Bakersfield residents voice their hopes for and concerns with local parks

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — “We are looking for every park to be managed through an equity lens.”

So says Ucedrah Osby, the Kern County Parks District 5 Commissioner. She was born and raised in Kern County’s 5th District, and she’s voicing community concerns about the district’s parks.

“That means every park should have the same things. We deserve new equipment, running water faucets, useable bathrooms, and even exercise equipment,” continued Osby. “No one can make it to the gym here. Some parks have it, some parks don’t. That would be a great addition for every park.”

Osby brought up these concerns at an August 31 press conference organized by the county government held at Belle Terrace Park in Bakersfield. The purpose of the press conference was to talk about the progress and plans for upgrading and renovating county parks on Bakersfield’s east side.

One of the more salient issues facing the parks is the state of disrepair most of the restrooms have fallen into. The bathrooms in several District 5 parks are in such poor condition that the doors have been locked.

County officials have recognized these needs, but have also discussed some of the challenges inherent to keeping the bathrooms in public parks open when vandalism renders them unusable, as well as security concerns for the city and county employees who maintain them. One example, given by Ryan Alsop on June 27, was of a maintenance worker who was robbed at knifepoint while trying to take care of the bathroom at Casa Loma Park.

The state of the parks is also important to resident Simon Cisneros, who spends time at Heritage Park with his daughter every day when he picks her up from school. Cisneros is glad that parks like Heritage will be seeing $4.3 million in upgrades, with construction set to be completed by mid-2024.

“My reaction is that is going to be awesome for our community,” said Cisneros.

He says he’s had trouble with the bathrooms, too.

“The other day I was trying to take my daughter to the bathroom,” said Cisneros. “They were disgusting. And not only that, there were homeless living in there as well, so I had to go all the way home to take her to the restroom.”

According to Osby, maintenance is one of the primary concerns of the community.

“When you are providing something shiny and new, it’s great, but you also have to consider the maintenance part of it to keep it that way, so that is the community’s concern,” said Osby.

District 5 Supervisor Leticia Perez says law enforcement does play a role in keeping the parks from getting vandalized, but she also hopes the community takes ownership over shared spaces.

“This common good, this common space, has to be invested into and cared for and protected by the community, and in doing so, we will roll out and adopt a park program at the end of this year,” said Perez.

County officials highlighted the new investment in District 5 parks, specifically Belle Terrace, Casa Loma, Virginia, Potomac, and Heritage Parks. Casa Loma recently had lights installed, and there are plans for new restrooms and a new soccer field.

Perez says the investment is long overdue.

“You have people in this park today that were married there 42 years ago. When this community was thriving it had a very strong African-American community, very strong African-American businesses, and we know that this community has disinvestment over the past 50 years,” said Perez.

Kern County’s Chief Administrative Officer James Zervis says these projects have been in the works for years.

“This just happens to be a great year where we are able to – all the starts aligned funding-wise and planning-wise, and these things are coming to the community now,” said Zervis.

Those aligned stars mean millions in funding for upgrades that include new play structures and added soccer fields. Construction has already started on the projects planned for Belle Terrace Park.

It’s something Simon Cisneros is looking forward to.

“It’ll bring the community together and it’ll be a lot funner,” said Cisneros. “I’m excited for what it’s going to look like.”

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