Following the U.S. Census every 10 years, redistricting takes place to adjust for population shifts and changes. As we have done every 10 years since Kern became a California county 1866, Kern County is tasked with redrawing our supervisorial district lines again this year. Although this process only happens every 10 years, a common story is being told about the desert and mountain areas that make up eastern Kern County, largely by those who don’t live here.
This tired and familiar story uses a broad brush to paint East Kern into a single, blurry picture. This picture fails to recognize the unique and unmistakable characteristics that make up different parts of East Kern. In the same manner that East Kern understands and respects that the valley floor is very diverse despite a similar terrain, we may need to remind some folks across Kern County that East Kern is also diverse. Despite the similar terrain of mountain and desert regions, the differences that exist across East Kern are evident and meaningful.
Although this is far from a comprehensive description of all the differences, I’d like to illustrate a few important examples of these unique characteristics among our diverse communities. Let me start with the differences between the Kern River Valley, currently in District 1, and Tehachapi, currently in District 2. The Kern River Valley is known for its impressive tourism and recreational activities. This includes fishing, hiking, camping and whitewater rafting. It also has unique cultural events such as Whiskey Flat Days and the Isabella Lake Fishing Derby.
While there are plenty of recreational activities in Tehachapi, its economy and the livelihood of its residents largely come from different sources. Agriculture is a key characteristic that supports much of Tehachapi’s economy and residents, including its world-famous apple orchards, award-winning vineyards and ideal landscape for livestock. Coupled with Tehachapi’s exceptional wind energy resources and a state prison that employs hundreds, there is a distinct difference from the Kern River Valley’s reliance on recreation and tourism.
The desert areas of East Kern also contain unique characteristics that define each of those communities. From Ridgecrest in the northeastern portion of Kern County, to Rosamond in southeastern Kern County near the Los Angeles County line, to all the unique desert communities in between such as California City, Mojave, Boron and North Edwards among others, several exceptional qualities exist in this vast desert landscape.
The China Lake Naval Weapons Station in District 1 is the backbone of Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley, and its high-tech workforce. The level of engagement required by a county supervisor to understand this mission-critical military base and the complexities of rebuilding due to earthquakes with $4 billion in federal funding cannot be overstated. Further south in District 2, Edwards Air Force Base/Armstrong Flight Research Center and the Mojave Air and Space Port require an equal level of focus and engagement from a single supervisor. Dedicated knowledge and engagement are essential to adequately represent their interests, which include being a leader in advanced aircraft flight testing, rocket propulsion, and space technology development, commercialization, and access.
Most importantly, representation by two county supervisors in East Kern is vital when it comes to future rounds of the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. A single supervisor representing both military bases could be thrust in a situation of competing interests in the BRAC process by not allowing separate representation and advocacy for each base. Separate representation of each base is very likely vital to the successful future of both.
And it’s not just aerospace and defense in East Kern’s desert. The desert communities of District 2 are unique from the Ridgecrest area when it comes to diverse and critical economic drivers. This includes mining operations by Rio Tinto and Golden Queen, cement plants, large-scale wind and solar projects, and distinct recreational activities for all these communities among others.
Although these are just a few examples of our great diversity in East Kern, these differences are no less distinctive than comparing east Bakersfield to northwest Bakersfield, which understandably have separate supervisorial representation in those urban areas. We should expect no less for East Kern.
For residents of East Kern, the time for your participation is now and I encourage our communities to get involved! Your feedback is critically important for the next redistricting hearing on Monday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. Various map proposals have been presented and it is important we hear your voice on how redistricting impacts your communities of interest. For example, one proposal combines all desert and mountain areas into one district without regard to the impact of the many distinct communities of interest that make up this region.
Without your input, persons outside your community will define what issues should be supported and how you are best represented. New maps can be submitted for consideration and current proposed maps can be viewed at: https://www.kerncounty.com/government/2021-redistricting/2021-redistricting-english/2021-redistricting-boundary-maps-english. Additional ways to submit maps, public comments or to define the characteristics of your community can be provided via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice message at 661- 868-3139, or dropped off at any Kern County Library branch. All additional information on the Redistricting process is available at the link above.
Zack Scrivner is the supervisor for Kern County's second district.