Criticism of the composition of a sales tax revenue oversight committee has mounted since its first members were appointed by Bakersfield City Council last week.
Some local residents have raised issues over the lack of women and ethnic diversity on the nine-member committee, which will oversee how the city spends the additional $50 million it expects to bring in each year from the 1 percent sales tax increase. On April 1, the city sales tax jumps from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent.
Some community members have also said they wish the city council had appointed more working-class people to the committee.
The committee, named the Bakersfield Public Safety/Vital City Services Measure Citizens Oversight Committee, is comprised of people in charge of some of Bakersfield’s most prestigious organizations, from Bakersfield Memorial Hospital to Community Action Partnership of Kern.
Five of the committee members are white men, and three are minorities. The lone woman on the committee is Latina.
“It’s extremely lopsided,” said local resident Vanessa Vangel. “(Women’s) voices count equally ... If there’s only one of nine on the committee, there’s only one women’s voice being represented.”
City council members have pushed back against some of the criticism.
“I don’t know why it went the way it did,” said Councilman Bob Smith, who noted that he voted for four women in the first of three rounds of voting. “I think we have great people. Diversity is a great thing, but that’s the way it turned out.”
Seven of the appointees were recommended by a group of business and public safety organizations led by the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, raising questions that the council had merely rubber-stamped the group's suggestions.
The city had ruled in an ordinance that those organizations – which included Kern County Taxpayers Association, Bakersfield Association of Realtors, the Bakersfield Police Officers Association and the Bakersfield Professional Firefighters International Association of Firefighters – would receive priority during the nomination process.
The city has said that no seats were promised to any groups, and council members rejected the notion that they had not considered all 82 of the applicants equally.
“I had a list of 45 people who I felt were highly qualified,” said Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “Unfortunately, we only had nine spots and I had to… decide who those nine would be.”
Chamber President and CEO Nick Ortiz also dismissed the idea that the chamber and allied groups had too much influence on the proceedings.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that the people that were on our list were the ones that garnered a lot of votes,” he said. “Anyone who has criticized the process has been careful to qualify that the people that were appointed are above reproach and are the cream of the crop.”
Whitney Weddell, a former District 2 supervisorial candidate and prominent member of the local Democratic Party, said the city could have done more to appoint a more diverse group to the committee.
“They certainly didn’t go out of their way to appear to be fair,” she said of the council. “It just looks bad and that’s unfortunate.”
She added that a more diverse group of people would have empowered the committee to be more representative of all of Bakersfield.
"There’s a definite need, when you’re talking about this money from the initiative, for all communities to have a reasonable voice in how that money will be used," she said.
Committee members were appointed to three-year terms. They will meet at least twice a year to review how the city spends the additional sales tax revenue.
City staff will complete a yearly report on the revenue and present it to the committee.
Committee members will not receive compensation.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the ethnic composition of the committee.