Northern News

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A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

Bakersfield is booming, as are many other inland California cities

By Scott Wilson, The Washington Post, July 22, 2019

“Many Californians often dismiss inland cities such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, and other drive-through towns that seldom made the state’s tourism maps, languishing behind the allure of the coast. But there’s a transformation happening in the Central Valley. These second-tier cities, once known primarily as the core of the nation’s agricultural engine, are drawing new businesses and young people away from cosmopolitan enclaves, where the high cost of living has priced them out.

“In recent years, California’s traditional north-south rivalry has given way to an east-west divide over government policy and resources. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Bay Area liberal, pledged during last year’s campaign to make closing that gap a priority.

“Soon after taking office, Newsom placed the coastal leg of the state’s proposed high-speed rail system on hold. At the same time, he affirmed that the 119-mile stretch linking Bakersfield and the Central Valley city of Merced will be the first to proceed. The project will cost $20.4 billion and take at least seven years to complete.

“ ‘We can’t have two Californias,’ said Lenny Mendonca, Newsom’s chief economic and business adviser, who was raised in Turlock, just up Highway 99 from Bakersfield. ‘We have to have more housing development on the coast where the jobs are arriving, and we need more job production in parts of the state where the population is growing.’

California’s population grew 0.47 percent last year, the lowest rate in state history. But in Bakersfield, the growth rate was more than double that, making the city of nearly 400,000 the second-fastest-growing of the state’s large metro areas. Sacramento was first.

“Many of those arriving — and staying — are young people. The median age of Bakersfield residents is just over 30.

There are challenges to Bakersfield’s new appeal. The weather is wood-oven hot in the summer, the air quality often abysmal with oil-field pollution caught between the Sierra and coastal ranges. The goal is to broaden an economy still largely reliant on the volatile agriculture and oil industries, appealing in part to a tech sector that is finding its political stock falling in many coastal communities. Bakersfield’s oil fields — and those of surrounding Kern County — account for more than half of California’s oil production.

“San Diego, along with the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas, posted the highest inflation rates of any cities in the country during the past year. Housing prices, in particular, are driving the increases. The median home price in Bakersfield is $237,000; in San Francisco, it’s $1.2 million.”

Read the full article here.