Posted by Frank Wooldridge on Feb 08, 2023
The Beacon
The official weekly publication of The Rotary Club of Bakersfield Breakfast
Another Charter Night is upon us. Whether you are reading The Beacon before “our club’s” special ceremony and celebration or after, or if you missed the entire edition of The Beacon, you would be happy to know that special recognition at Charter Night is paid to all those members current, and those that came before us, including our lone Charter Member Dennis Scott, who got this whole Breakfast Rotary machine up and running. Forty-one years, yes, 41 of them! That’s a long time ago, before marriages, before children, before carving out our careers for some in our club, before their parents even knew each other! Can you imagine all the difference this club has made? That is certainly something to be proud of, members, so know that through your contributions, you are all a significant vital part of the Breakfast Rotary machine that will propel our club into unforeseen levels of Service Above Self. I pray to enjoy watching the next 41 years of our club’s impact on our community, but if I am not, I harbor a special honor to have contributed in just some small way to you and others in bringing joy, hope, and achievement as a member of this fine club. Celebrate your membership, and see you at Stockdale Country Club for YOUR club’s Charter Night.
Past President Cheryl Scott led America’s Pledge of Allegiance, and the inspirational song “Is it the Truth” was led by Carol Smith. Our own Stephanie Baker spoke of recognizing and expressing thankfulness for our many divine blessings. Thank you, ladies, for placing our hearts, minds, and vocal cords right before President Karen Bonanno took to the podium to announce Peter Leveroni, who would introduce our special program presenter.
City of Bakersfield Public Works Director Gregg Strakaluse, hailing from the east coast, has been in his post for over a year. We were pleased to have Gregg take time from his demanding schedule to meet us and discuss his public works oversight. With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering which led to 15 years as the Director of Streets and Stormwater in Naples, Florida, he found his way to Bakersfield upon the recommendation of a fellow public work director from the County of Kern. Packing his and his family’s bags, the Strakaluse family headed west to Bakersfield for what started as a part-time assignment to conduct a waste material study in landfills.
With the last name of Strakaluse, which would be most fitting on the back of an NBA jersey, I’ll ask Gregg’s permission to call him by his first name for the duration of my Beacon write-up. Gregg acquainted us, within the short time he had to present, with the city public works department's vast size and varying services they provide. Maintaining a claim as the largest city department for personnel and equipment management is an enormous undertaking. Gregg knows the mission and what needs to be accomplished to deliver services to the Bakersfield community. With 11 public service departments from Roads and Maintenance to Wastewater Management, Gregg wearing many hats is an understatement. Gregg allowed us to learn a bit about some of those departments. They even are in charge of graffiti removal, potholes, burnt-out streetlights, and illegal dumping! Let’s learn more, shall we?
The public works department maintains a steady revenue stream from sources other than sales and property tax revenues. Gregg relies upon a skilled administrative staff, complete with a budgeting analyst, to direct funds appropriately. For instance, there are fees paid for by developers designated towards special land use projects and community subdivision development. In an age of online application processes, his department is admittingly behind the times as far as providing a means for developers to apply and complete electronic documents through an application portal. Gregg said Bakersfield is about “20 years” behind other communities our size already having the online access feature. Gregg says it is just a matter of time before these and other services are offered online. The services will ultimately give a higher level of service and satisfaction to subscribers to his department.
I remember when I was a little boy riding in a car along Truxtun Avenue when what we call “the Corporation Yard” was situated in the current place where the Amtrak Train Station now sits. So, in the years, it simply moved up Truxtun Avenue to its current location just west of highway 99. This is where Gregg works! I remember all the really “cool” dump trucks, tractors, and stuff parked in the yard there. Well, now all those belong to Gregg; he has them all! As much fun as you might think, that is, currently, an issue regarding the availability of heavy equipment replacement has come into play, as well as their exceedingly high costs. Bids must be submitted for new equipment and replacement parts, so unless you have been living in the backcountry over the last two years, you know it is challenging to receive delivery even on a new Chevrolet, let alone a Mack Dump Truck for city construction projects. As Gregg and his team pursue the purchase of new equipment, they may be tasked with innovative means to acquire new heavy equipment and materials to keep their current inventory in safe working order.
Solid waste is an 80-million-dollar enterprise. The topic of whom it belongs to, where it comes from, what will be done with it, and “Not in My Backyard” commentary is too frequent. Despite the toxicity of such conversation, solid waste is here, or at least somewhere nearby, to deal with. Gregg’s Solid Waste department is tasked with managing the saucy topic. Senate Bill 1833 describes the management of what we know as “green waste,” in other words, how organic waste can be converted into useable products, from fertilizer to lawn irrigation treatment. There are more uses for a useable organic product that your grandma has recipes with Crisco, and I don’t think Gregg knows what Crisco is any more than Grandma made anything organic. Still overseeing the sewage treatment plant and recently acquiring the recycling center at BARC, Gregg and his team’s mission is to stay on top of the pile of waste that keeps his department out of the manure!
