Behind the Scenes

There are a lot of things going on behind Kern County’s scenes that most people don’t know about. Things that will affect every last one of us.

How are we going to keep our economy healthy? How are we going to preserve our resources? How are we going to keep our community growing in a way that preserves our standards of living? It’s a bumpy, ever-changing landscape that can be hard to navigate. Fortunately we have amongst us a group of active, concerned citizens willing to work unnoticed to better things in our neck of the woods.

Here’s a peek at just a few of the organizations working in the background to keep Kern up to the standards that brought our predecessors to this end of the San Joaquin Valley in the first place—to settle down in an area where they could live life as it should be.

“Imagine what we could do if we eliminated wasteful spending,” the home page of the Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government (KCSG) asks visitors to their website to consider.

Lauren Smoot, KCSG Director of Policy and Community Affairs, helps to keep Kern County on a path of prosperity.
Lauren Smoot, KCSG Director of Policy and Community Affairs, helps to keep Kern County on a path of prosperity.

KCSG, a nonprofit organization, was formed in 2010 by Chad Hathaway (Hathaway, LLC and Payzone Directional Services), John-Paul Lake (Rain for Rent), and Patrick Wade (Precision Pharmacy) who saw a need for sustainable government practices and responsible government policies that would promote economic growth and create jobs in Kern County. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the public good and betterment of our community, and has made it their mission to promote economic, fiscal, and public policies that keep Kern County on a sustainable path to prosperity, according to Lauren Smoot, Director of Policy and Community Affairs.

The organization’s 10 advisory board members, Melissa Poole, Jason Cohen, Sean McNally, Antonia Beccari, Jeff Gutierrez, Mike Young, Greg Bynum, Tom Maxwell, Patty Poire, and Edwin Camp, receive information collected by Smoot, study the issues, discuss the impact on Kern County, and provide direction for Smoot who then disseminates communications with organizations, businesses, and community leaders about the issues the board feels need to be addressed.

Nick Ortiz, Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO
Nick Ortiz, Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO

“We are a very focused organization and really work to put the spotlight on ‘big picture’ issues, like regulations affecting all of Kern County’s industries, educational standards, and how these kinds of issues will support economic growth over generations,” she explained.

But before the spotlight can be turned on, people have to understand what the issues really are.

“Education is a big part of what we do because we want people to understand how government issues can affect all local businesses and industries. We want to demystify issues and bring them down to a local level so every citizen understands what they mean,” Smoot said.

Although KCSG has stepped into the 21st century when it comes to communication by getting messages out on their website and through social media, it’s the good ol’ face-to-fact meetings that are the most effective.

“When we’re able to connect everyday citizens to Kern businesses and industries in ways that allow people to actually see how a business is run, or hear from organizational leaders about what is going on, community members are far more likely to become involved. They seem to feel more invested when they’ve had a direct connection, and are more willing to add their voices to the conversation by letting their congressman know their feelings, or showing up to vote.”

People have learned some pretty interesting information on tours sponsored by KCSG, and have come away with insights they would have never guessed.

“We recently took a group of people to tour the San Joaquin Refining Co., and we not only had the chance to see the refinery in action, we were able to hear about the challenges they were facing,” Smoot said, adding that the most surprising thing they found out was that the refinery has to pay fees that are 300 percent higher than refineries in other states.

Although motivating people to voice their opinions is KCSG’s prime directive, Smoot pointed out that voices become louder when spoken by people from many groups.

“KCSG works closely with several groups, like all of Kern County’s chambers of commerce, the Kern Farm Bureau, Kern County Board of Realtors, Kern County Taxpayers Association (just to name a few), sharing ideas, staying up to speed with each other’s issues, understanding each other’s positions, and getting on the same page. When we come together we make a bigger impact as we work in the best interests of our community as a whole,” Smoot asserted.

“Voices in numbers certainly gives us more leverage,” agreed Nick Ortiz, Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce President and CEO. “Working with partners and other community organizations and discussing what their priorities are allows us to make sure that we’re all focused on issues that affect a wide range of our community members.”

