Dismissed yet again by the courts, county seat and the media. But, hey, here in East Kern, we’re used to that.
A federal court ruling that the Kern County Supervisorial district boundaries violated the California Voting Rights Act was one thing, but a complete lack of understanding of a complex county from Bakersfield media was another. Part of that stance was printed in Robert Price’s recent column “Cut Your Losses Supervisors and Start Drawing Lines.” It wasn’t just him — many members of the local media conveniently jumped on board with the district judge’s ruling and dismissed East Kern as simply “geographically vast but sparsely populated and overwhelming white.”
Now, as a knee-jerk reaction, it’s being asked that our area covering more than 4,000 square miles with communities like Rosamond, Mojave, the greater Tehachapi area, Ridgecrest and Lake Isabella all be represented by one person. I guess that makes sense from downtown media offices and courtrooms in Fresno, where us folks in the mountains and desert don’t really count. On average, Latinos make up 25 percent of the population of various East Kern communities. For some reason, MALDEF isn’t coming to their defense now that their political representation is being stripped away.
At issue for us is not skin color, but simply a dispersion of services at the county level. Already on the outskirts of the metro areas of the county that have a population of 600,000, East Kern is consistently asked to go without or receives limited support. Under a new single-supervisor proposal, we’re looking at duplicating top-level management within the region with more secondary offices, services and representation. With a cash-strapped county, I don’t see how that possibility pencils out in our communities, leaving us paying taxes to receive a lower level of support.
We may be one county, but the needs of East Kern are vastly different than that of the San Joaquin Valley, and even vary from community to community. Our previous representation model addressed that with an understanding that while the problems are different, so are the opportunities. I guess that will simply go by the wayside.
Kern County was formed in 1860 by taking pieces of then-Tulare and Los Angeles counties and creating an area of equal land mass. It has remained the same for more than 100 years. Maybe it’s time that gets revisited?
Ridgecrest has toyed with the idea of de-annexation on occasion, seeing greener pastures in nearby Inyo County. I guess the rest of us should consider that idea as well. As shown by the court ruling and the media, the geography, business, industry and political access of a group of people in East Kern is being smothered in favor of a system that allows one race to dominate the conversation.
Maybe a standalone East Kern County is the answer to what is the effective silencing of the voice of those located outside the metro areas.
Greg Garrett is the city manager in Tehachapi. Prior to that, he worked as a global executive at GE and was a vice president at Scaled Composites in Mojave. He is an honorary commander at Edwards Air Force Base and sits on the board of Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley and the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance.