Three Kern County schools receive Distinguished School banner

Three Kern County schools had a lot to celebrate this week as they were recognized for their commitment to education.

Delano and Cesar E. Chavez high schools and Rosedale Middle School received a 2019 Distinguished School banner from California Casualty.

Schools were awarded for achieving exceptional student performance for two consecutive years or for closing the achievement gap during the previous two school years, according to a press release.

The entire list of 2019 California distinguished schools can be found here.

ROBERT PRICE: Brace for the local consequences of a Census undercount

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on the Trump administration’s mission to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. Court watchers say, based on the discussion, things appear promising for the president’s side.

No matter how you feel about the issue, know that the addition of a citizenship question will cost Kern County some federal money — and perhaps even some representation.

By the Census Bureau’s own analysis, 5.8 percent of U.S. households with a non-citizen, fearing repercussions from federal immigration authorities, will not respond to the census at all. That’s about 6.5 million people across the U.S., roughly the population of Indiana.

This matters because census results help establish the number of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives each state is apportioned, as well as how federal dollars are distributed for things like highways, prisons, education, veterans’ benefits and a whole lot more.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, hard-to-count communities are distributed across several counties in the San Joaquin Valley but are most concentrated in T. J. Cox’s 21st Congressional District and Jim Costa’s 16th, where 42 percent of census tracts are especially challenging.

Six state legislative districts in the southern San Joaquin Valley have populations that are at least 15 percent non-citizen, according to the PPIC. Among them are those of Cox and Costa, Melissa Hurtado (14th state Senate) and Rudy Salas (32nd Assembly).

Also notoriously hard to count: Children under 5, who make up 8 percent or more of the population in Kern and four nearby counties. 

Gary Moore called Tuesday with an update on his quest to find the person who killed his wife, Petrina:

People care.

It was about dusk on Sunday, Nov. 16, 1980, and the Moores were driving south on Highway 99 from Delano to visit friends in McFarland with their 4-year-old daughter.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a white Ford Galaxie overtook their Honda Accord and one of its four passengers, hanging out of the right-rear passenger-side window, fired three shots at their car. The first struck Petrina, seven months pregnant, in the back of the head. Moore believes she was killed immediately. Their unborn child didn’t make it either.

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have much to go on — no shell casings, no tire tread prints, no meaningful witness descriptions of the four young Hispanic men — and the homicide was eventually moved to cold-case status. The case file, presumably including at least one recovered slug, was eventually removed from the evidence room and destroyed because of the passage of time. Sgt. David Hubbard of the KCSO said technology that might match a spent bullet with the firearm that fired it does not exist. And in any case, investigators do not possess the revolver used in the crime, so they would have nothing to match it with.

Moore, newly widowed from his second wife of 37 years, says he has received many encouraging and supportive comments. Within his own family, not so much: “Some people don’t want to talk about it, and I get it,” he said, “but I don’t have a problem with it.”

He’s still hoping someone comes forward with information perhaps forgotten, repressed or buried under misguided loyalty. 

My guest for my Wednesday noon webcast, “One on One with Robert Price,” will be Michelle Corson of the Kern County Public Health Services Department.

Corson will be fresh from a Wednesday morning press conference announcing the release of 2018 Kern County valley fever data. My hunch is that the news will not be good about efforts to control and treat the indigenous, debilitating airborne fungus.

She and I will discuss the new valley fever numbers, as well as: the county’s Waste Hunger Not Food program, which Corson personally manages; local vaccination rates, and the importance of therefore, especially amid this nationwide measles outbreak; and the joys of the imminent mosquito season, such as West Nile virus. 

Good, bad news hit California’s gasoline market

New uncertainty overtook California gasoline prices Monday as a sudden jump in oil prices overshadowed reports that some of the state’s largest refineries may soon come back online, likely increasing the state’s fuel supply.

It was unclear whether the net result will be further price increases or a decline after a month in which pump prices rose by 19 percent.

At least one observer, with the California Energy Commission, said he thinks prices will keep going up.

“I would say a lot of the signs are pointing up as opposed to down,” said Ryan Eggers, the agency’s supervisor of transportation fuels data.

Iran sanctions

Oil prices jumped to their highest level in six months after the Trump administration announced it will no longer allow China, India and other countries to violate international sanctions on the purchase of Iranian oil.

