Reader: Read your column in Friday's paper ("Another study, another statistical cellar," Jan. 25); thoroughly enjoyed it.
We’re bad, but this (Brandeis University) study (of opportunities for the future health and prosperity of children living in the 100 largest metro areas of the U.S., ranked) was an abomination. (Bakersfield was ranked last among the 100 cities studied.) And, it’s unfortunate that money and policy will follow this study, rather than a more accurate one.
For instance, they use metro areas — Bakersfield Metropolitan Statistical Areas — which is an important distinction between the actual city, and the city and its economic and demographic “companions” (the MSA definition). Statistics such as MSA population, land area, population per square mile and housing units per square mile are telling.
If you look at it — the numbers are a little rough, but relatively accurate given my glance at it — Bakersfield ranks (out of 348):
No. 88 in total MSA population
No. 16 in land area, square miles
No. 300 in population per square mile and housing units per square mile
So, what they needed to do was to weight the outcomes based on these measures. Why? Because they speak to the nature of the area (bigger area, factored with population, means more rural, which means longer commute time (one of the study's factors); fewer people per square mile tends to indicate more blue-collar occupations, since they are more rural, including farming, mining, and manufacturing).
They do this thing with something called “County Health Rankings,” where they fail to correct for a number of contributory factors that naturally lend themselves to better outcomes. So, instead of some possible insights that could be gleaned from this (in a less dense area like Bakersfield), such as potentially adding child care “centers,” using Medi-Cal monies, in areas where parents have to commute for work (Arvin, Delano, Lamont, McFarland, etc.), we get stupid stuff like this.
It’s unfortunate that I even know that they missed the MSA size-density issue, because they do it every year, for every study. It’s mathematically disingenuous. Weighted analyses can be flawed (arbitrary choice of measure), but population or size per capita are commonly accepted measures with little issue.
— Richard Gearhart, Ph.D., CSUB Assistant Professor of Economics
Price: Is there any doubt that comparing Madison or, say, the home of Brandeis University, metro Boston (4,500 square miles, 4.2 million population) to metro Bakersfield (8,163 square miles, 839,631 population) is a case of apples and kumquats? Of course MSA Bakersfield will have all of the social byproducts of its highly rural nature — poverty, low density and fewer, more dispersed services. I tried to point that out by painting all around it, but you nailed it. Bakersfield has serious issues but this study, while making some valid points, is hamstrung by the flaws you mention.
Reader: The other scary place included in our “Metropolitan Statistical Area” ... North Edwards. Egad!
I find it interesting that studies from places such as Brandeis look at issues such as this through their own rose-colored glasses. So Brandeis, in suburban Boston, right next to the Charles River, establishes its criteria based on what it sees closest to it. That’s the yardstick they apply to the rest of us.
I did a consulting gig for five months in Lancaster a few years back and found that 70 percent of the Antelope Valley population left each workday for jobs in Los Angeles, or “down below,” as they refer to greater L.A. in Lancaster-Palmdale. And those who worked locally in aerospace couldn’t leave their worksites for lunch because of all the security restrictions. Why so many people commuting from there? Affordable housing. Kern sees that too in places like Rosamond. Bakersfield now, according to the Census Bureau, has a measurable percentage of the population commuting to L.A. daily for work, just like Stockton and Modesto with commuters to the Bay Area. My point is that California has vastly different demographics than Massachusetts. People move to Bakersfield and Lancaster and Stockton etc. to provide a better quality of life for their children, to own a home, to be part of a community. Do the opportunities here look different than in suburban Boston? Assuredly. But one of the reasons I like living in Bakersfield is this city never shies from its problems and never stops trying to improve the quality of life here. And I’m not sure how Brandeis measures effort.
Ah, damn! I kind of wandered into the weeds. What I really wanted to say was thanks for another good read.
— Mike Stepanovich
Price: Affordable housing is, of course, one of Bakersfield's strong suits and a factor that elevates children's life opportunities because it allows parents to provide better living conditions than they might otherwise afford and devote a greater percentage of their income to other needs. The median home price in Bakersfield is $215,000; in Boston it's $410,000. So, yes, another potential flaw in the study.
Reader: Even Robert Price can’t put lipstick on this pig. Bakersfield is not really a bad place to raise a child, if you have the money.
Kids who managed to graduate from local public schools before the PSSB (private school separation boom) are definitely better off than those who graduated in the last two decades.
— Panfilo Fuentes
Reader: Who are these "experts" who have again ranked Bakersfield the worst in the nation for whatever insignificant category they have decided to study? This time it is "opportunity levels for children based on the neighborhood in which they live." These researchers have no real knowledge of our community.
