizona and Nevada each earmark a percentage of capital improvement projects for art -- 1 percent and up to 3 percent, respectively -- but Caltrans, our state transportation agency, doesn't budget for an art component.

Smith proposes funding the idea by approaching companies in major industries -- including oil, agriculture and healthcare -- to underwrite art pieces telling the story of Bakersfield, including its legendary hospitality.

Next, there's the issue of where the art could be placed. Caltrans regulations mandate it be at least 35 feet from the outside white line at the edge of Westside Parkway.

Cole said the agency would prefer art only be installed at interchanges, for safety reasons.

"Those areas, from a traffic safety perspective, those are going to be more opportune at interchanges," he told the committee.

Acting Public Works Director Nick Fidler told the comittee he agreed.

Fidler said his department will also explore the possibility of adding murals to bridge structures on the Kern River Parkway bike path, and a monument sign on Highway 58 greeting motorists driving west into Bakersfield -- both at the request of committee member Willie Rivera, Ward 1 councilman.


A lawsuit filed against the city of Bakersfield in January challenging its plan to borrow millions for major highway improvements likely won't go to trial before March 2015 -- but is still not expected to delay the road projects.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro and City Manager Alan Tandy told the Budget and Finance committee of the Bakersfield City Council Monday that a lawsuit brought against the city by the West Park Home Owners Association could take longer to go to trial because of the number of cases currently before Kern County Superior Court judges.

The Bakersfield City Council committed in 2008 to borrowing $246 million to match some of the $630 million in federal earmarks that former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, secured to expand highways in metropolitan Bakersfield.

That amount later rose to $270 million, then dropped in February to $240 million because the city earned more than expected in transportation fees and spent less than budgeted to improve Highway 178.

The city should be able to pay its share of Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects -- including widening 24th Street and Highway 178 -- while the case makes its way through court, Tandy told the committee.

"We won't need permanent borrowing for at least two years, so we can get this done and to the courts in time to fit within that time frame," Tandy said.


News that litter pick-up cost Caltrans more than $55 million during the last fiscal year set off an avalanche of comments to The Californian:

mildmannered: "Every time The Californian runs a story on litter, I have remarked that I have never seen more litter than in Kern County. I have lived coast to coast. Another example of Kern being on a Top Ten list of bad things."

Shwaine: "Go to a big city before the cleanup crews are around and it can be pretty nasty. The big cities have more resources to devote to cleaning up after their messy populace though."