Confronted with telephone calls and criticism from residents and at least two city councilmen, Bakersfield officials have postponed the Aug. 4 removal of 5,349 commemorative bricks and teal-colored tiles from Centennial Plaza.
The project, prompted by safety, liability and cost issues, hasn’t gone away, but according to City Manager Alan Tandy will be considered Aug. 13 by the Bakersfield City Council.
Centennial Plaza, which turns 16 this year, features a variety of commemorative tiles and surfaces.
Those in question are nearest the fountain at the southeast corner of Truxtun Avenue and N Street.
The remodel, announced by a Public Works Department press release Friday afternoon, sought to address subsidence problems and wear-and-tear issues that have cracked some bricks and tiles and made others sink.
An uneven surface creates a serious trip-and-fall hazard — and puts the city at risk of being sued, its top official said.
“It’s primarily safety-related,” Tandy said. “We have had claims and litigation, and so we’re attempting to make absolutely certain that there is no exposure to claims based on trip-and-falls caused by irregularities in the surface.”
He described the fountain nearest the corner as “a costly element” of the plaza, pointing out that when a heavy vehicle drove over the fountain several years ago, it caused more than $100,000 in damage.
Stuart Patteson, operations manager for the public works department, said the fountain originally featured decorative spray features similar to those found in fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas — but these corroded in four to five years and developed problems.
“It was nothing on that scale, but that’s the same concept, where you could make it dance or have different patterns where one day it might look like a wave, the next day you could make it look like something else,” Patteson said. “They had a lot of corrosion and deterioration in the pneumatic system. They finally just bypassed the pneumatic system, to be just a fountain squirting up.”
Nearly 41 percent of the more than $1.8 million raised to pay for Centennial Plaza came from the sale of the ceremonial bricks and tiles targeted for removal.
These sales accounted for nearly $754,000.
Stamped in capital letters with words like “love,” “memory” and “peace,” as well as more humorous rhymes recalling people like “No Fault Walt,” the bricks are a way for Bakersfield residents to remember anniversaries, friends, family and beloved.
“This is like a graveyard. People come and invest money to pay for a monument, a memorial, and people don’t have the right to remove that. It’s really a sad deal that they went behind everybody’s back,” said Bakersfield resident Tasha Lepo, whose name is on a brick with ex-husband David and son Jonah commemorating the Smutny family.
Plans to redo Centennial Plaza didn’t come out of nowhere; according to Management Assistant Caleb Blaschke, who counted each brick at Truxtun and N, the project has been in the works about six months.
Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson said announcing it via press release after 2 p.m. Friday sent the wrong impression to residents, some of whom had saved to buy their bricks on an installment plan.
“I’ve been fielding calls on this all day. It wasn’t the most sensitive way to deal with the residents of our city,” Johnson said, adding he was glad the City Council would have a chance to discuss it. “Some of these people didn’t have the money, they had to make payment plans. We got it wrong. We need to get it right.”
A Facebook page about the issue, KEEP the Centennial Bricks at the Bakersfield Rabobank Arena, went up Friday and had 473 likes late Monday.
Pamela Townsend, a retired 20-year Planning Department employee said she and her family bought at least four bricks, and she was shocked to hear of their removal.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I immediately got so angry,” said Townsend, who now lives in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., but makes time to visit Centennial Plaza when she’s frequently back in Bakersfield in order to visit the names of her late husband Earl and late daughter Amy.
“It’s just a memorial thing,” Townsend said.
Amy’s daughter and Townsend’s granddaughter, 15-year-old Carly Osorio, an incoming sophomore at Kern Valley High School, agreed, saying she’s planning to address the council.
“Those bricks have sentimental value to them. How could someone even think of removing them? I understand the safety hazard, but they should have thought of the safety hazard before they put them in,” Osorio said. “I don’t know a lot about life, and I don’t know what reality is, but I do know that my mother who is deceased, her name is on five bricks there. This is part of Bakersfield history. This is a monument there.”
Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, whose late daughter Joyce is remembered as “precious” on one of six family bricks and tiles, agreed the plaza is part of history but said she also understands the city’s perspective.
“Who’s going to — we don’t have the funds or the manpower to keep them maintained and replaced. Is it our financial burden forever to keep this done?” Sullivan asked. “It doesn’t have to be down there. If it’s the best thing for the city to return the bricks, we will continue to enjoy the bricks we placed down there.”
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, who in a Sunday press release had asked the project be delayed, said he hoped the council could offer it new direction.
“You can be mesmerized for a long time, looking at the different tiles and the things that were written on them. These commemorate significant events in people’s lives and they wanted them in front of that arena,” Maxwell said.
“Hopefully, there will be better news in the future, that they come up with a solution that keeps everybody happy. We’ll come up with a solution. I don’t think that we’ll get to the point where we’ll take them out and remove them.”