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Mud No More: In Kern County, Lamont Residents Look Forward To Sidewalk Project

On the outskirts of Kern County lies the community of Lamont. It is an unincorporated area 10 miles southeast of Bakersfield home to over 15,000 people. This corner of the county is made up of migrant farm workers, small business owners, and immigrant families, majority Hispanic. 

Despite this community’s rich agricultural production of cotton, potatoes, and grapes, many neighborhoods are without sidewalks. In neighborhoods that do have them, the concrete is often deteriorating and dangerous. Now, after years of planning, a handful of local nonprofits are working together to make Lamont streets safer and friendlier to its pedestrians. 

Credit Christina Lopez / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Jose Mireles and Gustavo Aguirre survey a street slated for new sidewalks in Lamont

On the corner of Panama Road and Elmco Avenue in east Lamont sits a street lined not with lush trees but orange construction cones.

“It looks like they are starting to do some work. They started marking the areas that will need the sidewalks and I think marking those areas that will stay. It’s going to look good,” said Gustavo Aguirre, Director of Organizing for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

“Just imagine it with sidewalks. No more mud. I think it’s going to look great,” said Jose Mireles, Lamont resident and President of Comité Progreso de Lamont -- a local community organization aimed at improving resources within Lamont.

Earlier last month, construction crews began the first of four phases of the Lamont Pedestrian Improvement Project, an Active Transportation Program funded through Cal-Trans, with the purpose to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and curb ramps to improve walking and biking throughout lamont.

Currently, the project is in its first phase: demolition and removing of old and damaged sidewalks.

Mireles walked through one of the neighborhoods undergoing phase one of the project. During this report, he shared the significance of this project with KVPR.

Lopez: "How symbolic it is for this project to begin on this street where you were raised on, where you grew up?"

Credit Christina Lopez / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Many streets in Lamont don't have sidewalks

“Oh, It’s real, real nice that I’m going to get to see sidewalks; I’m going to see kids walking on the side instead on the streets because it’s real, real dangerous. It’s a lot safer for them. Their parents are going to feel more comfortable, more confidence that their kids are going to have a sidewalk they can walk on. That’s, that’s what matters,” said Mireles.

Mireles and Aguirre have partnered together throughout the duration of the project.

“It’s going to impact a lot of people and also it’s very close to a couple of churches. It’s going to benefit the students walking to their school,” said Aguirre. “So, it’s going to have a great benefit to this community.”

Kern County Public Works applied for the Cal-Trans Active Transportation Program Grant in 2015. The following year, it was awarded $2.1 million for the Lamont Pedestrian Improvement Project.

Lamont’s grant application ranked number 12 out of 622 applications received statewide. Local nonprofits including Building Healthy Communities South Kern, C.R.P.E. and Kern County Fifth District Supervisor Leticia Perez and staff supported the project from its inception.

Yolanda Alcantar has seen the genesis of this project as the Public Works Manager of Kern County.

“Through the application were parents expressing a reluctance to allow their children to walk to school due to the lack of sidewalks. The students are forced to walk in dirt shoulders, or in the road and if there’s been rain, then there’s mud,” said Alcantar. “Sometimes they get sent home from school so it causes an array of problems and then with so many inattentive drivers and close-calls, the risk was just too great.”

According to project statistics, that risk resulted in 15 pedestrian collisions, including one fatality, from 2010 to 2015.

"Four miles of sidewalk, imagine walking from downtown Bakersfield all the way to Bakersfield College, on a brand new sidewalk, a new ribbon of sidewalk."

“It’s understandable that a lot of them don’t want their kids to be walking,” said Alcantar.

Jim Burford is the Construction Manager for the County of Kern. He has been involved with the project since last December. The project will span 23 weeks of construction resulting in 4.4 miles of new sidewalk.

“Four miles of sidewalk, imagine walking from downtown Bakersfield all the way to Bakersfield College, on a brand new sidewalk, a new ribbon of sidewalk,” said Burford.

Credit Christina Lopez / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio

Lopez: "What do you think this does for the morale of the community?"

“Hopefully, it makes them more invested in the community so they support and keep it clean and keep them safe,” said Burford.

Aside from new sidewalks, the community will also receive two miles of new curb and gutter, a half acre of new asphalt pavement and 110 new driveways affecting 400 residents in Lamont.

“Just imagine seeing kids running on the sidewalk. Right now, they can’t,” said Aguirre.

A third of the project is completed with an expected date of completion: October 20 of this year.

“I think this project is going to be a good kind of Christmas present for this community,” said Aguirre.

Christina Lopez is a freelance reporter based in Bakersfield. She contributes reports to Valley Public Radio.