Crime, homelessness and road improvements were common talking points in conversations with the various candidates for four Bakersfield City Council seats that will be on the November ballot for city residents.
With the city’s recently released list of candidates who’ve qualified for the ballot, the races that voters can decide on — depending on whether they live in Ward 1, 3, 4 or 7 — has crystallized.
Two incumbents, council members Eric Arias of Ward 1 and Bob Smith of Ward 4, will have an easy path on the campaign trail, as they’re both running unopposed.
A third incumbent, Councilman Ken Weir in Ward 3, faces three challengers, and Councilman Chris Parlier’s decision not to run for re-election in Ward 7 creates a wide-open race with three candidates.
While all of the candidates mentioned similar concerns, they offered varying ideas on how to solve these problems from the dais.
Arias, 26, is running unopposed to represent Ward 1, which is the city’s southeastern district.
He reflected on his first two years in office since he was elected in 2020 to finish the term of Willie Rivera, who vacated his seat early.
Arias currently serves on the city’s Budget Committee, Community Services Committee, and as chairman of the Safe Neighborhoods and Community Relations Committee.
Arias pointed out two instances where he felt there was significant progress made for the city: the establishment of the park rangers programs and the city’s redistricting effort.
He considered the city’s $2.4 million investment in the rangers program a historic step for protecting these “critical assets,” referring to the parks, which are also important for the community’s health and physical well-being. He also called the redrawn city ward maps — which perhaps most notably created three Latino-majority districts and consolidated much of the city’s Sikh population into Ward 7 — a “huge win” for the city, in terms of not only protecting it from liability but also creating an opportunity for more diverse community representation.
Going forward, he noted his “first and foremost” priority would be improving public safety, specifically noting the city needs to continue to work toward its 2019 goal of adding 100 police officers.
Incumbent Councilman Ken Weir, 68, has served on the dais since 2006, when he was elected to fill the seat previously held by current outgoing county Supervisor Mike Maggard.
There are several “major, major issues” that he’d like to have input on as they're decided in coming years. That includes the “new East Hills mall.” The demolished property has been the subject of speculation for years, and Weir, 68. said it’s likely going to come around again and could be a potential boon to his district’s amenities. The Mesa Marin Sports Complex would be another project he’d like to see completed, referring to the 20-acre park at Highway 178 and Bedford Green Drive in northeast Bakersfield.
“And then a major issue for Ward 3, just like every other ward, crime, and the things that come with crime, have really had a major factor on Ward 3, especially out in the more rural areas,” Weir said.
He also wanted to see more road improvements in Ward 3 and more incentives that would help draw more businesses to the area.
Weir’s challengers are Zeferino Barron, Boyd Binninger and Lonne Daddow.
Barron, 32, is a born and raised Bakersfield resident of Ward 3 who’s trying his hand at local politics because he said he didn’t like how things were being run.
Barron, who works locally at Home Depot, mentioned plans to address homelessness and crime: He felt the housing issue could be solved by making shelter accommodations compulsory for individuals living on the street. This would make it easier to help them with resources, he said.
Regarding crime: “I believe gun-free zones are one of the big reasons why we have a lot of crime because … people are victims here. So, end gun-free zones, allow people who have (concealed weapon permits) to carry.” Part of the problem, he said, is that the state puts too many restrictions on the permits.
Binninger, 66, is a born and raised Bakersfield resident, and has about 25 years of experience working in commercial real estate. He also has experience as a loan officer and as a branch manager for an equipment manufacturer.
This is his first run for office, although he’s been involved local as a board member for Flood Ministries, a nonprofit that provides outreach services for the local homeless population. It’s given him insight on the issue and he knows that more can be done to bring concerns under control, he said.
He also noted the city was near its goal for hiring 100 police officers — it’s added 83 in the last three years. Hitting the mark would be a priority for him if elected.
He also wants to see a more concerted effort to bring businesses to Ward 3.
“And what it boiled down to was, I looked at what was going on, and since I've lived here all my life, I want to try to do what I can do to help the city … to remain a great place to live,” he added.
Daddow, 78, is a retired electrical engineer and business owner who’s also making his first run at City Council. Daddow lived in Northern California, Utah and Seattle before settling in Bakersfield, where he’s lived for more than 10 years.
He mentioned support for the BPD as a big priority for him, saying the department is underfunded and he’d like to make sure both officers and firefighters have the best equipment and technology available.
He also noted trash pickup and road maintenance as areas where he’d like to see improvement.
“And I see there's a lot of stuff that has to be done,” Daddow said, “as far as any construction and the neighborhood quality.”
Bob Smith is running for reelection unopposed to represent Ward 4, which makes up the northwest corner of the city.
While Smith did not return requests for comment, the cyclist and transportation advocate and founder of Bike Bakersfield "is committed to attracting individuals and businesses from a quality-of-life perspective," according to the city's website.
"(Smith) is also dedicated to restoring water in the river," according to the city's website. "As one of three councilmembers who comprise the Water (Resources) Board, (Smith) continues to direct staff to use all methods possible to achieve this goal."
In addition to being chairman of the Water Resources Board, he's a member of the Community Services Committee and the Planning and Development Committee. He's been on the City Council since 2012.
Councilman Chris Parlier announced in June he would not be seeking reelection, leaving it to three candidates — Tim Collins, Raj Gill and Manpreet Kaur — to vie for his seat to represent the southern end of the city in a district sandwiched between Wards 1 and 5.
Collins, 28, is another lifelong Bakersfield resident, and he’s in his fourth year as a full-time teacher with the Kern High School District, where he instructs students on agricultural diesel mechanics for the Regional Occupational Center.
Collins also is a board member for the Kern County Farm Bureau, through his chairmanship of the Young Farmers and Ranchers program.
“This is my hometown, these are the people I love and work with, and a lot of my family still lives down there,” he said, referring to Ward 7, “and I want to represent them and do my best to help the city run efficiently and do the job that the government should, like supporting law enforcement, keeping the police department well-staffed and doing their job.”
In addition to public safety, he mentioned road maintenance, bringing more jobs to the area and promoting existing businesses as his top priorities if elected.
Gill, 60, is the owner of Gill Construction, a local business, and he’s lived in Bakersfield since 1996.
Gill said improving police response times would be a priority for him. He noted that in some areas, people aren’t able to park in front of their homes without worrying whether their vehicle's catalytic converter will be stolen.
He also mentioned he has two sons, both of whom are adults who work in the community, and since he’s almost ready to retire, he wanted to dedicate his time to serving his community.
Homelessness is also an issue that isimportant to him, he said, noting as a Sikh, his culture and religion dictate that nobody should go hungry.
“I am a successful business mentor, I am a good father and I am a good budget-handler so I can work with anybody,” he said.
Manpreet Kaur is another lifelong Bakersfield resident and a Ridgeview High alum seeking to represent Ward 7.
Kaur, 29, a founder of Kern County’s chapter of the Jakara Movement — a community-based service organization — has sought ways to support her community since she was student body president at her high school, she said. She sees supporting the city from the dais as an extension of work she’s been doing for years.
Kaur recently completed a double master’s program in public affairs and city planning, which she hopes she’ll be able to use to help her hometown. She’s currently on staff as director of community development for the Jakara Movement.
“I would say some of my top priorities are … I'd start with community and neighborhood safety. You know, everyone deserves to live in a safe neighborhood, and I'd like to incorporate a lot of the things I've learned about traffic calming, pedestrian safety and … how to ensure multimodal commuting is safe.”
For his part, Parlier said he was staying neutral on endorsements and “leaving it to the voters to decide,” which they shall be asked to do on Nov. 8.