About 400 people packed into the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City luncheon Wednesday to hear about the city’s vision of prosperity and some of its challenges.
Mayor Karen Goh focused on what Bakersfield residents can do with each other to promote city health while City Manager Alan Tandy listed the city’s most pressing issues and showed off infrastructure projects aimed at improving traffic flow.
“When I can’t get out of City Hall because it’s blocked up from Oak,” Tandy said, “that’s a problem.”
Tandy talked about eventually expanding Truxtun Avenue around Oak Street, and he addressed the Centennial Corridor and the 24th Street widening projects.
He also mentioned new costs to the city, such as increasing water rates to finance the removal of a cancer-causing agent from drinking water and rising California public pension costs.
He reminded attendees that the resolution on housing and urban development funds that’s “not opposing anything but supporting” is coming up at the next meeting in addition to discussion about the controversial home improvement lending program, PACE.
Goh began with a video of “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson and read some of the negative comments that have been uttered about Bakersfield over the years.
“The armpit of California,” she read to an amused crowd. “Gateway to Barstow.”
Then she moved to her main focus: prosperity for Bakersfield through collaboration and branding.
“Let’s change the narrative of our community,” she said.
The proper mindset, which involves simple priorities like teaching people to keep streets clean, will allow Bakersfield to rebrand itself and attract new businesses to the city, she said.
Meanwhile, she said, businesses must work with schools to create programs to help students and better prepare them for the workforce.
“Maybe one day we don’t have to go elsewhere to get our jobs,” she told the mostly business-oriented crowd.
To help provide local jobs, she added, businesses should “consider hiring local for your technology needs.”
While she said the city will continue to support its traditional job base in the oil and agriculture industries, it’s time to diversify — and that should include tech jobs.
Newest City Councilmen Andrae Gonzales, representing downtown, and Bruce Freeman, representing Ward 5, also spoke about bringing jobs and growth to the city.
Gonzales said leaders are trying to hold more events downtown to encourage residents to stay here and shop on weekends.
Freeman echoed Goh’s statements on branding Bakersfield as a good place to do business.