The owners of Blue Oak Coffee Roasting Co. would like to press the reset button. They would like to forget the whole unfortunate, frightening business of last week. They would like to go back to just frothing lattes, baking 500-calorie scones and serving faithful clientele.
But Blue Oak owners Bernadette Sebastiani and Cynthia Price would also like to feel as though something good came of that morning, April 5, when, at the invitation of a well-meaning customer, a man with apparent mental health issues walked into their establishment at 20th and G streets. Within a matter of seconds the conversation escalated to threats of sexual violence and robbery. Then the man ran out the door.
They would like to forget their initial irritation with the Bakersfield Police Department and their uncomfortable discussion later that day with their Bakersfield City Councilman, Andre Gonzales, about downtown's ever-present vagrant population.
But if they can forget all of those things, it will be because all of the involved parties share one objective: a safe and thriving downtown. And, amid the challenges, they all see encouraging signs.
But at first there was anger.
Bernadette Sebastiani and Cynthia Price took to their Facebook page that morning to express their dismay at BPD's lack of response to their phoned-in report.
"Thanks Bakersfield PD for not bothering to show up to an attempted robbery and rape," Blue Oak posted. "We really appreciate the help."
Their post prompted a personal visit from Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin later that same day.
"He told them that we didn’t respond as quickly as we wanted to," Assistant Chief Greg Terry said Tuesday. "He told them our service did not reach his level of expectation and we would strive to do better in the future.”
"And we appreciated it," Sebastiani said.
Then, last Friday, BPD found the person investigators believe is their man: Joshua Harris, 23, arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats.
"A big thank you to BPD for the work they did to catch this guy!" Blue Oak posted.
(UPDATE: Harris pleaded not guilty in Kern County Superior Court on Wednesday. A judge kept bail at $25,000 for Harris, who is due back in court April 26.)
And please come back, officers. Free coffee if you've got a badge, Sebastiani said.
Some good came of the whole nasty experience: The Blue Oak's owners felt a sense of camaraderie and support from neighbors immediately afterward.
A half-dozen fellow small business owners, upon hearing about the incident, walked over to the Blue Oak, planted themselves and stayed practically all day just to lend their support.
"That meant a lot," Sebastiani said.
The experience has inspired conversation about what small downtown businesses might do to make their customers, and themselves, feel a little safer. Among the talking-stage suggestions: an arrangement in which businesses chip in to hire security during business hours.
Gonzales, who said he has talked to the Blue Oak's owners several times about their concerns about transients and break-ins, said he stopped by last week mostly just to keep channels of communications open.
"I just told them, 'In the future, reach out to me and give me a chance to respond,'" he said. "I want to hear from them first-hand. I don't know that I needed to be their first call, but a call would have been nice."
He said Measure N's 1-percent sales tax increase, which went into effect this month, ought to help the situation.
"There are a number of things the city is working on, thanks to Measure N, which will help," he said. "More police officers on the streets and an emergency shelter that the city will fund that will connect people with appropriate social services.
"It may not seem to the general public that a lot is being done — and I'm the first to say that nothing can be done fast enough — but we are making improvements."
And with that, we press the reset button. Hopefully it won't be needed too often.