A tougher line by the administration on Iranian oil exports would be expected to crimp the international supply of oil. All else staying the same, that would put upward pressure on oil prices and, by extension, California gasoline prices.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark most Kern County crude prices are pegged to, surged Monday by more than $2 per barrel, or 3 percent.

Refinery trouble, oil imports

Meanwhile, The Automobile Club of Southern California said there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” with regard to the problems that have hobbled six of the state’s 10 largest refineries during the last several weeks.

Auto Club spokesman Jeffrey Spring said Monday at least two of the refinery disruptions appear to have been the result of planned maintenance and that some of that work is expected to end soon.

Also, there are reports that tanker shipments of California-blend gasoline is on its way to the Golden State from Europe and could arrive within the next couple of weeks, he said. That would normally have the effect of lowering prices motorists pay at the pump.

“We’re not out of it yet,” he said, “but it seems like (the refinery fixes), combined with these reported imports coming into the state, seem to be helping to moderate the price of wholesale gasoline.”

Recent gas prices

Bakersfield’s average price for a gallon of unleaded was up only slightly Monday at $4.008 per gallon, the Auto Club reported. That was about 50 cents more than local motorists were paying a year ago.

Statewide, the average price for unleaded was $4.031. Until the recent run-up in prices, California hadn’t seen its average gas price top $4 since July of 2014.

The national average Monday was $2.842, according to the Auto Club.

Spring noted price increases have moderated in recent days.

“It’s not climbing as fast as it was last week and the week before that,” he said.

But when will the price come down again? “That’s always the big question, isn’t it,” he said, before adding, “this next week or so could be the peak” before prices turn downward.

Spring said it was still too soon to know how the administration’s announcement on Iranian sanctions would affect gas prices.

PHOTO GALLERY: Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York City

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PHOTO GALLERY: French protesters demand attention from Macron

PARIS (AP) — French yellow vest protesters have set fires along a march through Paris to drive home their message to the government that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem France needs to solve.

Like the high-visibility vests the protesters wear, the scattered small fires in Paris appeared to be a collective plea to French President Emmanuel Macron’s government to “look at me — I need help too!”

Police fired water cannon and sprayed tear gas to try to control radical elements rampaging on the margins of the largely peaceful march.

The protests marked the 23rd straight weekend of yellow vest actions against Macron’s centrist government, which they see as favoring the wealthy and big business. Protesters view themselves as standing up for beleaguered French workers , students and retirees who have been battered by high unemployment, high taxes and shrinking purchasing power.

Mainstay Oildale supermarket, named after 11-C oil parcel, closing for good

The Young’s Marketplace stores are gone. The Cope’s Foodfair Markets are history, too. East Bakersfield’s last surviving Green Frog Market closed in 2013. And likewise, Modern Way Market on South Chester is no more.

Now add Oildale’s 11-C to the ever-lengthening list of mom-and-pop supermarkets that have closed their doors in Kern County.

The locally owned mainstay on Roberts Lane drew customers for decades with its full-service meat counter and know-you-by-name friendliness. But on Saturday, the last remaining 11-C will close its doors for good.

“At one time, there were five 11-C’s,” said Steve Coleman, one of the managers of the market on Roberts Lane.

Besides the Oildale store, there was the original 11-C in Taft, which is believed to have been named after a numbered oil parcel located near the store. Another market in Shafter, and two in Bakersfield, were ultimately added.

When the Oildale location closes, 11-C will be no more.

“Once they let the Walmarts in, it was only a matter of time,” Coleman said.

When you ask customers and store employees about the closing, that W-word almost invariably comes up.

The retail powerhouse moved into Oildale in 2014, developing a Walmart Neighborhood Market on North Chester Avenue, which includes meats and groceries.

Since then, the nearby Vons on North Chester Avenue in Oildale has closed as has Cope’s on Norris Road — and now 11-C. Two Dollar General chain stores have sprung up north of the river, and a Family Dollar now occupies the former Cope’s location.

“What I really have to say about this (closure) you can’t put in the newspaper,” said an angry Charles Bell, who said he shopped at Cope’s before it became extinct, then started coming to 11-C for its meat counter, which has been operated by veteran butcher John Cope since his family’s Cope’s Foodfair closed at the end of 2017.

