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Bakersfield Leads U.S. in Growth

BY MORGAN STEGER, Bakersfield Californian staff writer
e-mail: msteger@bakersfield.com | Wednesday, Jun 21 2006 8:20 AM
Last Updated: Tuesday, Jun 20 2006 10:52 PM

Feeling cramped on the streets of Bakersfield? The number of people who call Bakersfield home is growing at the fastest rate in the nation among cities with more than 250,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released today.

Additionally, Bakersfield is ranked No. 11 in growth among cities with 100,000 people or more.

The newest census figures, which measure the city's population as of July 2005, put Bakersfield's population at 295,536 people, with a population increase of 4.4 percent from July 2004 to July 2005.

"We're not the little town we used to be."
Darrel Hildebrand

Although newly released, the census figures don't account for more recent growth, which according to the California Department of Finance, places Bakersfield's population at 311,824, said John Malson, the department's research manager in charge of city estimates.

The population boom Bakersfield is experiencing is due in part to the high cost of housing in Southern California, said Darrel Hildebrand, assistant director of the Kern Council of Governments.

More affordable housing in Bakersfield and other San Joaquin Valley cities is drawing in Southern Californians at the same time that local birthrates are on the rise, making for a population boom, he said.

"We're not the little town we used to be," Hildebrand said.

The key to benefiting from population growth is careful planning and management, he said.

Among the challenges facing the city: developing neighborhoods that use land efficiently, thus reducing sprawl, fuel use and pollution, creating jobs that use local residents' skills and offering affordable housing, Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand pointed to Bakersfield's location along California's highways and byways as a prime depot to distribute goods around the state, saying the transportation of goods should be an area to look to for job growth potential.

"If we can get the kinds of jobs that the people who arrive here have the skills to work, if we can get that balance, that will be good," he said.

"We've certainly got to come up with more housing to house the folks and more jobs to employ the folks," he said.

Managing growth so the city's infrastructure is used to maximum efficiency is crucial, said John Fallgatter president of the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County.

That means expanding concentrically, not "leapfrogging" out, which strains emergency services and costs taxpayers more money.

"We all know we're gonna grow, that's not the issue," he said. "We want to make sure we grow in a tax-efficient way."

For those nostalgic for Bakersfield's small-town days, there is no easy growth solution, said resident Cathy Smith, 49.

"I hate it, Bakersfield is getting so big," she said. "I don't have a solution to that."

Reprinted with permission of the Bakersfield Californian.