The Bakersfield City Council voted to postpone a plan to purchase an office complex at 1900 East Brundage Lane to turn it into an emergency homeless shelter.
In a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan absent, the council chose to delay any potential purchase until late January.
The vote came during fierce opposition.
Councilman Willie Rivera came out strongly against the shelter, which is in his ward. He said he was concerned about the costs, and with saddling, “southeast Bakersfield with a shelter that will never close.”
He spoke passionately during the meeting, saying he was “frustrated as hell” in what he called a flawed process.
“I’d argue that there are cheaper, more efficient, better ways of addressing this,” he said, later adding that the neighborhood had already been burdened by challenges.
The city would pay $3.8 million for 7.5 acres of property, along with $1.1 million for 10 acres of vacant property adjacent to the site. The city predicts the site would cost $1.9 million to construct.
The site is meant to be a temporary facility.
Rivera was joined in his concerns by nearly all the rest of the council. Only Councilman Andrae Gonzales spoke favorably of the site, with the remainder taking stances in opposition.
A large contingent of neighbors and businesses, churches and even a school spoke in opposition of the city’s plan. Most of the speakers either lived or worked near the proposed site and brought up concerns typically associated with the argument, “not in my backyard.”
“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said John Sacco, owner of Sierra Recycling and Demolition, a facility next to the city’s proposed site.
He said the shelter would bring more homeless individuals to a busy street that was traversed by “tens of thousands” of trucks each year.
“Somebody is going to wander onto Brundage Lane and somebody is going to get killed.”
The nearby Valley Bible Fellowship also brought up criticisms of the city’s plan, saying the proposed 450 bed maximum capacity was too large.
“We don’t think there’s been enough conversation,” said Valley Bible Pastor Tom Touchstone.
Other residents of the nearby Cottonwood neighborhood came out to the meeting, saying their already-strained neighborhood could not shoulder the additional burden of a nearby shelter.
However, Bakersfield Homeless Center CEO Louis Gill reminded the City Council that they would likely face opposition wherever they decided to put the facility.
“There is no perfect location,” he said. “There will always be a business that says it will be incompatible with their use.”
The city had previously selected Weill Park north of Golden State Avenue as the site for an emergency homeless shelter, but pulled back after nearby residents complained and concerns arose over a potential lawsuit.
The zoning of Weill Park exposed the city to potential litigation, according to the city. The East Brundage location, which is zoned for heavy manufacturing, would not require a zone change to construct the shelter, unlike Weill Park.
Only two properties in Bakersfield were determined to be on the market, and zoned correctly for a homeless shelter. The first location, in Old Town Kern, was considered to be too small. The East Brundage spot allowed for a large facility, with extra room the city could use to construct affordable housing.
The city plans to construct the shelter in phases, starting with 100 to 150 beds in the first year, before scaling up potentially to 450 beds. The city also plans to build a Bakersfield Police Department substation on the property of the shelter, and provide private security within 10 blocks of the site.
“We want to make sure that we’re not having a negative impact on our neighbors,” said Assistant City Manager Jacqui Kitchen.
She said that the recent point-in-time count of Kern County’s homeless population revealed that 91 percent of homeless individuals said they would use an emergency shelter if it did not split them up from their partners, allowed them to keep pets, and let them keep their possessions, among other concerns.
The city’s shelter aims to do just that, filling a gap other Bakersfield shelters do not.
In an effort to reduce impacts on the surrounding area, the shelter will not serve daily meals, and it will not allow walk-ins, only admitting referrals. The restrictions are meant to reduce homeless individuals hanging out outside the facility on a daily basis.
“When you drive by, you won’t know this is an emergency shelter,” Kitchen said.
Passersby may not know the property is an emergency shelter because the site may not ever become an emergency shelter.