“It’s crap,” Bell said. “You take out all the hometown places and put the corporate stores in.”

Requests left at the store on Wednesday in an effort to reach owner Brent Cruz did not receive a response. But Cruz showed up during a second visit by a reporter on Friday.

When asked to comment on the planned closure, and specifically on how many employees might be affected, Cruz declined. Soon after, he invited the reporter to leave.

But even the boss couldn’t stop the wave of emotion that has been felt by some employees and customers as the last day neared.

“I cried three times today, my official last day,” said Megan Vanderhorst, who has worked 14 years in the meat department at both Cope’s and 11-C.

“I’m so glad you’re doing this story,” she said Friday. “There’s history here. We’ve seen a lot of tears from customers today.”

According to former Bakersfield resident Tracy White, her father, Charlie Holman and his lifelong friend and business partner, Ralph Niblett, opened the 11-C in Taft in 1964. It was named, she said in a Facebook comment, for the Standard Oil parcel across the street from the store.

The partners opened the Oildale store in 1971 or ’72, she said.

It’s difficult for locally owned markets to compete against huge corporate giants like Walmart, retail consulting firms have told The Californian.

Cope, whose family owned a small chain of locally run grocery stores, has worked in the industry since he was a youngster, following his dad into the butcher’s trade.

“At the age of 10, I had a knife in my hand,” he said.

For years, Cope’s on Norris and 11-C on Roberts, had a friendly competition, Cope said. But when the Norris Road store closed more than a year ago, 11-C brought in John Cope to run its meat counter as a contractor.

But Wallmart and other competition north and south of the river was already sending reverberations through the poverty-stricken community.

“The customer loyalty dropped off,” Cope said. “But can you blame them?”

People shop for value. People with reliable transportation are going to shop at Target and Costco and Walmart. A small, family-owned market can’t compete with them on price, Cope said.

But those who aren’t able to hop in their car and shop wherever they want could be in serious trouble with the loss of 11-C and Cope’s — and that’s a sizable number in Oildale, where residents walk across the Chester Avenue Bridge in blistering heat just to shop at FoodMaxx.

“One of our biggest sellers is our meat baskets,” Cope said. 

Customers choose from various selections, and stretch the bargain meats over several weeks.

“It has to get them through the month,” he said.

“People are already saying, ‘Where am I going to get my meat baskets?'”

“Dollar General?” he asked. “What kind of meat are you going to get there?”

PHOTO GALLERY: Cypress Hill honored with star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Hip-hop group Cypress Hill was honored Thursday with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The group which started in 1988 has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and has hits such as “Insane in the Brain” and “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.”

Fred Starrh, 1929-2019: Local farmer took on local oil company, rose to national leadership

Fred Starrh, a longtime Shafter cotton farmer and industry leader whose landmark legal victory over a Bakersfield oil producer earned him local renown, died Tuesday at the age of 89 after suffering a stroke.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., Starrh grew his family’s holdings from 35 acres to several thousand after expanding from planting cotton and alfalfa to growing almonds and pistachios. He held numerous positions on local, industry and national boards.

Outside ag circles, he was probably best known for a lawsuit he filed against Aera Energy LLC, a local oil company he was able to show had knowingly allowed its wastewater to contaminate his groundwater. The 13-year case, which was tried three times and appealed twice, included a multimillion-dollar award against Aera.

“He was a giant of a man,” his longtime lawyer, Bakersfield’s Ralph Wegis, said Wednesday. “Physically he was a big man, but he was a big man in every other sense of the word also. He was a big leader.”

Starrh was a “big-picture kind of thinker” who put service to community and industry above individual gain, his son-in-law Jay Kroeker said.

He was also a dedicated family man who sometimes became emotional talking about his family.

“Family was the most important thing to him,” Kroeker said.

Active in national cotton industry groups, Starrh served on the Kern High School District and the Kern County Farm Bureau, where he served as the local industry group’s 35th president from 1973 to 1975. Among his accomplishments at the bureau were authorization of overweight loads for perishable produce on county roads and establishment of group’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, President Tito Martinez said in a written statement.

“The Kern County Farm Bureau sends (its) condolences to the Starrh family, and we are thankful for his years of services, hard work and dedication benefiting the agricultural industry in Kern County,” Martinez wrote.