Tracy Leach, Executive Director for Kern Citizens for Energy
Tracy Leach, Executive Director for Kern Citizens for Energy

That “wide range” of community members Ortiz is talking about refers to the over 1,100 members representing between 60,000 and 70,000 jobs, and growing thanks to community partnerships.

“We have a great relationship with groups like the Kern Economic Development Corporation, farming organizations, oil and gas organizations, and youth leadership organizations. We use our connections to work together to promote and create a business climate that will make Kern County attractive to businesses looking to relocate or expand to Bakersfield or one of our surrounding communities.”

But the Chamber doesn’t stop at promoting our community; the members and staff work as advocates for businesses, both big and small.

“What it really boils down to is that we are a leadership organization, a business promoter, and an advocacy group,” Ortiz explained. “We are constantly analyzing the business climate not only in Kern County, but in California, to look for ways we can contribute to bettering the environment. We have committees (like political action committees and policy committees) that focus on advocating for business-friendly candidates and policies, and we actively monitor legislation that will affect our businesses and industries.”

One industry facing significant regulation changes is near and dear to Kern County’s heart—the oil and gas industry.

“Policy-makers are talking about a new ‘cap and trade law’ that would put caps on the trade of oil and gas. As a major producer of oil and gas, our community would really be affected by this kind of initiative, so we are very interested in keeping tabs on this legislation and getting the word out to our members about how it could affect Kern County.”

“When you see all these regulations and proposed bans on oil production in California, what you’re really talking about is oppressing something that is a huge contributor to economy and to our way of life,” pointed out Tracy Leach, executive director for Kern Citizens for Energy. “The oil and gas industry makes up fully one-third of Kern County’s economy, so the cap and trade law would have a major impact on our citizens.”

Although taking on campaigns against legislation like the cap and trade law is mostly what KCE does, Leach’s mission is also to clear up the misrepresentations of the industry.

“The attacks on the oil and gas industry really bother me. There are many politicians and special interest groups that prey on people’s emotions by telling the public scary things about oil production that aren’t even true. KCE is here to try and push back the anti-oil hyperbole and stand up for the oil and gas industry.”

Made up of a broad coalition of local citizens, small business owners, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, energy companies, and taxpayer advocates who support the energy industry here in Kern County, KCE works to gather support for local energy production in order to provide local jobs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and increase revenues for Kern County schools, roads, and public safety.

“The oil and gas industry accounts for over fifty thousand jobs in Kern County, and the businesses employ a wide range of workers, from those with advanced engineering degrees and high-tech degrees, those with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and skilled workers who are just starting out. That’s a big segment of the population that is reliant on the oil industry.”

To protect our economy and way of life, KCE works to educate our people about what the oil and gas industry is all about, and the depth of its reach into the fabric of our society.

“We want people to think beyond their gas tanks and realize what extraordinary resources oil and gas are. Petroleum has given us a standard of living our great-grandparents could have never dreamed about. Petroleum touches virtually everything in today’s world. Without petroleum there would be no cell phones, no computers, no heart valve replacements, no toothpaste—the list goes on and on.”

And people are beginning to listen. Even in the face of all the doomsayers, environmentalists, and political figures looking for votes, KCE is getting people to show up and listen to what the oil and gas companies have to say.

“As the County prepares an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) specifically on oil and gas activities in Kern County, KCE sponsored a workshop in the Board of Supervisors chambers last July. The room was packed, overflowing. It gave me the chills. ‘Everyone gets it,’ I was thinking as I looked around at all the people jammed in the room. It was a wonderful visual reward for our efforts of getting the word out about the importance of showing up and listening to our side of the story.”

Getting people to show up. Getting people to listen. Getting people to speak up. These are the common denominators that tie our local community and citizen groups together. There’s a lot at stake when it comes to keeping Kern County’s way of life up to par, and these groups are working together to make sure our future is so bright, we gotta wear shades.

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