Mojave Air and Space Port awarded much-needed federal grant

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved an $8 million grant for Mojave Air and Space Port through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who provided early support for the grant  and announced its approval in a press release Thursday, has long been a supporter of the eastern Kern County spaceport, where companies like Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Co. and Stratolaunch Systems operate research, testing and engineering facilities.

“From Stratolaunch to Virgin Orbit, Mojave Air and Space Port is leading the way in civilian aeronautics and commercial spaceflight,” McCarthy stated in the release. “But in order to continue to take the next steps toward even greater innovation in the industry, it is vital that Mojave Air and Space Port’s infrastructure is revitalized.”

Infrastructure. It’s not as exciting as the sight of a rocketplane blasting civilian astronauts into the microgravity of suborbital space — but it is crucial nonetheless, said Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Karina Drees.

“In some cases, the pavement is failing,” Drees said of Taxiway C — or as she calls it, “Taxiway Charlie” — a 7,200 foot long, 60 foot wide ribbon of pavement designed for the movement of aircraft before and after takeoff and landing.

Maintaining the spaceport’s infrastructure is “very difficult,” Drees said. “We spend $200,000 annually in just crack sealing to try to prolong the life of the pavement for as long as possible.”

But now it’s time to replace, not prolong.

“Congressman McCarthy called personally this morning to let us know we got the grant,” she said.

It’s not a sure thing, Drees said. On the contrary, this is the first such grant MASP has received. 

Last year, McCarthy sent a letter to the FAA in support of Mojave’s grant application. Apparently, it doesn’t hurt to have a powerful member of Congress on your side.

Drees was named MASP’s CEO and general manager in 2016, only the third general manager in the history of the former World War II-era Marine Corps air base. Now the facility, situated about 60 miles east of Bakersfield, is considered one of the top aviation airports and home to innovative flight tests and several commercial space companies. One of 12 licensed space ports in the United States, MASP plays host to more rocket engine tests than any other place in the world.

The one-time desert outpost earned its place onto the map of commercial space endeavors in the summer of 2004 when aerospace entrepreneur Burt Rutan and his Mojave-based company, Scaled Composites, became the first team to successfully send a civilian pilot to suborbital space through a privately funded effort. In September of that year, Rutan’s team would go on to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Eight years later, Rutan’s SpaceShipOne was on track to be replaced by the next generation vehicle, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-crewmember rocketplane also built and tested at MASP.

Last December, SS2 reached suborbital space for the first time, coming closer than ever to the advent of commercial tourism, $250,000 thrill rides to the edge of space.

Sometime over the next few months, Drees said, Virgin Orbit, another company within the Virgin Group, is on track to launch a payload to space from its base in Mojave using a rocket launched from beneath a modified Boeing 747.

Hang on tight, Kern County. Commercial spaceflight is in your back yard.

Kern Community Foundation celebrates 20 years with big surprise

It’s been 20 years worth of giving and helping the community for the Kern Community Foundation, but the organization’s work is far from over. 

Current and former board members and individuals who have set up funds with the organization came together Wednesday night to celebrate past successes and future endeavors. 

Over the last 20 years, more than 160 funds established by community members and local agencies have generated $24 million in grants to local nonprofits, ones across the country and even some internationally. Those funds also make $25 million in assets at the foundation. With almost $50 million going toward the community, it’s definitely something to be proud of, according to organization leaders.

“I have to think in this giving community that we live in that that trajectory is going to continue,” said Kristen Beall Watson, Kern Community Foundation president and CEO.

A big surprise revealed during Wednesday’s celebration was that Judi and Rob McCarthy — who gifted $2.5 million to the Kern Community Foundation earlier this year — are gifting $1 million from their fund to put into the foundation’s community endowment which will allow it access to discretionary money.

Kern Community Foundation began in the mid-1990s with a vision shared by Curtis Darling and Morton Brown to establish an organization that would be dedicated to encouraging philanthropy in Kern County.

James Simmons, the foundation’s first president, said Wednesday it all began with four funds totaling between $200,000 to $300,000. 

