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Jenifer Pitcher

Every day, The Californian receives letters to the editor about our city's litter problem. Every day, The Californian publishes an item about litter, whether it be an article, a blog mention or a public service announcement. And every day, the city of Bakersfield and Mayor Harvey Hall's office receive calls from people complaining about the litter problem on the freeways.

Our freeways are the gateway to businesses in Bakersfield. Whenever I go out of town and tell people I'm from Bakersfield, I always hear, "Oh, I've driven through there." And usually it's followed by an unpleasant statement and/or facial expression. We should not hear from other people that they have driven "through" our city. We want to hear people say, "Oh, I've been there." Or "I do business there." Whenever visitors take the time to actually come into our city, they are usually very impressed with our business climate. And I always hear people so impressed by how nice people are in Bakersfield. And they couldn't be more correct.

Unfortunately, very few visitors have the opportunity to see those great qualities because they do not stop in Bakersfield. Why would they? The view from the freeway suggests that Bakersfield is a dirty and unsafe place. And because of this unsafe image, our businesses and hotels are losing customers -- and money. And eventually, the city and county lose money because they do not receive the tax revenue, which means those of us who live in Bakersfield end up with unfixed potholes, streets and parks that are not maintained, and various other service cuts.

People have the attitude that since they pay taxes, it is the government's responsibility to pick up litter. I can see why people feel like this, but that's not exactly how it works. First of all, it shouldn't be anyone's responsibility to pick up litter other than the person who threw it on the ground. But that is very difficult to enforce. Second, most of the jobs the government is tasked with can actually be performed better and less expensively by contracting them out to private companies.

Caltrans has jurisdiction over our freeways. They used to contract with the community correctional facilities for inmates to do the litter removal. This worked out well for Caltrans, the CCFs and residents of Bakersfield. In 2011, under prison realignment, the CCFs lost their inmates and therefore Caltrans lost its workforce. Freeway litter has accumulated ever since.

This was one of the many unfortunate side effects of AB 109. Using Caltrans workers to clean the freeways made no sense because of the high cost of public employees. Fortunately, Bakersfield has come up with a solution.

The city of Bakersfield and Keep Bakersfield Beautiful have been working with Caltrans for quite some time. The Bakersfield Homeless Center has a contract in place for litter removal. Caltrans grants the city of Bakersfield access to the freeways; the city allows the Bakersfield Homeless Center that same access (and Caltrans still makes safety arrangements).

This all comes with a significant cost. So, the city is soliciting sponsorships from businesses around Bakersfield and Kern County for the Adopt-a-Highway program. The business sponsors a portion of the freeway, and the money goes toward the contract with the Bakersfield Homeless Center for litter removal every other week. In return, the business gets its logo on an Adopt-a-Highway sign on the 99, 58 or 178.

Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government is in full support of this effort. The litter problem is not only hurting our aesthetics, it is hurting our businesses. When the private sector is not thriving, the public sector cannot thrive. Our city and county have had to make significant cuts to services during the past few years because of the economic recession. We are just now seeing a glimmer of hope that we can get out of the economic hole. And I believe our elected officials have learned from past decisions that expanding government services is too costly. But our local municipalities can provide the services needed at a much lower cost by contracting with private entities and nonprofits. This plan not only allows for the city to contract out services, but also allows for the accrued cost to be picked up by sponsorships rather than the general fund.

Jenifer Pitcher i s the community and government liaison for Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government and vice chair of the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful Committee. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.