MUCH ADO ABOUT WATER: Residents deserve to hear the truth about the drought, Bakersfield City Council members said Wednesday -- before voting to spend up to $385,000 to pump city water back from Kern County Water Agency and keep the northwest wet.
Council members said the city's recent water forum gave them the impression water was plentiful but the more-recent Rio Bravo Country Club snafu did the opposite.
Earlier in May, city officials sent a letter to the country club informing it they would stop providing water for the golf course -- then almost immediately called that a mistake and said the water would stay on.
"I think it was a couple meetings ago that I had mentioned I knew we were in a drought and I thought everyone in our community should start paying attention to that. Now, we have been told that we have plenty of water," said Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell. "What I'd like is in our next meeting, is that we get a presentation about where we really are with water."
Water Resources Manager Art Chianello told the council the city is still not in danger of running dry during its third dry year -- and a statewide drought emergency.
"It was a cost-effective way to get a source of water. It's previously purchased water in the city's name and this contract allows us to pump it if needed," Chianello said of the proposal to pay to pump. "It's possible we may not need any of this or we may need about 50 percent of this."
Like Maxwell, Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson had asked to talk about the issue before a vote.
"The problem is this: I'm not confident in the ostrich-in-the-sand approach I feel we've been taking as a city to our water supply," Johnson said. "What I would like to do to focus on Councilmember Maxwell's referral is to really pinpoint exactly what that plan is, what the triggers are. I think we need a better way to explain ourselves to the public."
WHOLE LOTTA LOT TALK: Small lot sizes in sprawling Bakersfield, which on a good day has the jagged city limits boundaries of a postage stamp, would seem to be an obvious bad idea.
But not any more.
On a 7-0 vote Wednesday, the council approved a new residential zone, the much-debated R-1-4.5 zone -- setting the stage for more single-family homes on lots no more than 4,500 square feet.
The existing R-1 residential zone everyone knows about has 6,000-square-foot lot sizes, Community Development Director Doug McIsaac told the council, and the R-2 residential zone allows smaller lots but doesn't mandate houses. The Planned Urban Development zone, meanwhile, puts more architectural requirements on developers.
The new zone mandates a "4,500-square-foot lot minimum," but could lock in more neighborhoods of single-family homes, which are more attractive to the elderly.
"There is evidence showing that in the growing Bakersfield housing market there is a market for aging baby boomers who may not want as much house, as much yard, or the expense of doing that," McIsaac said. "R-1-4.5 will make that product easier to build and produce."
Johnson initially wasn't convinced, saying the new zone should exclude homeowners' associations -- because if they run into financial trouble, the city could have to intervene.
Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, who first raised the issue, convinced Johnson.
"I don't think the problem is the structure. The problem is, like all things in life, the people who run it, and I don't think we can guarantee that," Smith said.
Maxwell expressed reservations before voting in favor.
"I think this is just one more layer of an ordinance, with everything already being conducted the way it should be," Maxwell said, noting, "I'm very in favor of the market deciding what it will bear and I would never stand in the way of our business people producing products that possibly can sell in the city of Bakersfield."
WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Normally shy, retiring Facebookers said much about the city's newly approved lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority:
Scott Thackrey: "Personally, I think it's a good idea. Future challenges in other regions could derail the project, leaving a lot of ripped-up real estate in the city for nothing."
Candi Easter: "The rail authority originally wanted to have the station at the airport but city leaders at the time insisted that it be downtown. Business owners thought it would help revitalize downtown."
Craig Holland: "Send the train out to the new airport. Plenty of vacant land and a natural connection."
Jenell Mahoney: "But will they listen? They seem hell-bent to do what they want no matter what."
Tom Webster: "I don't think that's an either/or question. I don't think they did the right thing because wherever the train stops will have its own center of gravity and develop businesses to support the site. At the same time, having a transportation hub that combines the airport and rail seems like the smartest idea."
Jeffrey Tkac: "I did not get a chance to read about the voting last night, but what is criminal about this was the budgeting. The original quotes when it was voted on by the people of this state has no relation to the budget now! Putting it in a business perspective, if I would have bid a certain number to my customer, I would have to live with it, notwithstanding circumstances beyond my control. This is criminal and we wonder why we end up having any faith in our current California political structure. Did I say criminal yet?"