Downtown revitalization under way

Melissa Puryear, Managing Editor

Bakersfield City Council and the Bakersfield Police Department are working together to revitalize downtown with grant funding that has been approved for 2018. Council member Andrae Gonzales and Bakersfield Police Department’s Chief Lyle Martin held a press conference on Feb. 9 at Mill Creek Park, to discuss the plans to impliment police officers on bikes.

Three officers from BPDs Impact Unit will be assigned during 2018 to provide downtown patrol on bikes and present a sense of safety for those who will be supporting downtown businesses. These officers will work with the community and business owners in an effort to promote downtown Bakersfield as a business and community- friendly hub. The main objective of both the Bakersfield City Council and Bakersfield Police Department is for locals and out-of-towners who come to the downtonwn to consider it to be a safe and enjoyable place. In fact, they count on visitors to think of downtown when they want to find something to eat, want to shop, or want to find new businesses to support.

BPDs Chief Lyle Martin said, “We want to make downtown a destination, not some some place peple just think about. We want people coming downtown. We’re going to make things safe. The officers here are very approachable and we want to make this a community effort. Whether it’s law enformcemnt, buisnesses, and the parks and recreation development, all of us. We need community oriented governement. You’re government is working for you tirelessly.”

Chief Martin said that homelessness is a problem downtown, however, they are focused on providing homeless individuals with the resources and services they need.

Council member Andrae Gonzales said, “We want to see more people on foot walking from place, to place by improving the police presence we’re able to do that. We’re able to really encourage a lot more people to visit downtown and to roam around.”

Some people may be skeptical about increased officer presence, but Gonzales said that this program is really to “build relationships … with business owners, to engage visitors of the downtown area, to engage lots of people who will work downtown, so that they can again create that sense of safety and security.”

He addressed concerns over the homelessness that is seen in public spaces and said that officers will be working to connect the homeless with resources that are available in order to address these issues.

This effort is “part of a longer term effort,” according to Gonzales.

The grant funding will fund three officers during the next year, however, he said that he will continue to pursue additional grant funding for this initiative.

Gonzales stated that there are lots of areas that they would like to see grow, east of Chester for example, “is really coming alive.”

This revitatlization will be driven by people who support the product and services that businesses can offer.

He also said that this will promote job growth as well.

Regarding projections for growth, Gonzales said there hasn’t been any academic study, however “ … we know anecdotally, where we can assume that by encouraging folks to come downtown by spending real dollars in businesses that those buisnesses will thrive and in turn be able to hire more employees.”

Gonzales said that they want a “collectic mix” of businesses because it “creates an interesting and vibrant downtown … ”

He also said that this diversity will collect a broader range of consumership.

The revitalization project will include Union Avenue to Oak and Golden State to California Avenue. Old Towne Kern is considered to be a part of the downtown area to some people, according to Gonzales, and this is certainly an area that he would like to see revitalized in the future. In fact, Gonzales said that this area is a part of his ward and he is currently exploring ways to work with business owners that are in that area.

Lindy Poteete, one of the BPD officers that will be patrolling the downtown area who is also a part of the “Impact Unit” that will be riding around in the downtown area on a bike said, “providing them [people] with a sense of safety and well-being by us patrolling the area and being a little more personal by being on the bike, is a great thing for the downtown area.”

Poteete encourages the community to reach out to the officers if they see them. “If you have something you want to talk to us about just ask questions, we’ll try to provide you with the information you need.” Officers are approachable and are present to make a difference in the downtown area, according to Poteete.