Brooms, a dustpan and a shovel sat outside a downtown Bakersfield restaurant Tuesday morning after employees swept up shards of broken glass from the eight windows and a door that were destroyed Monday night in an act of vandalism.
It all started at about 10:40 p.m. Monday when two teenagers began throwing rocks at windows at Slice of Italy, located at 2543 F St. They also punched the glass out of one of the restaurant's doors, said owner Dupree Brar.
One of the two suspects had his face covered and wasn't wearing a shirt, while the other was wearing a jacket and a hoodie, Brar said. He watched the incident through the restaurant's security footage. Cassie Bittle, owner of KC Steakhouse, said she saw the two teenagers around the area in the past week.
Downtown business owners have expressed their frustration and discontent with the chronic vagrancy issues plaguing the area. The large population of vagrant people in the area has been tied to vandalism, aggressive panhandling and even physical confrontations.
Brar said part of the problem is the population of vagrant people and teenagers lingering around downtown businesses. Bittle echoed Brar's sentiment, saying she regularly cleans up after vagrants who camp out in the alley behind her restaurant.
Bittle lives behind KC Steakhouse and said she sees vagrants in the alley on a daily basis. She said she puts on her rubber boots, rubber gloves and a face mask to scrub human feces off the streets and walls.
"We have such a problem with the homeless defecating in our alleyways," Bittle said. "It's to an extreme now. It's getting worse and worse and worse.
"Every day I could tell you story after story after story."
Brar said the two suspects didn't take anything from the restaurant. They just threw rocks, costing Brar a $1,000 insurance deductible and an estimated $7,000 to $8,000 in glass repairs.
With the summer heat and the plywood standing in for the windows, Brar said he probably won't get much business in the coming weeks as he waits for new windows to come in.
"We're a business, we're trying to have a certain image for people to come in," Brar said. "I'm sure not everyone's going to want to eat with the windows boarded up. This is just another headache."
This isn't the first time Slice of Italy has been vandalized in recent months, Brar said. Once every couple of months, Brar said, his business — and other businesses in the area — experience some sort of vandalism.
"Something's happening all the time," Brar said. "You get tired of it, but you also start to get used to it. Everybody's just frustrated. Nobody wants this kind of stuff in the area."
A nearby business, A.J.'s Tuxedo Junction, had one of its windows broken about a month ago, but nothing was taken, said owner Dax Chavez. A piece of plywood stands in place for the glass that was broken. He also pointed to the population of vagrant people in the area.
"A lot of them don't come in here because it's a tuxedo shop," Chavez said.
At a Downtown Business Association meeting on Aug. 6, many people specifically expressed concern over the lack of resources available to the Bakersfield Police Department as it effectively acts on behalf of local businesses.
Sgt. Nathan McCauley, public information officer for the BPD, said officers are working as efficiently as they can, though he did say the department could look into patrolling certain areas more often.
The BPD works to prioritize calls, McCauley said, adding that officers "get to calls when they can." But calls involving human life are always going to take precedent over property damage, he said.
"The police do their part, but there's really nothing they can do," Brar said.
"I think it's going to take all of us as a community trying to figure out a solution," she said.