Twenty-seven years after he arrived in Bakersfield, City Manager Alan Tandy is ready to step down.
During his time in the city, he has overseen the construction of projects that have fundamentally changed the city, including Rabobank Arena, Marriott hotel, and the Park at River Walk.
And more recently, the $1.4 billion Thomas Roads Improvement Program as well as the city’s 1 percent sales tax increase — which is expected to raise more than $58 million annually — are likely to change the city’s future for years to come.
After saying he would retire in December on Wednesday, Tandy sat down with The Californian to reflect on his career and consider what he wants to do next.
When asked about regrets, he responded, “Nothing huge,” and when asked if he had anything to say to his critics, he deferred, citing his record.
After all, “In the end,” he said, “nearly everything we wanted to do got done.”
Q: Would you consider this to be a long time coming, the retirement?
A: Oh, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Depending on how you count some of the workload issues, I’ve worked between 12 and 15 years on the Thomas Roads Improvement Program (TRIP), and while I’m not staying through completion of construction, that isn’t the part that I’m critical to. I’m critical to the funding and the legal and that stuff. So I had to see that through. And the last bid just got awarded in April.
Q: How is TRIP going to be so beneficial to the city?
A: As we knock off different segments, people tend to have short memories and they forget the way the traffic patterns were. The Westside Parkway for example is carrying 35,000 to 38,000 cars a day and completely changed traffic of people coming into and out of town. So cumulatively we’ve probably addressed nine out of 10 of the top congestion points in town.
Q: Will it be hard for you to walk away from this job?
A: It is. Twenty-seven years is a long time, and 46 years of doing it total in other places is longer. ... I have some regrets about it, but it’s better for myself and my family at this point.
Q: What's worrying you about your retirement?
A: I’m kind of hyperactive, and this job takes care of my hyperactivity. I’m going to have to find replacement activities in another way.
Q: One of those activities being pickleball, right? But are there any others?
A: Yeah. Our kids are dispersed quite a bit and so visiting them takes a day or two travel in each direction. So we’re going to do more of that, and we’re going to travel.
Q: Do you have a place in mind that you’ve wanted to go?
A: We already booked the Nile River.
Q: Really? What about the Nile River is drawing you?
A: Oh, you know the Amazon and the Yangtze are sort of the famous rivers that are historic, and go back thousands of years. I like history and visiting the cultural things (at those places).
Q: What was your first impression of Bakersfield?
A: That the downtown needed a lot of work.
There was no arena, there was no Fox, there was no Padre, there was no Mariott hotel, and it was just absolutely dead at nights and weekends, and that was one of council’s big priorities was enliven and enhance the downtown.
While there’s always more to do, a lot has gotten done.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve accomplished everything you went out to achieve?
A: There was one thing I wanted to do that didn’t get done, which was the (Class-A) baseball stadium. It came close a couple times, but it fell through. But, bigger picture, for the most part, yeah.
The projects arose, sometimes from council, sometimes from citizen groups, sometimes from staff. They had different origins, but putting together the finances, putting together the technical components of making a project work ... are the things I think I contributed most to.
Q: What was the deal with the baseball stadium?
A: Came real close twice. Once it was going to be downtown (circa 1995). It was going to use the tax increment from a new retail development to pay off a lot of the debt on the structure, and the markets got bad and the development folded.
The other time was mostly private-sector-driven. That was more recent. It was going to be out at where the Commons is, but the architects asked them what’s wrong and it blew the financing.
Q: Why did you want this baseball stadium?
A: It’s a quality-of-life thing, a diversity of entertainment options, just like the hockey team or some of the youths’ sports complexes, just one more piece that adds an element that people enjoy.
The old stadium (Sam Lynn Ballpark) was just too poorly constructed and designed, and was deteriorated, that people didn’t attend, but they would have if we could have pulled off the new one.
Q: I’m sure you’ve heard that some people consider you to be sort of the power behind the throne at City Hall. What has been your reaction to that?
A: I’ve heard that, and it’s a false impression. As I’ve indicated many of the projects emanated from the council and citizens' groups in town and not city staff. Staff served as the delivery vehicle.
The only reason I’ve stayed this long — because most city managers have an average tenure of 4.5 to 4.7 years — is because I have been responsive to the City Council. To the degree that we have the financial capacity, if they want something, this organization is good at delivering it.
Q: Looking back, is there anything that you’re most proud of?
A: The arena. I enjoy being there for different kinds of events and seeing the building full, people enjoying themselves, and seeing the diversity of things that it offers whether it's for children or hockey or concerts, or even Motocross on Ice. They didn’t have that option here before, people in town. They had to go to L.A. or Fresno. So it has special meaning to me.
Q: Considering the success of Measure N, when is the last time the city was in this good of a financial situation?
A: Since before I came. I don’t know that that existed. I could probably speak semi-intelligently about my predecessor’s term, but back beyond that I don’t know (laughs).
Q: What was going through your mind back when it looked like Measure N wasn’t going to pass?
A: I thought on Election Day that we’d lost and we were preparing for another round of belt-tightening, getting by with the minimal and deferring needed enhancements and replacements. So as it got closer and closer, it was an extraordinary positive. Even though the margin was small, it turned the world around as far as the city’s ability to deal with needs and service enhancements.
Q: Was there any point that you were on the edge of moving on to a different city?
A: There was a time when I was on a 4-3 support by the council, and I looked around at other alternatives. But that related to some new people coming on, who had skeptical views coming in, but after I worked with them a time, they became supporters.
Q: What year was that?
A: It was when (David) Couch, (Mike) Maggard and (Sue) Benham were elected (circa 2000).
Q: What were you looking to do at that point?
A: I went to several interviews. Some of them were covered by your paper because they were public processes.
In the city management field, it’s all dependent on what comes open at what time as to what the opportunities are. So I went to three or four places that were vacant at that time.
Q: When did you actually make the decision that you were going to retire?
A: I knew I was not going to retire until (TRIP) was assured to be completed. So that bid was awarded in April. It isn’t an easy decision. It involves quite a few things, most of which are more personal than business. My wife has been leaning on me (laughing).
Q: When you arrived in Bakersfield, did you think you were going to be here only like five years before heading somewhere else?
A: Yeah, that would probably be an accurate description. But opportunities for doing positive things came along and I got into it and enjoyed it, and I’ve continued to.
Q: What was your plan?
A: City managers move around. Whether it’s for larger population or better weather or a better retirement package or whatever. A lot of times, city managers get ousted because the council composition changes, and what you were doing for the previous council is not what the new council wants. There are a lot of things that can contribute to people moving.
Not too many stay in one place for 27 years.