Whether you’re titans of industry, learned academics or pre-schoolers on the playground, there’s a simple rule that holds true — talking through problems is usually the most effective path to workable, sustaining solutions.
Unfortunately, we’re all so busy with our daily lives (especially this time of year) that we have a hard enough time identifying the problems, let alone crafting the complex answers needed to settle them.
So how do we as a community solve the multi-layered puzzle of addressing Kern County’s critical infrastructure needs?
Well, there are few experiences more energizing than listening to a collection of very smart people talk about very important things — so BC was thrilled to host the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Vision for the Valley summit this week.
Nick Ortiz and our friends at the Chamber really outdid themselves, creating a half-day symposium that assembled some of our area’s most knowledgeable business, legislative and analytical minds to examine issues we all face every day (whether we think about them or not) — issues around energy, water, agriculture, housing, transportation and their interlocking impacts on Kern County’s economy.
Before I get into the content of the summit’s multiple panels, a quick congratulations to the Chamber and our team at BC for the great visual presentation on the Simonsen Performing Arts Center stage. From the Scandinavian type furniture to the backdrop to the impressive lighting package, the production crew behind the summit did a phenomenal job.
As for the panels themselves…well, delving into “big think” topics like this can be an enormous challenge, but the summit’s roster of insightful speakers — under the well-orchestrated direction of moderators Richard Beene and Louis Amestoy of the Bakersfield Californian — crystallized the major points around these complex issues, making them all very relatable. Elizabeth Sanchez did a piece in the Californian on the summit which can be found at
The Energy, Sustainability and the Economy panel, for instance, brought together natural opponents for a spirited discussion of where the oil industry is headed, particularly focusing on its impact on Kern County, the San Joaquin Valley and the rest of the state’s transportation needs.
Much of the conversation with conservationist advocate Victoria Rome with the National Resources Defense Council and Western States Petroleum Association vice president Tupper Hull centered on state regulation, both its impact on oil producers and whether California was going too far — or not far enough — in overseeing the industry’s activities.
While Victoria was encouraged that California’s 140,000 electric and hybrid cars on the road today could hit the 1 million benchmark by 2030, both agreed the state’s need for oil would likely remain strong for years to come.
“We need to stop looking for simplistic answers to complex questions,” Tupper said.
That was a theme that held true throughout the day, including a deep-dive look at the impact of California’s drought on our groundwater demand during the Agriculture and Water Resources panel. DeeDee D’Adamo, a board member with the State Water Resources Control Board, defended and explained, and in some cases, commiserated over the state’s water use policies. Lois Henry made the issues clear in a pragmatic and a “let’s cut to the chase” approach of addressing these complex issues.
Water use in California has reduced by 27 percent in the five months since emergency conservation regulations began in June. While there was general agreement that it will be a long-term, multi-year effort to replenish state water reserves, there was a sense that some form of permanent conservation measures would remain in place even once the drought is declared over, helping to protect the state from future water shortage issues.
The third and final panel of the day, a round-table talk about housing, land use and transportation, was also a strong contender for highlight of the day, particularly thanks to the spirited engagement and effusive charm of panelist, retired congressman and luminary BC faculty emeritus Bill Thomas.
I wasn’t here during Bill’s teaching career on this very campus from 1965 to 1974, but those nine years as a political science faculty were part of the beginnings of one of Kern County’s most storied political careers. Bill’s 27 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, highlighted by his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, grant him a unique perspective on issues that few others could offer.
One of Bill’s political passions is transportation — and like the true statesmen he is, Bill didn’t hold back, crusading for Kern County to keep pushing through apathy and threats of adjudication to complete the scores of local transportation projects undertaken by his namesake Thomas Roads Improvement Program (TRIP).
For those who don’t know the history, TRIP has been overseeing the use of $630 million in federal funds secured by Thomas in 2005 to tackle Bakersfield’s specific transportation problems.
He repeatedly framed it as transportation issues that arise when an “east-west” county resides within a “north-south” state. The projects include the completed construction of the Westside Parkway, the State Route 178/Fairfax Road Interchange, the State Route 58 gap closure and the State Route 178/Morning Drive Interchange.
Right now, one of TRIP’s top priorities is to begin work on their largest project, the Centennial Corridor, which will ultimately connect State Route 99 and Interstate 5. But Thomas warned about the danger of obstructionist attorneys using CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) statutes to slow Corridor construction via unnecessary litigation.
“Adjudication takes a long time and costs a lot of money,” Thomas said. “That’s their way of trying to control the outcome.”
Bill also made some news during the summit, coming out in support of Kern County voters approving a half-cent tax measure that would mark Kern as a “self-help” county, earmarking funds for future county transportation projects. More importantly, the designation would significantly boost Kern County’s ability to secure state and federal money to carry such projects to completion.
As a staunch Republican acutely aware of Kern County voters’ pervasive anti-taxation stance, Bill told the crowd he understood initial bristling to the idea — but warned the cost of not attaining “self-help” status and losing out on federal transportation dollars to other areas made passing the tax infinitely more cost-effective for the county and its residents.
Talking through water regulations and oil production restrictions and transportation funding can seem like dry policy wonk chatter, capable of making anyone’s eyes glaze over. But at the end of the day, all of these critical conversations come back to some simple questions — how does this affect the people of Kern County and how do we make everyone’s lives better through our collective decisions?
It was wonderful to see the community out at the college to engage in these discussions. Events like the Vision for the Valley summit help point us toward ways of enriching the life of every single Kern County resident…and we at BC couldn’t be happier to play our part in making events like this happen.