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Kern County 2023 – Year in Review

From our Supervisor

Now that 2023 has come to an end, as your Second District Kern County Supervisor, I want to share with you some of what we at the county has accomplished over this past year, and what the residents of Kern County have to look forward to in 2024.

Over the past decade, the county has been impacted by significant fiscal challenges, which has resulted in reduced budgets, difficulty in staffing key positions and fewer investments in public services and amenities. I know the impact of this has not gone unnoticed, and I am now pleased to report that, through economic development, supporting our energy and agricultural industries, Lean Six Sigma efficiency enhancements and cost reductions, we have weathered this storm and achieved needed fiscal stability. Building on a strong foundation of a growing local economy and aggressively seeking federal and state grants, 2023 and 2024 can best be characterized as years of building for a stronger future.

Investing in public safety:

In an effort to fill chronically vacant public safety positions, last year the Board of Supervisors approved significant pay increases, hiring bonuses and other incentives for Kern County Detention Deputies and Sheriff's Deputies, and these investments are bearing fruit. Not only do we have record numbers of new recruits in our academies, but we have successfully recruited over a dozen lateral sheriff deputies from other law enforcement organizations. Building on this momentum, the Board approved the addition of 25 new detention deputy positions in the 2024 budget. These added positions will help the Sheriff's Department deploy more deputies out of the jails and into front-line law enforcement positions within our communities. As we make progress filling vacant sheriff deputy positions, we will look to Measure K in the 2024-25 budget cycle to expand on this effort and fund additional sheriff deputy positions and the expansion of jail bed space.

Similarly, using Measure K funding, the Board of Supervisors approved a new contract with the Kern County Fire union for more competitive pay to improve retention, and to incentivize enhanced training for search and rescue operations and industrial energy sector safety. To better meet the medical needs of our unincorporated communities, in 2023 the County launched two new Kern County Fire initiatives including Firefighter-Paramedic "Safety Squads" and non-firefighter "Medical Units". These medically focused units facilitate our ability to quickly deliver "Advanced Life Saving" medical services to address our residents' medical emergencies, while preserving our fire fighting equipment and crews for the appropriate emergency response. These significantly more efficient and effective life-saving initiatives will continue to be expanded in 2024.

In addition to public safety staffing, we have made significant investments in our public safety infrastructure to prepare for the future. These investments include a new 100,000 plus square foot Sheriff's Department complex for the needed replacement of our coroner facility, property room, public administration facility and other operations. Additionally, the county has purchased two new state-of-the-art helicopters for the Sheriff's Department which are in service now and will greatly improve our ability to stop crime, combat illegal cannabis grows and successfully conduct search and rescue operations.

A new helicopter for the Fire Department is on its way as well, which will improve our ability to protect our mountain communities, combat wildfires and aid in search and rescue operations. Along with the new helicopter, the Board of Supervisors has budgeted for 26 new fire engines in the past two years, replacing old equipment in stations throughout the county. To aid and protect all first responders, last year the county awarded a $157 million contract to replace the county-wide emergency telecommunications network. This network is critical to providing connectivity and communication for first responders from city, county, state and federal agencies. This five-year project will be under construction starting in 2024, benefiting all county residents, and particularly those in our remote and mountainous communities.

With two declared emergencies due to severe weather conditions and flooding, 2023 brought a reminder of the need to ensure our emergency systems and public safety equipment are current and reliable. While our more urban cities felt little to no impact from these events, some of our rural areas were critically impacted with the loss of major infrastructure, damage to private property and the loss of public roadway access. Our firefighters, public works employees and other emergency workers did an excellent job protecting these communities and swiftly responding to restore services and access.

Regarding specific public safety investments in District 2, we are under design for a new sheriff substation in Rosamond, negotiating for the acquisition of a new sheriff substation in Taft and are in the process of building a new fire station in Hart Flat. The new Fire Station 11 will be closer to the population it serves, providing quicker response times in an area of high risk for wildfires, while leaving the old Station 11 facility as an air/wildfire hub in Keene, enhancing the effectiveness of air response and centralizing crew operations to benefit the entire county. The county is also working to expand animal control services, with the design of a new animal control facility in the Bakersfield-Metro area, which will serve the entire county. We are also exploring the re-establishment of an animal control facility in Mojave to serve our eastern communities.

Investing in parks & public spaces:

Beyond public safety, the Board of Supervisors made significant investments in parks and public spaces throughout the county, totaling over $49 million this year alone. These projects are the results of aggressively seeking state grant opportunities, utilizing federal pandemic relief funding, as well as tapping county resources. These projects span a broad list of projects from community centers, public pools and parks, all of which enhance the quality of life and services our residents enjoy.

In 2023, District 2 saw the completion of major updates in the Boron Community Center, a rebuilding of Rosamond's Swimming Pool at Jim Williford Park, and the start of construction of a new playground at Frazier Mountain Park.

And 2024 is bringing a number of additional community improvements to District 2 including:

• New boat launches, restrooms, showers and many other improvements Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area.

Boron Park improvements with the addition of a dog park, skate park, lighting, a splash pad and more.

• Mojave East Park improvements with new restrooms, exercise equipment, soccer field and basketball court renovations and much more.

Rosamond will be getting a new skate park, restroom and related improvements along with major improvements to the Rosamond Community Building.

• Taft will see major park improvements at Ford City Park including a new splash pad, and Fellows Park will receive new playground equipment, benches, pathways and major maintenance to water infrastructure.

