Sumner historic train depot, police reform, proposed budget dominate Bakersfield City Council meeting

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Bakersfield City Council addressed several items at its semi-weekly meeting Wednesday.

HISTORIC TRAIN DEPOT:

While the future of the historic Union Pacific train depot in Old Town Kern remains unclear, councilmembers voted to take action that could save it from demolition.

Earlier this year, the property owner, Union Pacific, announced plans to demolish the site on Sumner St. because the structure was physically in disrepair. Furthermore, they already built a new communications center down the tracks.

But on Wednesday, 2nd Ward Councilmember Councilmember Andrae Gonzales called for the site to be saved.

“This is one of our historic sites in our community. It is a treasure and it has been an asset for us in our community,” he said, noting the city should negotiate with Union Pacific to lease the site for the next year and fix up the property.

Early estimates from city staff suggest property repairs will cost the city $5-10 million. Councilmember Bruce Freeman expressed concerns the project would be too expensive.

“Something where were we’re talking hundreds of thousand’s [of dollars for an] — I’d say — 50-50 chance of saving the building, with all the needs in our community that’s kind of hard for me,” he said.

In the end, councilmembers agreed on a motion to have staff negotiate a one-year lease, and then come back the council to review the proposal.

PROPOSED FISCAL YEAR 2022 BUDGET:

The council also addressed the preliminary $684.6 Million proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Of that, $133.6 Million is allocated for BPD, including 28 new sworn officers and 17 new civilian employees.

While a few attendees supported the plan, the majority in attendance argued otherwise.

“How is adding 45 going to combat current issues? Anyone have an answer?” asked organizer Dipenpreet Kaur of the council. Fellow organizer Josth Stenner also addressed councilmembers, asking them to “consider the amount of money that is going to be waisted on a problem that no amount of money is going to fix.”

This was the first of five meetings set to be held on the budget. The council will not formally vote on the budget until mid-June.

POLICE REFORM:

A large portion of the meeting centered on a presentation from the Bakersfield Police Dept. Community Collaborative.

Co-lead by Dr. Michael Burroughs of Cal State Bakersfield’s Kegley Institute of Ethics and Traco Matthews of the Community Action Partnership of Kern, the Collaborative called on the department to enact 20 reforms, including the creation of a formal citizens review board and the recruitment of officers from more diverse backgrounds.

“We’re hoping that they take those recommendations, that they implement them,” Matthews said. “I would love to come back in six months or one year and talk about all of the wonderful changes that are happening,” he continued.

“I really believe this work will change trajectory of law law enforcement and communities — especially communities of color — for generations to come.”

POLICE BODY CAMERAS:

The council approved an additional 97 body cameras for the department.

In 2019, the Bakersfield Police Department selected Axon Enterprise, Inc. as the vendor for 507 body cameras. The City then entered an amendment with Axon to accelerate deployment, but BPD says the amendment inadvertently left out 97 additional body cameras.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, the department asked for those cameras to be entered back into the budget. The full body camera system could cost the City roughly $3.4 million.

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