Old Stockdale, that proud little bastion of winding, tree-lined streets and sprawling mansions spaced incongruously alongside quirky pastel bungalows and low, broad ranch homes, has a stubborn streak.
The 600-resident enclave, one of the most historic, unique neighborhoods in this part of California, is also surely one of the most independent.
For decades, residents of Old Stockdale have resisted municipal government's open invitation to be annexed into the city, despite having been overtaken long ago by Bakersfield's relentless westward expansion.
Until the 1960s, Old Stockdale — or "Olde" Stockdale, as some prefer — was a residential island in a vast sea of carrot tops and golden-brown farmland. Today it is a residential island in a sea of concrete, asphalt and cultivated Bermuda. A county island.
"It used to be way out there, all by itself," said restaurateur Skip Slayton, who has developed something of a second career researching the history of the Stockdale Country Club and its surrounding settlements. "Now look at it."
The city's on-and-off courtship, rejected most recently by a 195-5 vote of Old Stockdale residents in 1979, is back on: Annexation proponents, perhaps emboldened by the ballot-box failure of Kern County's proposed sales tax increase measure — a hit that can only further drain the resources of the short-handed Kern County Sheriff's Office — are again raising the possibility of joining the city.
Were Old Stockdale to do so, it would join the adjacent, much younger neighborhood of Stockdale Country Club Estates, aka Stockdale Estates, which borders the west side of the golf course and also feeds Stockdale Elementary School.
Stockdale Estates, with its three north-facing, wrought-iron-appointed masonry monument signs, might look like the bigger deal to the passing Stockdale Highway motorist, but the more exclusive neighborhood, with its unassuming, almost nondescript Fairway Drive entry street, is a few hundred feet east. A detour down Fairway Drive reveals some of the area's oldest, most grandiose mansions — alongside well-manicured but more pedestrian homes. Many are occupied by second- and third-generation residents of Old Stockdale.
In between the two neighborhoods, impossible to miss, is the regal, 119-year-old, forged-iron entry gate of Stockdale Country Club.
It is through those gates, down that long, curving, narrow private road, that city officials will convene with Old Stockdale residents this spring to discuss annexation. The May 15 meeting starts at 6 p.m.
Members of the Stockdale Annex Mutual Water Co., one of two tiny water districts serving the 225-home community, asked the city to make the pitch.
They've got a couple of good reasons.
Brian Grant, a seven-year member of the annex water board, says the system is old and in need of a costly future overhaul. He says a neighborhoodwide hookup to the city's sewer system — not mandatory with annexation — would have the added benefit of protecting the water table that both Old Stockdale water districts tap into. No documented leakages have occurred, he says, but 225 aging septic tanks, installed over the neighborhood's water supply, is asking for trouble.
"I feel like it's just time," Grant said. "This antiquated system (in Old Stockdale) evolved very differently than Bakersfield. When it started, it was an outpost. In 2019, it shouldn't feel like an outpost. The first houses were built here in the 1920s. It's almost been 100 years."
Assistant Bakersfield City Manager Chris Huot said Old Stockdale residents who might choose to hook into the city's sewer system would pay a one-time connection fee of $4,400 — payable interest-free over eight years — plus a second, one-time, undetermined, shared-cost fee to bring a system backbone line to a given street, and $215 a year.
CITY OR COUNTY POLICING?
Law enforcement is the other big issue — and for many, the biggest. The population here skews older, retired and therefore theoretically more vulnerable than in many neighborhoods. And although burglaries are relatively rare, residents have been reporting a number of mailbox thefts of late. What might be next?
This is Sheriff's Office territory, which means that, unless they happen to be in the neighborhood, deputies responding to a call in Old Stockdale must cross city streets — no doubt speeding past the occasional, unrequested Bakersfield police patrol car.
The BPD is probably already patrolling somewhere in the Old Stockdale vicinity, Huot says. "But if you look at a map, you've got miles between the area a deputy may be patrolling" and Old Stockdale, he said.
Huot said he doesn't know how that distance might affect sheriff's deputies' response time to Old Stockdale, but he noted that for priority two (and lower) calls from other, previously annexed neighborhoods, “We've seen city response times of 50 percent faster."
