Bakersfield’s new city manager says he’ll use COVID lull to refine economic strategy

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Christian Clegg

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — New Bakersfield City Manager Christian Clegg, who has been on the job about two months, says he is using this odd time of national limbo to refine his plan for an economic revitalization that was in the works well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit home.

Clegg, 41, was hired four months ago as manager of California’s ninth-largest city, and pandemics aside, he almost couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Voters had approved Measure N a year before, a rare act of popular largesse that would fund new projects, revitalize the police department and, reduce the city’s staggering pension obligations. 

Revenue from Measure N, the one-cent sales tax increase narrowly approved by voters in November 2018,  has not been entirely committed, Clegg said, so “we’ll have some ability to still recover as a city from the hits of COVID and still be able to have priorities around public safety and priorities around economic development. 

“We will not be able to do as much as we planned, we will not be able to do as much as we hoped … but (the additional tax revenue) allows us to be strategic, so we could put together an economic recovery plan for our small businesses and help them get back on their feet.”

The coronavirus epidemic, in fact, may just hasten a reckoning that will ultimately serve Bakersfield well, Clegg said.

“What better time is there to have somebody come in and take a look at the market and say, you know, here are some of the realities moving forward,” Clegg said. “We’re actually positioned at a uniquely interesting moment to create … a plan that can serve us for three years and five years, not just in the next six to 12 months in recovery mode.”

Clegg, a native of Orem, Utah, and his wife of 18 years have three children — boys, 12 and 9, and a girl, 5. But Clegg’s family is still in Stockton, where Clegg was most recently the deputy city manager. The plan was to have them finish the school year there, but statewide school closures will hasten their arrival.

So, during this time he’s all about the job, both the minutiae of regional economics and the broader value of  positive office culture.

“Part of my first 30 days was going to be getting to know the organization,” he said. “And this was a real quick way to learn a lot about this organization, both in how it operates but also the character of the team and the community. And I’ve been very pleased with the character of the team.”

Clegg said the city will soon undertake a real estate market analysis and the development of a strategic plan to decide how to best use properties in both the public and private sectors, he said.

Where are “the target clusters that the city can continue to build out?,” he said. “What are our current assets and who are our competitors? What is our competitive edge to build out those market industries that we are well positioned for, so that we can target our efforts?”

Those industries haven’t been determined, he said, but although it will play a role, information technology and related fields may not be the first or only choice.

“We do have land here to develop, and it’s affordable,” Clegg said. “That’s a big asset. But do we have the workforce with the skills and the training and the broadband to do some of that technical stuff? (Consultants) may come back and say, you know, everybody needs to do a little bit of that, but you and Bakersfield, maybe you should focus on this other industry because we don’t have a competitive advantage compared to other communities” in a given field.

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