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Measure N Committee rejects proposal to spend millions on freeway cleanup as local parks languish | News

Millions of dollars in freeway landscaping funded through Measure N dollars drew the ire of the Public Safety and Vital Services Oversight Committee during a meeting Monday.

For just the second time in its three-year history, the committee refused to approve a funding proposal brought forward by the city. The proposal would have allowed the city to conduct $2.65 million in drought tolerant landscaping and irrigation on the Westside Parkway and $2.3 million in low-maintenance landscaping on the Highway 58 corridor.

But dissenting committee members said the money would be better spent elsewhere, such as in maintaining the Kern River Parkway or parks like Uplands of the Kern, which have become overrun with garbage recently.

“As a mother of a 3 year old, I know how important it is to have access to safe parks,” said committee member Connie Perez-Andreesen. She added that it made her sad that mothers in certain parts of Bakersfield do not have equitable access to park facilities.

Faced with approving more than $34 million in new projects made possible by the 1 percent sales tax increase passed by voters as Measure N, the committee largely went along with the city’s plan, which includes the hiring of 28 sworn positions and 17 civilian positions within the Bakersfield Police Department.

However, the rift over freeway landscaping caused the committee to reject the entirety of the $8.2 million Public Works’ Department Measure N budget, nearly a quarter of the total.

“The main challenge I have with these is there is such an emphasis on freeways,” committee member Barry Hibbard said during the meeting, noting existing park maintenance would be a more suitable spending target. “I think these things are better served at a later date.”

Technically, the Oversight Committee is only allowed to vote on whether a city proposal meets one of 13 priorities included in the Measure N campaign material. However, some committee members have voiced frustration with the limitation and have sought greater influence over the budget process.

The Public Works Department said in a memo to the committee that the freeway projects met the 12th Measure N priority, which is “enhancing amenities throughout the community to improve the quality of life and attract visitors.”

With three members voting in favor and four against, a majority opinion was not reached on the nine-member committee in either direction.

Those in favor were Brian Holt, Wayland Louie and Beatris Sanders. Those against were Hibbard, Perez-Andreesen, Mitchell Rowland and Jeremy Tobias. Ken Keller was absent. Fred Prince abstained.

The vote has the potential to put the City Council in an awkward position. According to the Measure N rules, the council can overrule a committee rejection. But the city staff may alter the Public Works’ Measure N spending plan before bringing it before the council.

On Monday, City Manager Christian Clegg said the he would need to do some “homework and analysis” of the situation before the council vote.

Nevertheless, “your feedback is really important to us and really valuable,” he told committee members before the meeting was adjourned.

In the third full year of Measure N, the city is proposing adding 68 positions, with BPD representing the majority.

Of the new expenditures, $35.3 million is proposed for new salaries and benefits, $19.4 million for operating costs, and $23.2 million for one-time improvement projects.

One notable proposal includes the $7 million expansion of the Economic and Community Development Department, which was just established last year. The city hopes the department will help attract new investment and businesses to Bakersfield.

The city is also planning to make a number of improvements to local parks such as Jastro Park and the McMurtrey Aquatic Center. Officials also hope to conduct a $1 million rehabilitation of two neighborhood parks that will be chosen based on community feedback.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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