Bakersfield City Councilmen Russell Johnson and Terry Maxwell were correct to sound the alarm, warning Bakersfield residents that the city planned to remove engraved memorial bricks and tiles from Centennial Plaza. And City Manager Alan Tandy was wise to temporarily put the brakes on the plan after receiving calls from Johnson and Maxwell, as well as hearing the outrage expressed by the many families who bought bricks and tiles 16 years ago to help finance the creation of Centennial Plaza.
Instead of removing 5,349 bricks on Aug. 4, Tandy now says he will schedule a presentation before the City Council on Aug. 13 to discuss the need to remove the memorials and possible alternatives. Giving the matter a public airing before the City Council is something he and staff should have done before deciding to unceremoniously remove the bricks and tiles. Many of these bricks and tiles, which sold for $100-250 each, had been placed in Centennial Plaza as ongoing tributes to deceased loved ones or designed to memorialize significant events in people's lives.
The brick sales raised $742,000, or about 41 percent of the cost of constructing Centennial Plaza, in front of what is now called Rabobank Arena along Truxtun Avenue. It is hard to find words to adequately describe the profound insensitivity and callousness shown by city staff who distributed a news release last Friday afternoon announcing plans to remove the memorial bricks and tiles -- and giving donors until Sept. 30 to retrieve them from the City Corporation Yard.
Johnson and Maxwell said the news release was the first they had heard of the plan. Johnson voiced his alarm to both the city manager and The Californian. Maxwell issued a news release the next day calling for more "creative" thinking in dealing with the safety concerns city officials cited.
People who had purchased bricks and tiles expressed outrage. The Facebook page "KEEP the Centennial Bricks at the Bakersfield Rabobank Arena" went up to provided an additional forum for protests.
Tandy told The Californian that the cracking of the bricks and subsidence had created an uneven walking surface and the possibility of people falling. Public Works Operations Manager Stuart Patteson told The Californian that city staff also is considering replacing the plaza's signature spray fountains because they are difficult and expensive to maintain, and unauthorized public bathing is occurring.
Tandy noted that a 2009 accident that resulted in a heavy Army vehicle driving over the fountain caused more than $100,000. Of course, the city did not pay that cost. The Army and insurance picked up the tab.
When the city fundraisers sold those bricks and tiles, they were promoted as a way to help build Centennial Plaza and immortalize family members and businesses. It was never described as a disposable memorial that could be ripped out at the whim of city staff.
Sure, we get it. Nothing is forever, even if just 16 years hardly seems "forever." If the bricks and tiles are creating safety hazards, and the fountains now are annoying some at City Hall, maybe something needs to be done.
But, like Councilman Maxwell said, let's be creative about this. Let's consult with the people who paid their cold, hard cash for those memorials. Can't Centennial Plaza be fixed with the bricks and tiles in place? Is there some other use for these memorials? We hope so.