By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
The nearly 25-year history of Kern River Valley Revitalization, Inc. (KRVR) came to a quiet close at its last community meeting held on September 5 at the Kern River Ranger District Office in Kernville as KRVR President John Blythe read a prepared statement to the community.
True to its mission to find solutions to valley-wide problems, the KRVR Board of Directors decided the time was right for its own organization to step aside and be replaced by a more representative community action group. The 30 attendees appeared to be unanimously in favor of exploring the formation of an official town council with a representative to be elected from each of the nine communities within the Kern River Valley (KRV) area.
Being part of a large unincorporated Kern County area without local town governance, the KRVR was formed in 1994 to act as a unifying force for all KRV towns so they could act with one voice in fostering valley-wide economic and social improvements. During some years, drought, recession, and natural disasters caused loss of jobs and social upheaval throughout the entire KRV. KRVR’s role was to identify problems and facilitate their solutions. It worked to diversify the local economy by attracting sustainable businesses, and to improve the quality of valley life by accessing outside funding and governmental resources.
In 1995 KRVR created a working Action Plan to improve infrastructure and education, bring in new business industries and jobs, and strengthen tourism and recreation throughout the KRV. The organization helped support many community improvements that are still in existence today.
Over the years, KRVR became increasingly polarized and largely ineffective. The unity that initially created a powerful force for change broke into factions supporting individual causes and communities. Recession, drought, and devastating fires created worsening economic and social problems valley-wide and financial disarray within the organization. Residents called for a more accountable form of representation to address their concerns and find solutions.
These conditions ultimately led to the decision by KRVR to dissolve and give the KRV an opportunity to embrace a concept that had been voiced several times in the past: formation of an official town council with elected representatives.
Before the decision to dissolve was made, KRVR met with Kern County First District Supervisor Mick Gleason and gained his support of this grassroots concept. Discussions then began with the Chambers of Commerce and Community Groups of Kernville, Lake Isabella, and Wofford Heights, each of which supports the idea. Lastly, Fred Clark, President of the Exchange Club and Secretary of the KRV Chamber of Commerce, reviewed charters and bylaws of four comparable town councils in nearby areas as examples to be used for public discussion and templates for creation of a possible town council for the KRV.
One final arrangement needed to be made before its dissolution. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, KRVR acted as a fiscal agent through which various public benefit projects received their funds, such as for the Fellow Travelers of Highway 178 citizen’s group and initially the Keepers of the Kern until it got its own non-profit status. The KRVR’s 501(c)3 status will be merged as a reorganized entity under the umbrella of the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce which will then act as the fiscal agent for the remaining projects from KRVR.
Regarding the KRVR dissolution, President Blythe stated, “This marks an opportunity for a new beginning as this is an historical turning point in our valley. I have hope and faith that the people in this valley will come together to explore the concept of the formation of a local town council, which will bring about a more legitimized form of representation as a voice for everyone who lives and works here.” He expressed his gratitude to all those who have supported KRVR and its mission to improve the community.
Supervisor Gleason voiced his support of a grassroots town council that could approach him as a group to address the needs and concerns of the KRV as a whole. He suggested that the Council initially work on just one or two simple projects such as procuring several jobs for KRV residents at one of the major employers coming into the Bakersfield area. Once a formal structure for the Council is in place, he and/or his representative Debbie Freeland would attend Council meetings. “If you decide to form a town council, I look forward to helping that fledgling organization create a win and demonstrate that this new organization can have a positive effect in growing and improving the whole community,” Gleason offered.
The public now needs to decide if a town council should be formed, and if so, determine its structure and focus. Fred Clark volunteered to coordinate town hall meetings in each KRV community to gather public input on the town council concept. Public notices will list the future dates and locations of these meetings, but residents are welcome to reach out to Clark now with their initial ideas by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The meeting ended with attendees expressing hope and resolve to bring KRV together again for improvement in its economy and quality of life. “I remain certain that sooner or later, someday this valley’s common efforts will come together to form a safer, healthier and prosperous Kern River Valley for this and future generations,” Blythe concluded.