Another hot weekend, another drowning in the Kern River.
So far this year, that makes 11, with three missing.
And still the Kern County Board of Supervisors has done nothing.
Oh, yes, Supes are “considering” options — possibly some signs by popular spots on the river or charging folks who have to be rescued.
The drownings and massive rescue responses started two months ago and Supes just broached this topic last week, right before the board went dark this week and next.
The earliest they’ll get back to it is Aug. 8.
Way to respond to an emergency, guys.
Even though the City of Bakersfield has jurisdiction over a smaller portion of the river, the Fire Department has been extremely active posting warnings on social media, issuing a statewide alert and public service announcements.
The department, along with a Search and Rescue coordinator in the Sheriff's Office, even sought out the host of an annual boozy river float that attracts thousands each year to give a stern warning about what could happen in the swollen river this year.
The city is also working with Caltrans to see if it can post warnings on its digital signs, according to City Manager Alan Tandy, who added that even though city funds are short, staff has been trying to get the word out in other ways.
I applaud the city’s efforts.
And I’m really impressed by recent actions on the part of nonprofit Clinica Sierra Vista.
Clinica will have five billboards, two in Spanish, up around town by the start of next week.
It’s also preparing radio advertisements and a social media campaign warning people that if you challenge that river, the river WILL win.
“The Kern is deadly,” the billboards say. “No matter how irresistible it looks — resist.”
Total cost: About $23,000.
Major, MAJOR kudos to Clinica.
Instead of clucking about how awful all these drownings are, Clinica has moved quickly and decisively to get the word out in a big way to people who are just hoping to cool off as summer continues to bake us in 100-plus degree temperatures.
Truly, I cannot thank Clinica enough for taking this on.
Now, speaking of charging people who have to be rescued, which was suggested by Supervisor David Couch, that’s a topic that’s come up before and I don’t think it’s worth our time to revisit.
Even Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who doesn’t have much sympathy for people who go in the river when it’s this obviously dangerous, was hinky about charging.
“If there’s a mechanism for charging someone who’s been irresponsible, I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” Youngblood told me when I wrote about this back in early June. “But how do you tell a family who’s just lost a child, ‘Hey your kid’s dead and here’s a bill for $7,000?’ I’m not in favor of doing that.”
Couch seemed to suggest the fee could be used as a greater deterrent.
Such as, posting signs warning people to stay out of the river and that if they don’t they could be liable for the costs to save them.
OK, but what about just posting some signs already?
There are signs about the feral cats in Hart Park but nothing about the river. Sheesh.
Anyhow, the county would have to pass an ordinance to be able to charge such a fee and that could take months.
It’s clearly not that difficult, or costly, to pull together a simple advertising campaign to get people’s attention.
The county should piggyback on Clinica’s start and buy more billboard space and more radio time, especially on Spanish-language stations in southern California.
Supervisors could each take a little from their discretionary funds and get an ad campaign going in no time.
And, believe me, they have the money.
Supervisor Mick Gleason, whose district includes the Kern River Valley, has $265,000 in his discretionary fund.
Supervisor Mike Maggard, whose district includes the valley portion of the river, has more than $419,000 in his fund.
Supervisors Couch and Zack Scrivner each have more than $204,000. Supervisor Leticia Perez has the least, with only $61,000 in her fund.
I know that some people might not want to see any Kern County dollars spent to keep SoCal people safe.
But these river rescues are done at our expense and it’s our responders who are put in danger.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue teams have gone out on an estimated 65 rescues this year (mostly since it warmed up).
The Bakersfield Fire Department has gone out on 31.
Though county’s Search and Rescue is manned mostly by volunteers — we're extremely lucky to have them — but there are still equipment and other personnel costs.
Because every single rescue is treated as an absolute life-or-death situation, meaning ambulances, fire engines and sometimes even a helicopter rush to the scene.
We’ve lost 11 people, with three still missing, so far this year.
Our worst year was 1986 when 15 people drowned in the Kern.
If a billboard or a Spanish-language radio blurb could keep one more family from losing a loved one, I’d say that’s money well spent.
Thank you, Clinica Sierra Vista, for recognizing that fact.
Now, could someone please pry open the county’s eyes?