As times changed and the organization mastered its original intent, leaders decided to consider other ways they could help their community.

Over the years, Kern Community Foundation’s initiatives have evolved to respond to important community needs. That’s being done through two strategic initiatives:

  • Nonprofit strengthening, which helps local nonprofits increase their visibility, capacity and sustainability through collaboration and networking, training, marketing, outreach and fundraising support, grant-making, online resources, and participation in community events such as Give Big Kern.
  • Educational attainment, which works to create a cradle-to-career pipeline of college and job readiness success through scholarships and convening every level of education and community leaders to commit to improving educational outcomes through the Kern Education Pledge.

One-fourth of Kern’s residents live below the poverty line, and closely related to that is 22 percent of adults have an associate’s degree or higher in the community, compared to the state’s average of 39 percent, Beall Watson explained. By lifting up students and giving them “every opportunity to pursue their dreams, we’ll end up with a large percentage of a community” with some type of postsecondary degree, she said.

“The work is very commendable,” said Simmons. “They didn’t have to do that … but they did. I’m very proud.”

So what can the community expect in the coming years? More of the same work to help local organizations and individuals, and new opportunities to proactively transform the community.

“I don’t think there’s anything stopping us,” Beall Watson said.

State continues oil crackdown, puts halt on fracking permits

California Gov. Gavin Newsom cracked down on oil producers Tuesday, halting approval of hundreds of fracking permits until independent scientists can review them, while temporarily banning another drilling method that regulators believe is linked to one of the largest spills in state history.

The state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources announced it will not approve new wells that use high-pressure steam to extract oil from underground. It’s the type of process Chevron used at an oil field near McKittrick that leaked more than 1.3 million gallons (4.9 million liters) of oil and water this summer.

That process is different from fracking, which uses water and other chemicals at high pressure to extract oil. California has 263 pending fracking permits but has not approved any of them since July. That’s when Newsom fired California’s top oil and gas regulator after learning the state had increased fracking permits by 35 percent since he took office in January, angering environmental groups.

Newsom, a Democrat, called the crackdown necessary to strengthen the state’s oversight of oil and gas extraction “as we phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and focus on clean energy sources.”

“This transition cannot happen overnight; it must advance in a deliberate way to protect people, our environment and our economy,” Newsom said.

While conservation groups praised the state’s new initiatives, some members of the oil industry called the changes “disappointing.”

Western States Petroleum Association said California’s environmental regulations already lead the world.

“Every barrel delayed or not produced in this state will only increase imports from more costly foreign sources that do not share our environmental safety standards,” group president Catherine Reheis-Boyd.

The new changes will inordinately impact Kern County, where 78 percent of the state’s active wells are located the Kern Economic Development Corporation reported in 2017.

“The bulk of Kern County’s new oil production will be severely impacted by this policy, as well as future capital investment by the producers,” State Sen. Shannon Grove said in a statement. “If those producers cannot confidently invest in this area, then they will invest elsewhere. The reduction in capital investment will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the next twelve months.”

Local oil producer Chad Hathaway said the rule changes were the result of “Big Environmental” gaining the ear of the legislature. He defended high-pressure steam oil extraction, which he said had been going on safely for decades.

“If you think about how much oil has been produced by thermal recovery and the amounts of accidents that have happened over the course of 60 years, our safety record has blown other people out of the water,” he said.

The state’s moratorium will be in place while two national laboratories — Lawrence Livermore and Sandia — study the high-pressure steam process to see what regulations, if any, can make it safer. Other wells in California use the steam method and have not had any spills.

“These oil leaks cannot be the cost of doing business,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said. “There needs to be a clear trajectory to eliminate them. Not reduce them in number, but fully eliminate them.”

The moratorium will not affect existing wells, which will be assessed individually. Some existing wells have been using high-pressure steam for so long that stopping it could weaken the geology and cause more spills, Crowfoot said.

Officials said they would seek an independent audit of California’s permitting process for fracking and other types of oil extraction.

