Cooperation between the city of Bakersfield and Kern County has once again come under scrutiny as the two entities attempt to build two homeless shelters in the city.
After hearing what he described as pervasive myths and rumors of problems between the city and the county on the homeless issue, City Manager Alan Tandy used more than two pages of the city’s weekly general information packet to highlight how the city and county are working together to create more beds for transient individuals.
The memo was partly a list of the city’s homeless mitigation efforts and partly a defense of recent decisions made by local officials as they try to build support for a new homeless shelter location in southeast Bakersfield.
“Every big project in Bakersfield goes through some challenges sometimes and it isn’t shocking,” Tandy said of the so-called rumors. “It's just part of life.”
He pointed to the restructuring of the Kern County Homeless Collaborative into the Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative as one of the main accomplishments the city and county have made together. The new entity rebrands the old Kern County Homeless Collaborative and provides a small staff to organize homeless outreach efforts conducted by both the city and county. The new board of directors, which has met four times, is currently searching for a CEO to lead the organization.
“It isn’t stuff that captures headlines, but the reconstruction of the Homeless Collaborative is a very big deal,” he said. “And that was done in full cooperation of the city and county.”
But despite the city and county working together on certain aspects of homelessness, a point of contention has emerged recently.
In early November, the county requested the city pay for part of the operating costs of its planned low-barrier homeless shelter near Golden State Avenue in exchange for adding 100 beds to the site.
The facility is slated to hold 150 beds, and adding more could ease the pressure off city officials from building an additional shelter on either Brown Street or East Brundage Lane. The city says the two locations are the only viable options for a new shelter, but residents of the neighborhoods that would house the shelter have spoken out strongly against placing a building in either of the locations proposed by the city.
Hopes that the city would abandon its two proposed locations in exchange for a larger county facility appear to be meritless.
While the city pursues its own shelter, city officials told the county the city will provide extra police presence to the area, allow for the nearby Weill Park to be used during the day and upgrade street lighting, but it won’t pay for operational costs.
The city justified its rejection of the county’s overtures by saying it did not want to fund “temporary infrastructure.”
The response frustrated City Councilman Willie Rivera, who has been pushing for more cooperation between the city and county at the Golden State Avenue site. He said he had requested that the city look into a partnership with the county at their facility.
Rather than purchase a new property to hold a new shelter — something that would likely cost millions of dollars — Rivera said he would like to explore a partnership with the county and expansion of services at The Mission at Kern County and Bakersfield Homeless Center.
His request, however, appears to have gone nowhere.
“I don't actually know what rumors Alan Tandy was dispelling,” Rivera said in an email to The Californian, referring to the general information packet. “It is a fact the county has indicated a willingness to partner with the city on a joint shelter facility. It is a fact I have asked city staff to explore this. And it is a fact that Alan is refusing to discuss and further explore a joint shelter facility."
When asked for comment, County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop emailed a short statement, saying the county would continue to look forward to a “meaningful financial contribution” from the city.
“The county’s priority is simple,” he said. “We are going to move people off the streets, and we are going to do it quickly. Off the streets, out of neighborhoods, away from businesses and into shelter, services and ultimately housing.”