by Dr. Randal “Randy” Beeman
“You do know that outsiders call this ‘Ventucky,’” said the branch manager as my wife and I opened a new bank account here in town. We began to realize that Ventura has an image problem ever since we arrived for our semi-retirement last month. I shrugged off the comments until the low blow came: “We are also known as ‘Bakersfield by the Sea.’”
Excuse me, “Bakersfield by the Sea?” I just spent twenty years – the prime of my life – teaching history to college students in Bakersfield and I am here to testify that though both cities are in California, and both have a common history as working class agriculture and petroleum towns, Ventura is a million miles from Bakersfield in many respects.
Let’s look at home values. For what I paid for a 2 bedroom 3 bath condominium in Ventura I could have purchased a 6 bedroom 4 bath house with a pool on the golf course in Bakersfield. Sure, the proximity to the ocean and the corresponding climate adds a lot of value, but from my perspective Ventura is superior for other reasons related to quality of life.
Over the years Ventura was the quickest route to the beach from Bakersfield. We would cajole my sleepy children into the can van and within two hours we would be unpacking at Emma Wood State Beach, usually after breakfast in downtown Ventura. My kids would sometimes wonder why there were still farms in the Santa Clarita Valley along Highway 126 when the rest of Southern California’s coastal areas are packed with housing developments.
I explained, probably more than they cared to hear, that Ventura County has been a national leader in farmland preservation and smart growth policies. Unlike Bakersfield, where precious farmland is paved over daily and leapfrog development ensures an endless urban sprawl. While Venturans seem to realize that “less is more” when it comes to population growth, Bakersfield’s Chamber of Commerce proudly holds a press conference every time the population inches the city up the list as one of California’s largest.
Culturally, Ventura, though it is much smaller than Bakersfield, has far more to offer in terms of dining, museums, music venues, farmer’s markets, shopping, hiking, and access to nature. Where Bakersfield voted for Trump and aligns with Oklahoma and South Carolina politically, Ventura has shed its conservative image and votes for progressive candidates and causes.
In my brief time here I have also noted a significant difference that many locals might not appreciate. Last year Bakersfield was not only the most polluted city in the nation, the most illiterate city, and the most alcoholic city, it also led the nation in police shootings.
Law enforcement officers are asked to do tough jobs and they have to deal with vagrants, addicts, and the mentally ill. We live in downtown and we have noticed the Ventura Police seem to be highly educated, sympathetic, and they appear to have high morale. I’m sure problems exist between the community and the police, but the professionalism of the police in Ventura is tangible and refreshing to a newcomer.
If it seems I am being too hard on Bakersfield I will say in its defense that people there are incredibly friendly. I expected Ventura to be more cosmopolitan, transient, and cold like much of Southern California. Pleasantly, we have experienced welcoming, friendly, and generous people in our first month here.
Perhaps locals need a reminder every once and awhile that you are living in one of the most ideal places on in the planet. It’s not crowded like Santa Cruz not is it pretentious like Santa Barbara. And. emphatically, Ventura is not Bakersfield by the Sea!
Dr. Randal “Randy” Beeman is an Emeritus Professor of History at Bakersfield College and a recent transplant to downtown Ventura.