The Kern County Water Agency, which Starrh served as a director for 28 years, also offered its condolences. It noted his leadership and contributions “in a wide scope of water management activities to preserve and enhance California’s water supplies and provide a more secure water supply for Kern County.”

Starrh’s first wife, Nancy, died in 2009. He is survived by his second wife, Linda Colbard, and his son Fred Starrh Jr. and daughters Carol Kroeker and Anne Ashley. He is also survived by his grandchildren Adam Starrh, Dana Starrh, Keith Starrh, Michelle Starrh, Brent Starrh, Brad Kroeker and DeeAnn Edick, as well as two great-grandchildren, Colt and Walker Starrh.

A memorial service has been scheduled for April 28 at Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church. Jay Kroeker said Fred Starrh was not a member of that church but that the family wants to host a remembrance there because they’re afraid his church, Shafter Congregational Church, is too small to hold everyone who wants to attend.

Report: Local attorney reportedly confirms son died in fire

Local attorney Phil Ganong has confirmed to a Bakersfield television station that his son died in a fire on Saturday.

Ganong reportedly told KGET that his son, William Ganong, 35, died after a fire broke out at a residence on Beech St. just after midnight.

The Kern County Coroner’s Office has yet to confirm the identity of the man that passed away. In a report released Monday, the department said it would withhold the identity pending positive identification and notification of next of kin.

A report by the Bakersfield Fire Department said five people were in the home when the fire broke out. Crews reportedly arrived to find the home fully engulfed in flames.

Phil Ganong has represented marijuana interests in Kern County for many years, and has fought efforts by the county to ban medical marijuana sales.

Vintage World War II-era planes touch down in Bakersfield, offer flying history

A crowd of aviation enthusiasts and history buffs filled the reception area at Bakersfield Jet Center to welcome a small squadron of vintage warplanes that landed at Meadows Field on Monday afternoon.

“There’s romance in those planes,” said Dr. John Close, a retired physician who was there with his wife, Susan, to see the World War II-era warbirds.

Indeed, as they lined up on the tarmac, the planes almost seemed like time machines, not just war machines — here to carry enthusiasts back to another era in the nation’s history.

It’s all part of the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour, a nearly three-day educational stopover in Bakersfield that includes a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-24J Liberator nicknamed “Witchcraft,” a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber and a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a plane made famous by the Flying Tigers, a group of American volunteer pilots who worked within the Chinese Air Force before Pearl Harbor officially brought America into the war.

A fifth plane, a P-51 Mustang, had been expected, but organizers said Monday it may arrive Tuesday, or more likely will have to be scratched from the lineup.

“Fighters are a little bit more fussy,” said Mark Murphy, a pilot who flew the P-40 into Bakersfield.

Murphy had a Monday afternoon appointment already in place to take a paying guest up in the P-40, which isn’t normally a two-seater. However, about 30 of the fighters were modified for instructional purposes, he said, and the nonprofit foundation was lucky enough to get one of them.

“This is a rare opportunity to visit, explore, and learn more about these unique and rare treasures of aviation history,” organizers said in a news release. “The B-17 is one of only nine in flying condition in the United States. The B-24J Liberator is the sole remaining example of its type flying in the world.”

Visitors are invited to explore the aircraft inside and out — $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12 provides access to up-close viewing and tours through the inside of the larger planes.

Ted Arbolante, of Bear Valley Springs, drove into Bakersfield on Monday for a chance to experience the vintage aircraft.

“Oh, I love planes. I’ve been to Lemoore (Naval Air Station), China Lake (Naval Air Weapons Center) and Edwards Air Force Base,” he said.

He can see test flights of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from his backyard.

“It’s an exciting time for avionics,” he said.

Jamie Mitchell, flight coordinator for the tour, said she’s seen how children begin to grasp the importance of the history of World War II through these hands-on experiences. And she’s witnessed World War II veterans whose memories blossomed after climbing aboard an old B-17.

The foundation calls it “living history.”

Close, who later became a doctor, was an 8-year-old boy when the attack on Pearl Harbor woke America, the “sleeping giant,” from its slumber.

Those were dark times early in the war, he recalled.

“Everyone in America made a commitment,” he said. And everyone made sacrifices.

“These planes represented the commitment we made as a nation,” he said.