Sheriff Donny Youngblood has no interest in ceding Old Stockdale's 273 acres to the city, and neither did his predecessors. "Over my dead body," former Sheriff Carl Sparks once said about that possibility.
The reasons may include affection and loyalty, but there's also this: For the 2018-19 fiscal year, Old Stockdale will have collectively paid $1.35 million in property taxes, of which $272,650 will go the county's general fund — of which the Sheriff's Office is a primary benefactor.
The BPD is better equipped to patrol Old Stockdale than perhaps ever before, thanks to November's Measure N windfall, a voter-approved sales tax increase that will mean $50 million in additional annual revenue — and additional patrol officers. The Sheriff’s Office is perhaps worse prepared, given its failed Measure I tax increase and its already dire fiscal and personnel circumstances, to serve Old Stockdale.
But Youngblood is determined to capably serve Old Stockdale's residents anyway, and he clearly needs the revenue more than the BPD does. That, however, may not be Old Stockdale's first concern.
A COUNTY-FAVORING CULTURE
But pro-annexation forces face challenges that have little to do money or services: history.
Old Stockdale is county, not city, just because it is.
The story of this neighborhood, and Stockdale Country Club — its social, recreational and cultural heartbeat — is long and distinguished. It's a Netflix miniseries in waiting, with its British noblemen, Confederate generals and reviled Old West financiers at every turn.
That last character would be 19th-century San Francisco capitalist Lloyd Tevis, predatory, rich and "inordinately vain," as one contemporary called him. Tevis' son, William S. Tevis, became president of Kern County Land Co., from which sprang the settlement known originally as simply "Stockdale." As the settlement's vague, unsatisfying lore has it, Lloyd Tevis' wife named it for family friends from England.
"It's a quiet community, extremely safe," said resident Dave Anderson, a financial adviser and radio host. "It has a real family feel — very close-knit. I don't know if it would have the same feel if it were part of the city."
Yes, how does a quirky, clubbish, legacy-rich neighborhood, with its randomly drawn streets, out-of-order house addresses and wildly diverse architectural themes assimilate into the stifling orderliness of the rest of the city? Some will oppose annexation on that esoteric basis alone.
Lack of information is another challenge annexation advocates will face.
One resident tells of attending an Old Stockdale Neighborhood Watch meeting, where people were discussing how best to preserve and protect the rural charm they have long cultivated. The subject of annexation came up, and one woman expressed opposition on the basis of the additional streetlights the city would foist on them. Streetlights here are indeed fewer and farther between than in adjacent, incorporated Bakersfield.
"From what I hear," the Neighborhood Watch member declared, "drug dealers like to sell their drugs under streetlights."
The city would not, unless a property is substantially changed, require Old Stockdale residents to add curbs gutters, sidewalks — or streetlights.
Most who oppose annexation will hopefully have more sound reasons for feeling the way they do.
Justin Salters, a one-year board member of the older Stockdale Mutual Water Co., is not one of them, but he is "skeptical."
"I'm firmly in the undecided camp," he says.
He likes the responsible representation of the area's county supervisor, first David Couch and now Mike Maggard, reasoning that paid, full-time elected officials with paid staffs are better equipped to get things done than City Council members supported by city staff.
And he believes his water district is doing its job.
"I don't know that the city can operate the system as lean and efficient as we can," he said. "We provide safe, affordable water to our property owners because we essentially don't have overhead; we're a board of volunteers. We have professionals monitor and test the water, but we're lean.
"That's not an indictment of the city. But I believe the government that's closest to the people is the most effective. And we're their next-door neighbors."
John Pryor, who, with the late Ray Dezember, orchestrated the previous annexation vote — “They almost lynched us," Pryor says — believes Old Stockdale just has a deep-seated resistance to any change.
"It would be helpful for a review of the value of annexation to (Old Stockdale) residents ... both advantages and drawbacks. Many changes have occurred — including new residents," Pryor wrote in an email.
Is that change enough to redefine Old Stockdale, Bakersfield's little slice of Not Bakersfield? That's a question that residents of the well-to-do enclave may be answering sometime this year.