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Kern County- Engaging Residents in Creating a Coordinated City & County General Plan

Case Story

Community: Kern County

Population: 807,407


Kern County and the City of Bakersfield have the only coordinated city-county general plan in the state, a tradition dating back to the late 1980’s that originated with a joint plan for the Kern River. For the past three years, city and county officials have worked to engage a broad cross section of residents in an update to this joint general plan, in collaboration with a local nonprofit organization and the San Joaquin Valley Council of Governments.

Program Highlight:

  • Local officials joined forces with a local grassroots community organization called Bakersfield Vision 2020 to help engage residents. This nonprofit had prior experience engaging the community in topics such as education and crime prevention, and was able to provide trained local facilitators free of charge.

Lessons Learned:

  • Keep a public engagement process moving along by updating residents regularly to keep them interested.
  • Providing food at some meetings helped draw participants and allowed people to move between groups to talk about issues they were interested in, and helped to keep people engaged.

The Rest of the Story…

Four meetings were held in four quadrants of the city, each involving about sixty or seventy residents in facilitated discussions about strengths and weaknesses in the community and their vision for the future. Group priorities for future development in the region were tallied through voting by raised hands at the end of each meeting. The municipalities also held three public dialogues in collaboration with the San Joaquin Valley of Governments, an agency that kicked off a blueprint visioning process for the entire valley soon after the joint plan update for Kern County and Bakersfield was announced.

About two or three hundred residents have participated in public dialogues related to the joint city-county general plan update since 2007. The process has been slowed down by loss of revenues and staff in the city and county planning departments, as well as by turnover in upper management and a significant curbing of the population and development growth that originally spurred the update. Coordinating the general plans of the city and county helps to meet the public’s expressed desire for consistent development standards for the area. The newly updated city and county plans are expected to be approved in 2011.

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