Sipping cocktails in the back room of Stockdale Country Club on "Wine Down Wednesday," residents of one of the largest county islands in Bakersfield considered the future of their neighborhood.
Officials with the city of Bakersfield made a presentation to residents of Old Stockdale on Wednesday, detailing the advantages of the city annexing the area.
Emotions were mixed during the meeting, with some residents in favor while others were vehemently opposed.
Although no formal process has begun, the meeting could serve as the starting point for more official talks if a consensus builds within the community in favor of annexation.
While some residents believe the neighborhood's aging infrastructure could benefit from being connected to the city, other residents say their water and sewer pipes work just fine.
"Show me the advantage," Old Stockdale resident Steven Fowler said after the meeting, unconvinced by the city's presentation.
To him, the costs outweighed the benefits, and many appeared to agree with him.
Old Stockdale has long been a county island within the city. The area formed as a residential neighborhood in the middle of farmland before Bakersfield’s growth overtook it.
Currently, around 600 people live in the 273 acre-neighborhood, with 225 homes paying $1.35 million in property tax over the last year.
Bakersfield officials say the neighborhood will not be annexed unless the residents request it from the city.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the property owners and residents in the community to determine how they want to move forward,” said Assistant City Manager Chris Huot. “We’re there to provide information and let them know about what is available if they are to be annexed.”
A handful of the neighborhood’s younger residents initiated annexation talks with the city, in an effort to fix what they see as long-term problems that will only get worse with time.
“Those of us who are younger wouldn’t mind having some certainty in knowing how long these are going to last,” Brian Grant, an Old Stockdale resident who works in the agriculture industry, said of the neighborhood’s aging infrastructure. “You have to look at some legitimate options, and annexing into the city is one of the options you have to consider.”
Newly-annexed regions of Bakersfield can connect to nearby city systems. Although the city has not committed to absorbing Old Stockdale’s water infrastructure into an existing city system, it has said it will evaluate it once the neighborhood is annexed.
Another benefit the group sees to annexation is the improvements it will make to public safety.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office services Old Stockdale, and sometimes takes as long as 45 minutes to respond to a call because deputies must drive through Bakersfield to reach Old Stockdale, passing Bakersfield Police Department officers who may be sitting idle.
However, many of the neighborhood's longtime residents oppose annexation, saying they are happy with the way things are, and don't want to risk the increased costs that could come with becoming a part of Bakersfield.
"The county is working just fine," said Old Stockdale resident Lisa Lazzerini. "Why fix something that isn't broken?"
Among her many concerns, she worried that if the neighborhood connected the city, the 60-year-old Japanese Maples in her backyard would need to be dug up to make room for a water and sewer hookup.
"I don't really see any benefits except street sweeping once a week," she said.
Many at the meeting expressed an interest in hearing a similar presentation from Kern County officials before they made a decision on becoming a part of the city.
A formal procedure for annexation won't begin until the Bakersfield City Council approves a resolution of application.
At this point no timeline has been set for any further action on the city's part.
"The community may decide to take the information and want to have more dialogue and discussion," Huot said, "but it’s a little early to start to pencil in dates for certain actions."