By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason met with the Kern Valley Exchange Club last Thursday, April 4, to update residents on issues facing the county.
At the top of the list were homelessness and code compliance, two ongoing issues that valley residents have been working hard to address.
Gleason said that while the county was not funded specifically to address homelessness and has no “homeless department,” it had become more involved with the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, a group of organizations dedicated to providing resources to the homeless.
Gleason acknowledged that after the Collaborative had performed this year’s Point in Time Count, which is a yearly census of the county’s homeless population, numbers had increased.
“We’re not structured to manage that issue, but as a human being and as your government agent, you expect something coming from Kern County to provide some leadership or something,” said Gleason.
He pointed to state laws such as Prop 47 and AB 109 as a facet of the homelessness increase that Kern County can give valuable input on.
Because homelessness is often a result of mental health issues or substance abuse, Gleason felt that if the Sheriff were still able to take the homeless to the jails for short periods, they could assess them and provide them with services they may need.
Gleason said that he had a team researching his opinion to confirm whether these laws had contributed to the homeless population, and he acknowledged that while it was a possible solution, it was only one of many.
“I’m open minded, but I think we need different laws,” said Gleason.
He went on to code compliance, which KRV residents and the county have often disagreed on. (See “Defying to comply” from the April 3, 2019, issue of the Sun.)
Gleason noted that the code compliance division of Kern County is a complaint-driven department that has opened roughly 1,100 cases in the last 4 to 5 years, some 600 of which have been in the Kern River Valley alone. He said that some $4 million has been spent mitigating the issue in those years alone.
“It’s not nearly enough. It could be ten times that, and it’s still not going to be enough dollars to get what we need to get done up here,” said Gleason. “That’s a reality. It’s all over Kern County. It’s all over the place; you’re not alone.”
On one hand, Gleason said that he hesitated to give certain attention to code compliance complaints because of the disregard for property rights. While some legitimate complaints are made, many do not constitute a public hazard and are a matter of residents’ dislike for what they see.
“There’s such a thing as private property rights that need to be honored and respected whether or not you like the color of his paint job or the tent parked on his roof. I’m sorry, but if it’s not in violation of the code, that’s his property and it’s his decision to do that,” said Gleason, emphasizing that he does not want to county to cross a line into targeting poor residents.
Residents were quick to note, however, that this most certainly could not apply to absent property owners who have allowed properties to languish along Lake Isabella Blvd.
Gleason said that properties like these do sometimes come to the Board of Supervisors to make an abatement decision, and he said that he would return to residents with more information about specific addresses that have been red-tagged or neglected for long periods of time.
On the more positive local front, Gleason spoke about the recent ‘meet and greet’ meeting organized recently for new county directors. Two weeks ago, Gleason and the Lake Isabella – Bodfish Property Owner Association organized a meeting for KRV residents to get in touch with new county directors to address many of their concerns.
“It wasn’t really a town hall meeting,” said Gleason. “The reason I don’t like [town hall meetings] is because often times they get manipulated by one or two people who have a grudge, and they don’t stop talking, and they won’t let anybody else in the audience get answers to the questions they may have.”
Overall, Gleason said that he liked the meet and greet style setup and felt that it was more constructive.
“I saw several of you there, and I thought it went really well,” he said.
Gleason also gave short updates on the Walk Isabella and George & Darlene Randall Skate Park projects.
He hesitated to spend too much time on the Walk Isabella project, as he said that it was not a project that was going to happen quickly, but he said that it was set to break ground in 2022 and is currently going through the environmental review and design processes.
He is hoping, however, to match the skate park project’s funding in order to have it fully funded by the end of this summer. He said that once he saw that the community had raised about $87,000 for the park, he took notice.
“I took a look at that, and it immediately jumped in my priorities because this is obviously something that you want. So it’s going to happen,” he assured, giving special kudos to Karene Williams, the Skate Park Committee’s Volunteer Treasurer, who has been instrumental in raising funds.
Supervisor Gleason will also be speaking to KRV residents at the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce general meeting this Wednesday, April 10, at noon at Paradise Cove. Call the chamber at (760) 379-5236 for details or to reserve lunch.