Bakersfield City Councilman Willie Rivera, whose current term ends next November, has had a change of heart about running for re-election in 2018.
Rivera said earlier this year that he didn’t plan to run again for the Ward 1 seat, but he has changed his mind. Rivera, who has served on the council since 2013, said he made the decision in November for a few reasons.
“I have a lot of friends and family who have been encouraging me,” he said. “But even more than that, I think we’ve started having some very important discussions at the city that I don’t think are over and are part of large challenges the city will have to tackle in the coming years. I have a little more I want to say about those things, so I thought I should throw my name back out there.”
One of those challenges is the city’s fiscal situation. Due primarily to rising employee retirement and health care costs, the city could see a revenue shortfall of up to $16 million by the 2022-23 fiscal year if action isn’t taken to increase revenue and/or reduce expenditures.
“I think those discussions have real impacts on city services and city priorities,” Rivera said. “It’s not something we’re going to solve today. I’ve got my own ideas on how to approach things, and I want to share those with my colleagues.”
If elected, Rivera said he will continue to focus on some of his priorities, such as securing funding for infrastructure improvements in his district, which covers southeast Bakersfield.
“I’m committed to doing more of that,” he said. “I think that’s what southeast Bakersfield needs.”
Rivera said he would also like to continue to help some of the facilities in his ward, such as the Bakersfield Senior Center on Fourth Street.
“I feel really strongly about ensuring that I can be there to make sure these types of investments don’t fall off the table and that the city remains committed to this type of work,” he said.
Besides improving the city at large, Rivera said, he feels the way city government, including the City Council, operates needs to be examined and changed if need be.
“I’m not convinced that the part-time City Council form of government we have is the most effective, most responsive way to represent the citizens of Bakersfield,” he said. “I think we have an issue with how hands-on our council has been in the past.”
Rivera said he believes it would be better for the council to meet more than just a couple times a month so that they can discuss some issues in more detail. Rivera said he would also like for the council to have more discussions with department heads at the city, not just City Manager Alan Tandy and City Attorney Virginia Gennaro.
“There are ways to bring city government closer to the people, make it more accountable to the people,” he said. “I think we should make department heads directly accountable to the City Council, not just the city manager, so we have a greater ability to influence changes within different departments and offer counsel to department heads.”
Rivera said he would also like to see a Ward 1 City Council member someday serve as vice mayor.
“The idea of rotational vice mayor has a lot of merit,” he said. “Ward 1 deserves at some point to have their representative be vice mayor, and that hasn’t happened for a very long time.”
Rivera has already begun the re-election campaign process. He said he has filed paperwork with the state, started a re-election committee and is already in the process of raising money.
“I’m in full campaign mode,” he said. “I take campaigns really seriously. I enjoy the opportunities to get back out into the community and the neighborhoods around me.”
Rivera said that if he does get re-elected in November, he will continue to fight for his constituents, even when he’s at odds with the rest of the council.
“I have committed myself to always speak my mind and call things out as I see them,” he said. “I’m going to continue doing that post-2018.”