In July, advocacy groups Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker revealed the state’s fracking permits had doubled during the first six months of Newsom’s administration. The groups said that of those permits, 45 percent benefited companies where state officials owned stock.

Gordon Nipp, vice-chair of the Kern-Kaweah chapter of the Sierra Club, warned Kern County that the state’s regulations could just be the first step in a gradual abandonment of oil.

“Whether it’s these regulations or more regulations coming down the pipe, science says that we have to transition away form the use of fossil fuels if we care at all about leaving a livable planet for the next generations,” he said. “We all ought to be thinking about this and figuring out what we’re going to do about it.”

BPD looking for missing man last seen on N Street

The Bakersfield Police Department is asking for assistance in locating a missing adult who is considered to be at risk due to medical conditions.

Manuel Gardea, 57, was last seen on Saturday night at about 10 p.m. in the 100 block of N Street.

Gardea is described as a hispanic male who is 5-feet-2-inches tall and about 145 pounds with black hair, brown eyes and was last seen wearing a black shirt and blue jeans. 

Anyone with information is asked to call BPD at (661) 327-7111.

PHOTO GALLERY: Honoring our sister cities

The Sister City Gardens Festival was held Saturday at The Gardens at Mill Creek, honoring Bakersfield’s sister cities with a day of culture shared through music, dance, food and art. Those in attendance paid tribute to Bakersfield’s newest sister — Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, which was confirmed this summer — along with five others: Amritsar, India; Bucheon, South Korea; Cixi, China; Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico; and Wakayama, Japan, which started the project back in 1961. Performances by local groups highlighted the festival, including Chinese lion dancers, Ballet Folklorico Ihtotiani de Shafter, the Chinese School Children’s Choir, Punjabi dancers, Korean Nanta drummers, Grace Studios Chinese dancers, Bon Odori (Japanese festival) dancers and dancing robots from Bucheon. A number of food vendors selling international fare were out in force.

Once he was lost, but now he is found: Marine laid to rest in his hometown

It didn’t take long for a central theme to emerge at the funeral of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Livermore, an event attended by hundreds of area residents Friday at Union Cemetery in Bakersfield.

It’s a theme that stems from a widespread local belief that the men and women who have served in the nation’s armed forces are held in particularly high esteem here in the southern valley.

“In Bakersfield and Kern County, we celebrate our veterans like no place else on Earth,” Bakersfield Chief of Police Lyle Martin told the gathering of mourners.

He described the scene in front of police headquarters on Thursday when the motorcade carrying Livermore’s remains passed the station on Truxtun Avenue.

Virtually the entire force of sworn BPD officers “stood at attention,” as the hearse carrying Livermore’s remains passed by, Martin said.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood echoed the theme, praising the people of Kern County for the respect and gratitude shown to Livermore and all those who have served in the armed forces.

“Thank God we live in Kern County,” he said. “From Bakersfield to Ridgecrest, the most patriotic place in the country — and I’ve been to a lot of places.”

Livermore’s homecoming was long overdue.

The East Bakersfield High School alumnus was 19 when he enlisted to fight against Nazi fascism and Japanese military expansion during World War II. Less than two years later, he was among 18,000 Marines charged with the task of wresting control of the Pacific Atoll of Tarawa from well-entrenched Japanese forces.

The Americans ultimately were successful, but Livermore was among many who lost their lives in the fierce fighting. He was only 21 when he was killed by an enemy bayonet, fighting in desperate hand-to-hand combat. The date was Nov. 22, 1943.

He was buried on the island, but after the war, when the remains of servicemen were brought home, Livermore was not among them.

The location of his remains and those of other Marines would not be discovered for decades until efforts by the organization History Flight located a burial site. This summer, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Livermore’s remains.

State Sen. Shannon Grove, who helped coordinate the effort to bring Livermore home, was in the motorcade Thursday as it carried Livermore’s remains from Los Angeles International Airport to Bakersfield.

As the procession of vehicles headed north on Interstate 5, Grove told mourners Friday, they passed under a bridge where a large contingent of Kern County firefighters stood at attention, saluting as the motorcade passed beneath.

