Very often on Saturday mornings (usually quite early — before the brunching set has wandered over to The Padre), groups of volunteers patrol the streets of downtown Bakersfield, scooping up and bagging litter, reporting graffiti through the city’s app, and generally trying to keep the area clean and orderly for all of us.
They volunteer through the local nonprofit, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful. A few months ago, I donned a bright orange safety vest and joined the crew. I was blown away by this small group’s passion for keeping our streets tidy. It’s a painstakingly tedious process. With each cigarette butt that I carefully clasped and emptied into my bag with a borrowed trash picker tool, I wondered “Could there be a better, more efficient way?”
Turns out, there just may be. Basic services, like keeping sidewalks clean, signage uniform, landscaping maintained and lighting in good working order, are difficult for a municipalities to keep up with. This is why many customers flock to the orderliness of private suburban shopping malls. And volunteers should not be relied upon to complete services like litter removal. In an effort to compete and learn from the lessons of private malls in the suburbs, downtown business owners in cities across the country are joining forces; they’re organizing, and it seems to be working.
About a year ago, a committee of over 25 downtown business owners began developing the Downtown Bakersfield Property Based Business Improvement District (PBID) Plan. An improvement district (or BID) is an organization of property owners in a commercial district who tax themselves to raise money for neighborhood improvement. Core functions usually include keeping sidewalks and curbs clean, removing graffiti, and patrolling the streets.
Improvement districts understand the value of the public spaces between businesses. The theory behind a business improvement district is that simple things — such as keeping sidewalks clean and safe — matter enormously to the urban quality of life. And property values in some of the most successful BIDs, such as those in downtown Sacramento, Visalia, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, are rising, and their reputations (once considered filthy, unsafe places) have improved dramatically.
The BID movement is one of the most important developments in local governance in the last two decades. There are anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 such districts nationwide, and the number grows monthly. BIDs have unleashed an enormous amount of private sector creativity towards the solution of public problems.
Imagine a downtown with sparkling sidewalks (free from gum and cigarettes) and well-maintained lighting, where trees are always watered and trimmed and friendly street ambassadors guide shoppers to restaurants. Picture a downtown business district with a comprehensive marketing campaign with maps so visitors know where they can easily find parking and access amenities. In this future-perfect downtown, volunteers would plant flowers and organize events instead of completing tedious and exhausting basic services. A PBID may just be the way to get us there.
Vintage Is In: Going Underground Records turns 16 this September. This “honey hole of a record shop,” as described by one reviewer on Yelp, has been a longtime downtown staple. The tidy store full of wooden shelves lined with albums is located at 1312 19th St.
The management will hold a month-long sale to celebrate the shop’s anniversary:
Sept 2-9: 50 percent off all used vinyl $9.98 and under;
Sept 11-16: 30 percent all stereo gear;
Sept 18-27: 20 percent off all new vinyl;
Sept 28-30: 75 percent off all used vinyl $4.98 and under.
Owner Ron Ramirez has owned the store since it opened in 2001. They buy and sell new and used records. Ramirez also releases records through his Going Underground label.
Rebuilding Downtown: Reader Moe Adame wrote in to say that he agrees that a healthy downtown makes for a healthy city. Moe travels throughout Europe and thinks we could learn a thing or two from European city centers. He mentioned that Los Angeles is a great example of a downtown revitalization success story. “Please continue to push the downtown angle and let’s get more people interested in downtown Bakersfield. Why I don’t work for the visitor’s bureau is a mystery to me!”
The Local Business Improvement District Plan: If you’re interested in getting more involved with the Bakersfield PBID, contact the Downtown Business Development Corporation at (661) 325-5892.
Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.