The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (Senate Bill 375) sets goals for reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions and requires Kern Council of Governments to develop a strategy that integrates transportation, land-use and housing policies to achieve emissions reductions for our region. Additionally, SB 743 recently changed how local jurisdictions analyze transportation impacts from development projects and identify measures to mitigate those impacts. SB 743 requires the amount of driving and length of trips — as measured by "vehicle miles traveled" or VMT — to be used to assess transportation impacts on the environment.

Two years ago, KernTax submitted to the city of Bakersfield a plan that would not only provide solutions to SB 743 for Bakersfield, but also address another underlying issue, the health of Kern County. Kern County is one of the most obese counties in the nation, leading the United States in heart disease and childhood diabetes.

The KernTax Trails Plan is simple: reclaiming underutilized rights-of-way to create new recreation opportunities that support healthy lifestyles, higher land values and economic development. The plan would extend the current 30 mile bike path and add 50 miles of multi-use paths, including linear parks and canal improvements to support active transportation and urban greening in the Bakersfield metro. The expansion will extend the bike path to all corners of Bakersfield and include multi-use paths to develop safe routes to schools; connect disadvantaged communities to jobs, health care and transit; and offer safe and sustainable mobility for students from off-campus housing to Cal State Bakersfield and Bakersfield College. By encouraging cycling and walking, the metro trails plan will help our region meet these statewide regulatory requirements in SB 473 and ensure that our area has the sustainable transportation infrastructure necessary to support development so we can continue to grow.

KernTax fully supports Kern COG efforts to increase active transportation investments and leverage various state and federal funding sources to maximize matching funds. We are excited to announce that more than 40 miles of KernTax's proposed trails were identified as Tier 1 projects recommended for funding over the next decade in Kern COG's regional active transportation plan. The total estimated cost for the Tier 1 investments is just under $40 million, with an estimated local match of $4 to $10 million depending on state and federal matching funds availability.

The KernTax Trails Plan is by far one of the most ambitious plans to enhance mobility, improve our health, elevate our community's quality of life and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. We believe the trails plan is a wise investment that helps Bakersfield move toward a vision of community wellness and help our region comply with state regulations designed to reduce vehicular emissions.

KernTax encourages the City Council to support this game-changing plan and adopt a multi-year funding allocation from Measure N funds starting in the 2021-2022 budget cycle.

Beatris Espericueta Sanders is a member of the KernTax Board of Directors and chair of the Measure N Oversight Committee.