Jul. 1—Arianna Davis and her 6-year-old niece Lea Jae Davis were clearly enjoying the new playground swings at University Park in northeast Bakersfield.
It was a warm Friday morning and they were having a full-on conversation as they flew, side by side, high over the safe surface of the play area.
"I love the swings," said the younger Davis.
There may be a lot of love to go around.
All-new playground equipment is open and ready for action at 11 city parks scattered from one end of Bakersfield to another. In October, the city announced a dozen parks would get new equipment thanks to funding from the Public Safety & Vital Services Measure, also known as Measure N, passed in 2018.
So far, 11 have been completed at city parks across town.
"Currently, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ... is the only park that has not begun construction," city spokesman Eric Galvan said in an email. "MLK's playground will be part of a bigger reimagining of the park."
On Friday morning, Fidel Gonzalez, park construction and facilities planner for the city of Bakersfield's Recreation and Parks Department, walked around the new playground area at University Park, and talked about how the 12 projects will benefit families across the city.
"Typically we renovate two park playgrounds a year, maybe three," Gonzalez said. Twelve was a "challenge."
Finishing all but one in less than nine months has been both exhausting and energizing.
"I think doing this work is elevating the pride in our department," he said.
"It was unheard of to do 12 playgrounds in a year," he said. "It's a good problem to have."
The city is continually looking for ways to improve local amenities and provide services that are beneficial for residents and visitors, Assistant City Manager Scott Andrews said in an email.
"Thanks to the Public Safety & Vital Services Measure, the city was able to replace playground equipment at nearly a dozen of our parks," Andrews noted. "This project, announced last fall and completed in less than a year, demonstrates the dedication to helping improve the quality of life for our community."
The extra funding for the city makes all the difference, and sets the county of Kern in a contrasting position.
Gonzalez said Recreation and Parks gets calls from residents complaining about problems at parks that are outside the city limits. Not everyone, he said, understands the jurisdictional differences.
But vandalism has been on the rise, and is an equal-opportunity scourge as both the city and the county suffer from human-caused property damage.
His division just recently installed a new, prefabricated restroom at Beale Park in the Oleander district.
It's built to take abuse.
"You've got to build them to penal grade," he said. "Like prisons."
"At Wayside (Park), they caught the restroom on fire," he said. "That's the kind of thing we're dealing with."
Despite the challenges, after more than 2 1/2 decades as a city employee, Gonzalez has not lost his passion for the work.
When he saw the Davis girls enjoying the swings Friday morning at University Park, the purpose of his work came into sharp focus.
Serving the community in which he lives. Improving the quality of life for countless residents of Bakersfield.
It's not easy, he said. But it's rewarding.
Said Gonzalez, "I still love coming to work."
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.