On the same page as this article demeaning Bakersfield, there are stories about the 40th annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast and the City Council's latest attempt to alleviate homelessness. Positive attempts to solve problematic situations. In the Sports section, I read about two young men, R. Todd Littlejohn and Rashaan Shehee, who have returned to their hometown to mentor young people by coaching them in football and basketball. I hope they won't regret coming back to Bakersfield with its guaranteed low ranking determined by whatever comprises the next study. Regardless of the Brandeis University survey results, I believe Friday's paper illustrates that Bakersfield's positives far outweigh any negatives.
— Kitty DeArmond
Reader: I was really impressed with the article by Kerry Klein, writing for the USC Center for Health Journalism News Collaborative, about valley fever ("‘Eureka moment’ in valley fever case paves way for new research, treatment options," Jan. 20). It was very inspiring to hear the story of 4-year-old Abraham Gonzalez-Martinez and about the advances that are being made to cure valley fever. But as I continued to read about the research I saw one omission. It was the opinion of UC Merced Professor Katrina Hoyer that state Assemblymen Rudy Salas and Vince Fong were the people who got Gov. Jerry Brown to put funding in the budget for valley fever research ("Following funding boosts, momentum builds around valley fever research," Jan. 20 sidebar). Actually, the fight began with then-state Sen. Jean Fuller and I think you should give credit where credit is due. I know The Californian didn't write the story and I thought Kerry Klein did a great job; I just thought you should know about Sen. Fuller's role.
— Rodger Chambers
Price: You are correct. Sen. Fuller had been raising concerns about valley fever since at least her first year in office, 2006. We owe all three, and many others, our thanks.
Community Choice Aggregation — in which investor-owned utilities, or energy supply systems, use the buying power of resident-users within a defined jurisdiction to secure better energy supply contracts — makes sense to me, and Fresno deserves credit for moving in that direction. But I don't know what that has to do with my point: That if the state taketh away the Kern County oil industry, it ought to be prepared to giveth, too, by taking steps to help develop new industry that can potentially fill the immense hole the first action would create.
Reader: Why is our state's long-term plan to eventually eliminate oil production consistently referred to as a crackdown? ("Oilfield wastewater disposal operation near Bakersfield closes under pressure from regulators, environmentalists," Feb. 19, 2019; "Stock market spurns governor's oil crackdown," Nov. 20, 2019; "County supervisors take aim at state oil policies," Jan. 20; and more.) Oil production is not illegal, but referring to it as a crackdown implies that it is either illegal or undesirable. If the term is being used because that's what our state legislators call it, then it seems to me that it should be attributed to them or used in quotation marks, and not be used plainly without attribution or citation. Doing so looks like editorializing. While I'm sure that is not the intent, and the reporting is otherwise excellent and timely, the term still feels unfair to the energy industry.
— Andy Wonderly
Price: I don't think of the word "crackdown" as necessarily suggesting a law enforcement-type action against a party that has wronged society in some way. The word means "suppression" or "vigorous action," and though it can have a connotation that suggests lawful repression of malevolent types, it also has broader meaning.
John Cox, our business editor, adds this: "Here's why I use the term 'crackdown' in my stories. There are two things going on here and just one of them is actually a regulatory crackdown. Winding down California's in-state oil production is not the crackdown; it's state policy and the governor is moving more quickly than his predecessor to bring it about. The crackdown, on the other hand, is the state's continuing refinement of oil production regulations and the administration's enforcement of those regulations. That crackdown has led to new regulations for things like surface expressions, the moratorium on high-pressure steam injections and new layers of scrutiny for hydraulic fracturing. Those aspects of the governor's crackdown are only indirectly related to the state's goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045, and along with that, the state's goal of reducing oil supply as well as oil demand. It could be argued that the crackdown is only an accelerated focus on oilfield regulations that started in the mid to late 2000s."
Reader: I enjoy doing the Word Sleuth puzzle every day after reading the comics. I was surprised, dismayed and disappointed to find on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, MLK's birthday holiday, the topic of the Word Sleuth puzzle was "assassinated." To make the puzzle even more distasteful the unlisted clue was Martin Luther ____ Jr. I know you do not set the puzzle but you have the option of not printing it.
— Alexandra Wiyninger
Price: We don't have editors or page processors studying each of the puzzles every night to make sure all of the clues and solutions are appropriate; we simply trust that our puzzle vendors are professional and sensitive enough to make them so, and we have not been disappointed. That said, I too wish Word Sleuth had chosen to remember King in a different way.