When the motorcade pulled into the Flying J at the Frazier Park exit, Grove said she was amazed to see people holding flags on both sides of the caravan.

“It was truly a hero’s welcome,” she said.

Among the hundreds who came to pay their respects Friday was a man who held a tri-folded U.S. Marine Corps flag. His name was David Halle, and his late father, LeRoy Halle, was also a Marine who fought in the Battle of Tarawa.

Halle’s dad survived the battle, but died in 1973. When David Halle heard that the remains of a long-lost Marine who fought with his dad in Tarawa were finally coming home, the emotion was overwhelming.

“This was the flag that draped my father’s coffin,” he said of the Marine Corps colors he held in his hands.

Had his father been killed and Livermore had lived, Halle realized, he would not have been born. Everything he has and everything he became would never have been.

Such was the sacrifice made by Livermore. A life that never had the time to blossom.

It’s a sacrifice that is almost too profound to fully grasp.

Livermore was laid to rest Friday beside his mother, Dorothy Livermore.

It took 76 years, but now he can rest, Livermore’s 67-year-old nephew Darrell Feliz said of his uncle’s long journey home.

“I want to thank everyone for being here,” he told those who came to mourn the loss and celebrate the homecoming of Pfc. Joseph Livermore.

Then holding back tears, he seemed to confirm what many had been saying.

“This is the most wonderful community you could ever live in,” he said.

Student opens fire in California high school, killing 2

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (AP) — A student pulled a gun from his backpack and opened fire at a Southern California high school Thursday, killing two students and wounding three others before shooting himself in the head on his 16th birthday, authorities said.

The attacker was hospitalized in critical condition, officials said, and investigators offered no immediate motive.

The gunfire began around 7:30 a.m. at Saugus High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita. Authorities estimated that the suspect took just 16 seconds to pull out the weapon, shoot five classmates and turn the gun on himself.

At the time, students were “milling around” and greeting each other in an outdoor quad area, sheriff’s homicide Capt. Kent Wegener said. Surveillance video showed the shooter standing still while “everyone is active around him.”

“He just fires from where he is. He doesn’t chase anybody. He doesn’t move,” Wegener said.

The suspect appeared to fire at whoever was in front of him. He had no known connection to those he shot, Wegener said.

Video showed the last thing the assailant did was shoot himself with the final bullet in the .45-caliber handgun, Wegener said. The weapon was empty when it was recovered.

A 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died.

Two girls, ages 14 and 15, were each in good condition after being treated for gunshot wounds, according to Patricia Aidem, a spokeswoman for Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.

A 14-year-old boy was treated and released from another hospital, authorities said.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the shooter was a student at the school but did not identify him.

The sheriff said a biography on an Instagram account reported as possibly belonging to the teen contained the posting: “Saugus, have fun at school tomorrow.”

The message was discovered Thursday morning after the shooting. It was unclear when it was made and by whom, the sheriff said.

It was later removed, and investigators do not know who made the change, Wegener said.

Investigators were searching the suspect’s home. Wegener said the sheriff’s department had not received any recent calls to the boy’s house “that would indicate that there was turmoil” there.

The teen’s father died two years ago. Two years before that, the father had been arrested amid a domestic dispute with the boy’s mother.

Fellow students and a neighbor say he was a Boy Scout who was smart, quiet and gave no indication he would become violent. One girl who knew him for years said he wasn’t bullied and had a girlfriend.

“At this point in time, we have no indication of motivation or ideology,” said Paul Delacourt, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office. Santa Clarita is a city of more than 200,000 about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of downtown LA.

The sound of gunfire sent some students running while others and staff followed recently practiced security procedures.

Kyra Stapp, 17, was watching a documentary in class when she heard two gunshots. Panicked students ran in and reported the shooting.

Stapp’s class and others were herded into a teacher break room where they locked the door and turned off the lights.

Kyra texted her mother and tried not make any noise. They exchanged messages as sirens screamed and helicopters and deputies carrying rifles and shotguns swarmed the campus. Then Kyra fell silent while officers escorted students out.

