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Bakersfield annexing small county pockets

More than 200 people live in this small neighborhood just west of Highway 99 in south Bakersfield, Calif. Since the city annexed it, residents tell Eyewitness News that it's safer. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Dana Casteel is among the newest residents of Bakersfield, and she couldn't be happier about it.

Her neighborhood, nestled north of Panama, a stone's throw from Highway 99, was unincorporated until just recently.

"I've seen law enforcement through here," she said. "I just feel safer."

When the county was in charge, Casteel says drugs and trash piled up and several homes became magnets for crime. It changed fast when Bakersfield brought them into the fold.

"Like the minute the city took over, they are out," she said. "Just like that!"

Brenda Carter lives down the street. She agreed.

"I've seen a lot of changes already in the first couple of months," she said.

Casteel and Carter lived in one of several county islands completely surrounded by city land. When they or their neighbors called 911, they had to wait for a county deputy to arrive - even if a Bakersfield officer was closer to their emergency.

It's that kind of inefficiency that Assistant City Manager Chris Huot said local governments are trying to fix. The next neighborhood in his sights? Harris Road and Ashe Road. There's also a very preliminary discussion about bringing the Stockdale Country Club into the city limits.

Walking the neighborhood on Monday, Eyewitness News did hear some concerns. Taxes and urban land-use rules were at the top of the list. There are also some people who will need to clean up their properties to meet stricter standards for public health and safety. Large debris must be removed and weeds trimmed. You can't have 20 people living on one property anymore. There was at least one situation like that prior to city inspectors, neighbors said.

The area is mostly lower-income and Huot said the city doesn't intend to use "an iron fist" when enforcing brand new standards. The city has already offered free bulky waste pickup to help the community clean-up along.

New city dwellers will also have the opportunity to hook up to the city's sewer system. Many have septic tanks now. There is a substantial cost, but the city is not forcing it on anyone. There are payment plans for those interested, but no deadline for those who are not.

Taxes in this neighborhood are cheaper with the city in charge. Trash service is $50 less per year and residents will no longer pay a $40 annual street light tax.

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