BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — With $175 million at stake in Kern County from the American Rescue Funds Act for projects that help communities recover from COVID-19, like access to Wi-Fi, to economic needs of low-income residents, but now some local community organizations feel free broadband access at parks neglects to include county regions without parks.
The county has until 2024 to make their final decision on how this money is going to be spent, but already have an outline of what they will use some of these funds for.
The organizations say these decisions were made without first hearing the community out and they believe some plans need to be revised.
“That leaves some communities out, not every community, lower income community, has a park nearby where they will be able to benefit from the broadband,” said Emma De La Rosa, Regional Policy Manager for Leadership Counsel.
She said communities like Fuller Acres which is low-income and rural, would greatly benefit from having broadband but do not have a county park nearby and would not be able to take advantage of the service.
She argues this goes against the requirement to use the funds to provide an equitable recovery for all.
“Residents have asked for installation of broadband within residential neighborhoods, that way we can be sure that the broadband will be used.”
She points out some county parks, like Hart Park, are in areas where the surrounding population most likely do not need broadband as they can afford internet.
They also know community members have other concerns that can be addressed with this money.
“A lot of community flooding, I see the poor kids are going to ride the bus and trying to escape the big flooding, like going around and getting their feet wet. That is really struggling for the community and especially for kids,” said Nicolas Cisneros, Rexland Community Member.
Nicolas Cisneros has been a Rexland Acres Community Member for almost 20 years and said flooding due to rain has always been an issue. But the community is tired and wants to see the county take some action.
“[We’re asking] the Board of Supervisors to help us especially now that they have the American Rescue Plan Funds and that can help this community a lot. Like, to do the curb and gutter so that we can stop the flooding in this community.”
The organizations are asking for the county to actively engage with residents on what they would like to see these funds used.
“The responsible thing to do as representative of communities that vote for you to be in office and represent them is to go back to them and say ‘look, here is an opportunity that we have for you all’, to solve the issues that you are seeing. What are those issues and how do we use those funds I think is just a commonsense approach on how to lead in our community,” said Maira Rios, ACLU Social Bakersfield Office.
She points at the plans introduced last month without community input. During which the county said they plan to use $4 million out of the fund to replace two and rehabilitate five wells at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area.
But De La Rosa argues this is a misuse of funds under the state spending requirements. “Because it does not provide any type of drinking water infrastructure or wastewater infrastructure for low-income communities.”
She added that the funds for the wells would benefit the Buena Vista water storage district which is used to pump water and therefore goes against the rule saying the funds cannot be used for irrigation projects.
“So, we expect they can help us be a better community and especially in this pandemic where disadvantage communities are affected more and impacted more by the pandemic,” said Cisneros.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors stated they would look at the concerns the leadership counsel presented.
Emma De La Rosa said she hopes this will open more communication forums for residents to voice where they want this money to go.
“The case here is where it is being installed, the county is looking to install broadband in the county parks. But that leaves some communities out,” said De La Rosa.
Aside from some communities not having a county park, she says some parks are so abandoned they need to first improve the current infrastructure of the parks.
“A lot of our parks don’t have the shelter to protect us from the heat or the rain, let’s say. They don’t have the benches, they don’t have the proper lighting, it is not always a conducive space for learning and for feeling safe.”
If you would like to read the letter from the leadership council outlining what the county is currently planning to use the funds for and what their concerns are with each, it’s attached at the bottle of this article.