Bruce Freeman

Bruce Freeman

He's the Ward 5 candidate no doubt everyone knows. His large, blue campaign signs are scattered all over southwest Bakersfield: "Bruce Freeman — Bakersfield City Council — Proven Business Leader."

And then there's the fact he, well, led most of that area's development while president of one of the most powerful, influential companies in Bakersfield, Castle and Cooke.

The 67-year-old says his business and financial experience is what most qualifies him for the Ward 5 seat, which opened up after Councilman Jeff Tkac's suicide in early January.

"Totally loved the guy," Freeman told The Californian editorial board this week. "Very happy with his election; thought he was a good man." 

Freeman said he decided to run when nobody else with the right experience stepped up. His two opponents are carpenter and vocational instructor Ryan Nance, 42, and stay-at-home father Noel Pineo, 58.

"There are other people running, but I think our problems have to do with more financial, business-type decisions," he said. "Growing jobs — which is something that I sort of spent my life doing — balancing budgets, getting through recessions."

Freeman's idea for helping the city's shrinking revenue is to make Bakersfield the most business-friendly place in California.

"We want to have a reputation that we are a great place to do business," he said. "I'd like them to say Bakersfield is the best place in California to do business."

To accomplish this, he has proposed looking for and addressing points that are disrupting businesses' ability to grow or thrive.

For example, he would look at the Bakersfield Planning Commission's approval processes and identify what's "broken down in the system" or what's "frustrating people." Then he'd explore how to improve those processes.

He pulled out the city budget for this fiscal year and the previous two years. The city's main revenue sources are property and sales tax. Freeman pointed out the city's revenue from property taxes has gradually increased but sales tax revenue has decreased.

He said he'd like to help attract more sales-tax generating businesses such as restaurants, car dealerships and other retail.

And as his campaign signs suggest, Freeman has done this kind of managing before.

Freeman was an English teacher and football and basketball coach before deciding to go into business. As president of Castle and Cooke's Mainland Division, he oversaw development of shopping centers and homes in California, Arizona and Florida. In Bakersfield, he led projects like Seven Oaks, Brimhall, Silver Creek and The Marketplace.

Freeman said when he came in, the company was bloated. There were staffers sitting idly at their desks, reading newspapers. So he reduced staff sizes.

Laura Whitaker, who worked at the land development company before and during Freeman's tenure, said the staff reduction created efficiencies and better communication within the division.

Whitaker worked with Freeman as senior vice president for the 21 years he worked at Castle and Cooke. When he retired, she took his place as president.

"I learned from somebody good," she said.

Whitaker applauded Freeman's ability to mentor senior staff as well as his leadership on projects like The Marketplace, where he proposed using the same architectural design as the Seven Oaks' County Club.

She also praised his "brilliant mind," meaning his overall business sense.

"He's very, very good at land planning," she said, adding that he would work with landscapers and others to create those high-end developments for which the company is known.

But she acknowledged sometimes that mind works a little too fast in conversations.

"It's sometimes hard to keep up with him because he skips a few steps," she said.

Meanwhile, Morgan Clayton, president of a local security system business, knows Freeman through their work on several boards, including the California State University, Bakersfield Foundation and Dignity Health Mercy Hospitals Community Board. He described Freeman as having a Type A personality — being very driven — and someone who asks tough questions.

"I would vote for him because of what I've seen demonstrated in the boardroom," Clayton said.

He explained that Freeman will track the progress of things and in board meetings "drill deeper into the numbers and ask why" so he can make things work better.

Clayton said Freeman running for Ward 5's seat demonstrates he has a "deep concern for our community."

"He's choosing this rather than just enjoying life," Clayton said, referring to Freeman's freedom since retirement.

While Nance has accused Freeman of carpetbagging because he's voted in Newport Beach in recent years, Freeman is the one with an exhaustive list of local campaign contributions and endorsements, including from the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce and former Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall.

Freeman said while he has received criticism for what he's said about pensions, he said he doesn't have a stance on pensions; he's just talking about them and the burden they put on the city's finances.

"That's the worst way to deal with a problem," Freeman said in response to people criticizing his statements on pensions. "Is not to talk about it."

Freeman said he knows he cannot change pensions so instead, the city needs to grow. That growth would happen from making it as easy as possible for businesses to come to Bakersfield.

"However good we are, we have to get better," Freeman said.

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at (661) 395-7368. Follow her on Twitter via @TBCCityBeat.

(1) comment

Stephen

Occupancy of our local hotels are usually full during the week but slack off on weekends. Does Mr. Freeman have a plan for addressing this? Like enhancing tourist friendly assets?

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