My wife and I take great joy in showing off Bakersfield to visitors. We love this city – there are so many adventurous, historical and cultural gems to surprise people with. Since we transplanted here several years ago, we’ve had many friends and family visit, and all of them leave with our excitement and appreciation of this great city having rubbed off.
Since it’s my intention to impress people with Bakersfield’s charms, it’s painfully embarrassing when I need to apologize to these visitors on behalf of my city. Most frequently, this is because of trash. When trying to show off the fun and accessible mountain biking in Bakersfield near Hart Park, I must dodge abandoned mattresses and appliances.
If I take my friends and family up to Rancheria to kayak or float the rapids, there is often trash strewn along the banks of the river. If traveling along the Kern River bike path, I have to once again hope that my guests don’t notice or choose to ignore the glaring amounts of trash. I already need to apologize for the river being dry, but should I really have to apologize for trash in the dry river?
I also live very close to one of our downtown parks. Invariably, every Monday morning, I wake up to see that someone who hosted a party at the park over the weekend didn’t clean up after themselves.
This littering hurts us all. It hurts our love of this place we all call home. It damages outsiders’ perceptions of this place and the people who inhabit it (us!). It also strains our county and city’s limited resources. Taking just our city Parks and Recreation staff as an example, if we assume they spend 5 percent to 10 percent of their time cleaning up litter that wasn’t put in trash cans, and they have 50 full time staff at $20 an hour (including benefits), that would amount to $100,000 to $200,000 in annual spending on litter cleanup (those aren’t actual numbers, but that estimate is probably in the ballpark). That’s all money that shouldn’t have to be spent on cleanup if people just cleaned up after themselves.
Throw in the additional spend outside of the Parks and Recreation departments, notably the recent contracts for city and county “quick-response teams” to cleanup illegal dumping, litter and the wreckage left behind by homeless encampments. This is more than $1 million in additional annual trash cleanup costs. In a world of strained government budgets and scaled back public services, that’s all money that is needed elsewhere. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be spending this money to help remedy the problem now that we can no longer ignore it – only that the problem shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Fortunately, it’s not just the city and county stepping up to address the problem. Many groups are taking ownership of changing the status quo on this issue. One of these is Bring Back the Kern, which is working to remove excessive amounts of trash from the Kern River Parkway, in anticipation of the season, albeit likely a brief one in 2021, when the river will once again flow. For those interested in addressing the problem, email email@example.com to learn more and to RSVP for one of their spring cleanups.
This opinion piece won’t fix the problem. I don’t expect that many of the people littering or illegally dumping around our city are spending the time reading op-eds in The Californian. I do expect, however, that many of you reading this are civic minded enough to join in being part of the solution, rather than being a passive bystander.
We shouldn’t have to clean up after others, they should do it themselves. But let’s stop waiting for somebody else to fix the problem and let’s start being a part of the solution. The city and county are stepping up their efforts to turn the tide, now let’s all do our part. Grab a trash bag, some gloves and pitch in a little, will you?
Jonathan Yates is a board member of the Kern River Parkway Foundation.