“She’s been texting me and all of a sudden she’s not,” Tracy Stapp said. “That was like the worst 10 minutes of my life, I swear.”

Shauna Orandi, 16, said she was in her Spanish class doing homework when she heard four gunshots that she initially mistook as instruments from a band class. She said a student burst into the room saying he’d seen the gunman, and her classmates were stunned into silence.

“My worst nightmare actually came true,” she said later as she left a nearby park with her father. “This is it. I’m going to die.”

Freshman Rosie Rodriguez said she was walking up the library stairs when she heard noises that sounded like balloons popping. She realized they were gunshots when she saw other students running.

Still carrying a backpack laden with books, she ran across the street to a home, where a person she didn’t know gave shelter to her and about 10 other students.

“I just heard a lot of kids crying. We were scared,” Rodriguez said.

A huge crowd of anxious parents gathered in the park, waiting to be reunited with their children.

Undersheriff Tim Murakami tweeted an apology to the parents, saying investigators needed to interview the students before they could be released.

Orandi said she has heard about so many school shootings that she always assumed she’d panic. But she stayed calm with the help of her teacher, who locked down the classroom.

Saugus High’s security is provided by one unarmed sheriff’s deputy and nine “campus supervisors” who act as guards, said to Collyn Nielson, chief administrative officer for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

The campus is surrounded by a fence, and students enter through a limited number of gates each morning. There are a dozen security cameras but no metal detectors.

All district schools hold lockdown drills three times a year, including two in the fall that have already occurred, Nielson said.

“In speaking with staff and hearing reports, students reported they knew what to do and immediately went into lockdown mode,” he said.

———

Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber, Brian Melley and Justin Pritchard in LA also contributed to this report.

Friends and family keep memory of James De La Rosa alive years after officer-involved shooting

Five years have passed, but that hasn’t made the pain any easier to bear.

Friends and family of James De La Rosa, who was killed in a widely-publicized officer-involved shooting in 2014, gathered at Greenlawn Cemetery on Wednesday to reflect on a life cut short.

“Today I have to remember that it was the last day that I saw my son,” said Leticia De La Rosa, James’ mother.

She said the family has held the remembrance every year, on the anniversary of her son’s death and on his birthday.

This year was the first year she went to work on the day her son died, she said. She works as a cafeteria lady for the Bakersfield City School District.

“I didn’t want to be at home just crying,” she said, looking around at the gathering. “They make me feel good because they loved him a lot.”

De La Rosa, whose legal name was James Villegas, was shot to death by the Bakersfield Police Department in 2014 after an alleged high-speed chase. He was unarmed, but BPD claimed he moved aggressively toward officers, prompting the shooting.

His death struck a chord in the community, with hundreds of protesters and mourners attending a candlelight vigil in his honor.

One of the involved officers allegedly tickled De La Rosa’s toe as he was on a gurney in Kern Medical Center shortly after his shooting, an act that the British newspaper The Guardian used to highlight the high number of police shootings in Kern County.

At the time, much community attention was focused on BPD’s account that De La Rosa led the police on a chase before crashing into a light pole at Highway 178 and Mt. Vernon Avenue. However, some have questioned the police account of the incident, and witnesses said at the time De La Rosa exited his vehicle with his arms out.

Following his death, De La Rosa’s family became involved in political advocacy. They were heavily involved in the recent passage of AB-392, which strengthened standards for use of deadly force by officers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law in August, saying it prompted law enforcement officers to rely on de-escalation techniques like verbal persuasion rather than jumping directly into potentially violent encounters.

While advocates say the law is a step in the right direction, the Bakersfield Police Department claimed at the time it had already instituted similar policies, undercutting claims that the new bill would change much.

But while De La Rosa’s death may have prompted some in the family to act, they said they still had difficulty moving on with their lives.

“It gets tougher as the years go by,” said Juan Quezada, De La Rosa’s best friend. “On my drive home, it just hit me that it’s my best friend’s five-year anniversary.”

