Some would say the city of Bakersfield stands on the brink of change.
With the upcoming sales tax measure, voters within Bakersfield will either decide to fund about 100 additional police officer positions, and provide funds to other city services, or they will allow the city to stay on the same course, which could result in the shrinking of local government.
The 1 percent sales tax increase would raise about $50 million per year for the city, but many residents have expressed hesitancy to increase taxes on themselves.
The sales tax could be the central issue on the ballot this November, but the challengers to the City Council incumbents have also brought up many issues they believe are important.
Ward 1 incumbent Willie Rivera was the youngest person ever to be elected to the council when he won five years ago at the age of 21. He’s seeking his third stint on the council, after first being elected in 2013.
He said he has focused on basic infrastructure needs, especially for Ward 1.
“One of the things I was really adamant about when I first started in 2013 was really focusing our energy and a substantial amount of resources on infrastructure,” he said.
Rivera was the only member of the council to vote to regulate marijuana sales instead of banning them outright. He said he will vote in favor of the sales tax, and is glad it is going to the voters to decide.
His challenger, Marvin Dean, a longtime community organizer and businessman, is taking his third shot at political office.
“I think I have one more good shot at this council race, and hopefully I’ll get the support from the community to make it this time,” Dean said. “I want to bring real changes to the neighborhood.”
Dean contended that Ward 1 had not fared well in the past, and needed a council member who would strongly advocate for it, doing what it takes to “clean up” the ward.
He hopes to represent the constituents who have been “left behind,” but noted he would fight for all the residents of his ward.
He said he has not made a decision on the sales tax but wanted the city to seek other revenue sources before going to the citizens.
Although both Rivera and Dean can boast at least some political experience running for office, they could both be schooled by Cal State Bakersfield graduate student Gilberto De La Torre, who previously ran for mayor of Bakersfield in 2016.
He is a public administration student, and hopes to use the lessons he is learning in college if he is elected to the council.
“I’m a friendly guy, passionate guy about Ward 1,” De La Torre said. “I’m very optimistic that we have a fighting chance, although we are the underdog.”
He said he wanted to be a voice for the people of his ward because he grew up in the area and has a love for the area.
He said he would leave the sales tax decision to the voters, although he was leaning against it slightly.
He said he would like to see the medical marijuana dispensary ban remain in place.
Ken Weir is seeking his fourth term on the City Council. He has served on the council since 2006 and wants to continue on to help clean up the city’s finances.
“We seriously have some financial issues that are going on with the city right now. The budget is really flat. It has been flat for a while,” he said. “At the same time, we have mandated costs that are coming to fruition, being CalPERS and pension debt.”
CalPERS refers to the California Public Employees' Retirement System. The city also is facing steep pension cost increases, which worry Weir.
Weir was the only member of the council to vote against allowing the city’s sales tax measure on the ballot. He said he still does not think the city staff is marketing the measure accurately.
The second candidate for Ward 3, Salvadore Lopez-Willingham, did not participate in an interview for this article and could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Incumbent Bob Smith, the vice mayor, is running for his third term after first being elected in 2012.
“I ran and continue to run on fiscal responsibility, public safety and a business-friendly environment,” he said.
He added that he had started the conversation about the sales tax to put it on the ballot and felt that it would help the city meet its financial needs in the future.
“When you look ahead to our budget, in five years there’s a deficit,” he said. “We won’t be able to provide the services that the community wants and we won’t be able to hire more police.”
He brushed off a conflict of interest fine by the Fair Political Practices Commission in 2016 as a result of receiving bad advice from the city attorney.
Smith’s challenger, Ernest Oliver, is a retired oil field worker and welder with a high school diploma.
Oliver has gone after Smith’s record on the council, saying the incumbent has misused his position in more ways than his conflict of interest.
His No. 1 reason for running for office is his opposition to the sales tax measure.
“I believe the city has the funds that, if they were just spent in the right ways, that we wouldn’t have to be going to the taxpayers for the sales tax increase,” he said.
He also pointed out what he saw as neglect throughout the city, saying he would advocate for more work to be done on the rougher parts of Bakersfield.
He said the city was “behind the eight ball” on cannabis, which could be a good source of revenue.
Incumbent Chris Parlier is running unopposed for his second term on the City Council.
“I wake up every day thankful that I’m representing the best city in California,” he said. “It’s really been a great experience being on the City Council."
Priorities for him include public safety and bringing business development to Bakersfield.
He counts as a win Bass Pro Shops committing to come to his ward.
He voted to let the sales tax measure appear on the ballot, and will let voters make the decision on raising the tax.
“Bakersfield has always been a responsible, frugal city,” he said. “The city would continue to plod along and do good if it wasn’t for all the state stuff that has been put on our backs.”