Talking about the Thomas Roads Project seems like another opportunity to whine about why this doesn’t work or when this is going to be done. Hold on to your horses; the state route 99 and 58 interchange will be completed soon! Ya, want me to start talking about the High-Speed Rail…? So, smile and be happy, as, according to Gregg, we will see near-completion goals met by the end of 2023. So cool…
Gregg is a man with vision and insight. He seems to care about our future, which is very important to those who have lived here in the metro Bakersfield area as long as guys like me. Gregg is interested in finishing the project right by adding much-needed touches to make the marathon project valuable and practical.
Gregg even has consideration for creating a haven for recreational bicyclists. He states that Bakersfield owns the distinction of having a high incidence of roadway vehicles vs. bike accidents. Gregg tells us that much thought is going into lane design, aesthetics, and bike safety measures that will help reduce incidents of accidents. This sounds great, don’t tell Gregg that “jaywalking” is no longer illegal.
There are a ton more public works projects that Gregg could share with us, plenty that is pretty lovely achievements he could tout about. He is in charge of all the “Big Trucks and gets to Make Roads and Play in the Dirt.” He gets to have it all, and it’s a boyhood dream come true. To me, that’s a very secure feeling having Gregg in charge of this big playground called Bakersfield. The City of Bakersfield, Public Works Department, can be found at;, (661) 326-3724
We had one guest, Charmaine Vega, who was a guest of Donna Schwartz. Charmaine is a prospective member, so meet her, yes-er-ee, she has visited us twice already! Welcome, Charmaine. Oh, yes, Breakfast Rotarians are bringing guests; Donna wants to remind all of you to please show up before your guest or The Prez will fine you… ask Donna. Dirty Harry Bryant is the lone birthday celebrant, so we sang the Birthday Song to our favorite Farmers Insurance rep. Little Mindy Wilmot was not present, but she was recognized for a 4th Rotary anniversary. She was in a meeting or something this morning…
Breakfast Rotarians are “Out and About.” The Prez said she received a report that a squadron of Breakfast Rotarians had a presence last Sunday at the BHS Harvey Auditorium to partake in a concert series featuring The Everly Set. Sorry to have missed the performance, as they are composed of a duet replicating the looks and great early rock and roll hits of The Everly Brothers. They sang several songs, like, Wake Up Little Suzy. They even had a Buddy Holly song or two for Mary Jo Pasek sung to her personally by the members of the musical group. How did she work that one up?…she is such a shy, reserved little gal…NOT! She finagled that one up, and it cost her a little fine-o!
But the big surprise at last Sunday’s Everly Set concert by the Bakersfield Community Concert Association was Carol Smith, who was surprised by a special recognition. Carol’s passion for cultural arts is well known and should be; look at her beautiful job leading us in song each week. Following the destruction of the COVID years, when many events were canceled, the Community Concert Association suffered, too, nearly to the point of becoming dissolved forever. For it not for the courageousness of Carol and local friends who are stalwart music and entertainment fans, a new Board of Directors was formed with Carol leading the way. Thanks to Carol, we can enjoy a future line-up of first-rate fun, talent-filled, and family-friendly shows. For that, Carol was recognized during the show and nicely done Rotarian!    
The Prez was checking the audience as she reported hearing a cell phone go off earlier in the meeting. No one admitted that their phone had gone off, but a couple of Cheryl Scott’s dear friends sitting near where she had been sitting before scurrying off to a meeting said it was Cheryl’s phone that rang. Just letting you know, Cheryl, when you return to a fine next week…
Mike Turnipseed has lassoed ten brave Breakfast Rotarians to sign up as volunteers for this year’s Kern High School Leadership and Ethics Conference. This fun event is returning after being blacked out for the last couple of years. The event will involve Rotarians mentoring students over some very challenging decision-making scenarios. The event will be held on March 14th at the CTEC Center, 7301 Old River Road.
Past President Denise Haynes is placing the finishing touches on our latest round of dictionaries to be given away at Fremont School. She would like a hand to pass the new books to the students next Thursday, February 16th, at 12:30p. See Denise for details. Denise is also calling for all hands on deck for Kern YES. Volunteers are needed for the March 25th event at The Fort in Taft.
The Prez is inviting all rake and shovel-wielding members to join her this Saturday at Camp Okihi on Round Mountain Road for grounds restoration. The arrival time is 8 am, and work will be completed at 12p. The Prez said to mark your calendars for the Annual All-Club Rotary Lunch at CTEC to be held on March 3rd at noon.
Our daily Happy Spots include Cameron Cerda, who bought a new home as he and his wife began a new adventure. Past President Queen Jackie Maxwell is headed back to Alaska for some much-needed R and R., And Past President Kay Pitts is on the cusp of celebrating her 42nd wedding anniversary.
Darin Blunt is peddling his annual Girl Scout cookies, yum yum, and Jackie Maxwell also will have enough money for gas to Alaska as she secured the Raffle winnings of $55!
In Rotary,
Frank Wooldridge
Beacon Writer