De La Rosa’s brother, Greg, also said the emotions were still strong.

“I’m pretty emotional, but I stay strong for my mother,” he said.

After the remembrance, the group planned to light candles at the site of De La Rosa’s death at Mt. Vernon Avenue. They said they hoped to keep De La Rosa’s memory alive for years to come.

“Everybody is always going to know James’ story,” his mother said. “Because I’m always going to be a voice.”

Boundary, grade changes proposed for BCSD elementary, middle schools to prepare for King Elementary School

The Bakersfield City School District Board of Education will consider boundary and grade level changes to five elementary and middle schools as Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School prepares to open its doors in 2020.

Proposed enrollment criteria changes to Downtown Elementary were also presented at the board meeting Tuesday.

Steve McClain, assistant superintendent of business services, said the proposed boundary changes for August 2020 include adjusting boundaries for Munsey, Wayside, Mt. Vernon and Casa Loma elementary schools, which are all near King Elementary, in order to create a boundary for the new school. Additionally, the district is proposing changing Munsey from kindergarten through fifth grade to kindergarten to sixth grade, which will lower the number of students at Curran Middle School.

Other changes include adding sixth grade classes to Casa Loma and Wayside elementary schools next year to offset the shift in student enrollment to King Elementary, and Sequoia Middle School, a sixth through eighth grade school, will become a junior high serving seventh and eighth grades.

“Going toward opening a new school we have to redraw our boundaries,” McClain said. Back in 2014, there was a districtwide boundary adjustment done to 20 schools, and it had been the first time in around 20 years that changes took place.

The boundary changes would have a net impact of about 140 students at Munsey Elementary and 20 students at Wayside Elementary, McClain explained. He also said Casa Loma would be brought “back to a moderate size” in terms of student population. Changes to Sequoia Middle School would result in a drop off of around 100 students.

A letter was sent to homes last week that would be affected by proposed boundary changes.

The boundary changes will allow students to have the opportunity to attend a school closer to their home, reduces overcrowding at other schools and will result in less time on buses for more students and will free up four bus runs during peak transportation times, McClain said. 

“It’s really going to help all the schools,” he said.

The board will take action on boundary changes on Dec. 17.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School will open Aug. 12, 2020.

DOWNTOWN ELEMENTARY

Mark Luque, assistant superintendent of educational services, also presented proposed changes to Downtown Elementary’s enrollment priorities and other recommendations to the board Tuesday.

Recently, the board discussed doing away with Downtown’s lottery system for enrollment and instead making it a boundary school. There was also discussion of eliminating its seventh and eighth grade classes. There are five levels of priority for enrollment which include having a sibling currently enrolled in Downtown, a parent being a district employee and a parent working in downtown Bakersfield.

It is the only school in the district where parents have to submit applications for their students to attend, and because space is limited and applications increase each year, enrollment is based on a lottery system.

Luque explained one proposed priority change would allow parents who live in the area, but do not work in downtown Bakersfield, to enroll their students in the school.

The five proposed enrollment criteria priorities are:

  • Priority one: incoming siblings of currently enrolled students and school site employees
  • Priority two: neighborhood residents with no employment in the designated downtown business area required
  • Priority three: a student whose parent resides within the district’s attendance boundaries and works within the downtown business area, and the student needs daycare
  • Priority four: a student whose parent works within the designated downtown business area and resides outside of the district attendance boundaries, and the student needs daycare
  • Priority five: all others who have established residency based upon employment anywhere in the district’s boundaries regardless of daycare needs

Additionally, based on parent input, it is recommended that Downtown remain a kindergarten through eighth grade school and that currently enrolled students remain at Downtown Elementary.

Any approved changes to Downtown would take effect in the 2021-2022 school year. No board action was taken Tuesday.

Many Downtown parents were satisfied with what was presented to the board and believe it would “maintain the culture” seen at the school.

“I think they really listened to what we had to say when the last parent group met and took into consideration and detail the thought our group put together,” said parent Christina Rajlal.