Across the board, both county-wide and in the various communities that make up District 2, we will see major investments in public spaces. These are the spaces that we all directly benefit from, and their use enhances our health and quality of life. To keep these investments in good shape, the Board budgeted for significant investments to improve maintenance and park ranger services across the county.

An additional quality of life investment our residents will experience in the 2023-24 fiscal year is in our public library system. The county applied for and received grants to fund facility improvements at fourteen different county library locations. These improvements are in design now and will start construction in Spring of 2024. This investment is timely with the investment of Measure K dollars to expand all unincorporated county library branches hours to five days a week, including Saturdays. For many of our more rural communities, the county library is one of the very few public community buildings available for residents to gather, share, learn, and enjoy community programming.

For library branch locations and hours, visit http://www.kerncountylibrary.org/find-hours-locations/

Investing in the economy:

The Board of Supervisors' goal of becoming the best place in the State of California to start and grow a business will require ingenuity, creativity and, above all, investment.

In 2023, the county's economic development investments were focused on building enhanced capacity for 2024 and beyond. Primarily, this included the establishment of an Economic Development division and the hiring of Kern County's first-ever Chief Economic Development Officer (CEDO). This investment in capacity paid its first dividend when, in the Fall of 2023, Kern County competed for and was accepted into Stanford University's economic impact fellowship program. In addition to a $50,000 grant, this fellowship program equips the County with methods, tools, and resources that will accelerate the creation of Kern County's first-ever economic development scorecard. This public facing scorecard will track new business starts, job creation metrics, tax revenue, unemployment rates and other economic key performance indicators (KPIs).

To properly support the business community, Kern County needs a streamlined real estate development process bolstered by transparency and certainty. To this end, in 2023, the County Administrative Office (CAO), in partnership with Kern County Public Works, launched a building permit modernization project. This modernization project includes launching a customer survey program, building permit process updates, technology enhancements and the establishment of acceptable timelines for all "by right" permits. This project will bring the County of Kern one step closer to being the best place in the State of California to envision and complete real estate projects.

The county's 2023 investment in capacity also allowed the CAO's office to become more engaged with the Kern Economic Development Corporation, the Small Business Development Center, B3K, the East Kern Economic Alliance, the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council and other regional economic development partners that the county supports. This new level of engagement will allow the county to be a force multiplier for the good work that our partners are doing. Importantly, this engagement will also enable the CAO's office to start quantifying Kern County's return on investment.

Targeted recruitment of new business investment was another cornerstone of 2023. The CAO's office, in collaboration with KEDC, engaged with dozens of companies that are considering investing in Kern County. These engagements include substantial new business opportunities at Tejon Ranch, Mojave Air and Space Port, and Buena Vista Lake. Recruitment activity was bookended by activities in support of Kern County's legacy partners. In 2023, the CEDO attended 32 events hosted by legacy partners (agriculture, energy, manufacturing) and, at their request, made 13 public appearances to support and promote expansion efforts. The CAO's office also partnered with Southern California Edison Company to successfully appeal for prioritization of the California City Substation electricity upgrade project. The close of 2023 also brought the groundbreaking of the Hard Rock Tejon Hotel and Casino project. This exciting project represents an investment of over $600 million and the creation of 5,000 jobs and will be a catalyst driving additional private sector development between Bakersfield and the base of the Grapevine.

The county's 2024 economic development strategy is to move Kern County closer to realizing its ambition of becoming the best place in the State of California to start and grow a business. We will expand on the investments made 2023 by focusing on the following goals:

• Communicate consistently about the benefits of doing business in Kern County, with the explicit goals of recruiting new business investment and encouraging expansion of existing businesses.

• Complete Phase I of the building permit process modernization effort so that real estate development in Kern County is less risky and more transparent.

• Publish and maintain the economic development scorecard being built in partnership with the Stanford University fellowship program (job creation metrics, etc.).

• Support legacy businesses with expansion efforts, especially energy partners, as they transition into new revenue models (Carbon Capture, etc.) and hire more employees.

• Use economic development scorecard data to quantify the return on our investments in partners like KEDC, B3K, SBDC, etc.

• Serve as a force multiplier in helping partners (KEDC, B3K, SBDC, etc.) to enable job creation and business expansion.

• Fully entitle a 4 million square foot project near Meadows Field in partnership with Majestic Real Estate.

• Complete an initial analysis on the regional Recycling and Manufacturing in Kern Park (ReMaKe).

• Reopen concession facility at Buena Vista Lake and find new ways to activate and monetize the venue.

• Partner with KEDC to launch a modern Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to track and quantify all recruitment and expansion efforts.

• Assist Hard Rock Tejon with go-live efforts (Employers' Training Resources linkages, Golden Empire Transit routes, etc.).

• Recruit new private sector investment to Kern County such as Top Golf, Bass Pro, Great Wolf Lodge, Chicken and Pickle, Cambium, BIOS Health, National Waterski Championships, etc.

• Expand broadband access in unincorporated Kern (SiFi networks).

• Support East Kern projects including but not limited to: opening of a financial institution in Mojave and re-constituting the Boron Chamber of Commerce.

• Urgent Care in Rosamond.

Truly, 2023 was a year of investment and building for our future. These are just some examples of the work being done, as similar efforts are happening across many other county departments, which will continue into 2024. Our investments today lay a foundation for our future, and over the course of the year, residents across the county will see these projects materialize. We will all get to enjoy the benefits of improved parks, infrastructure, enhanced economic opportunities, safer communities and much, much more.

Indeed, the future is bright for Kern County and District 2!