Bakersfield · Energy

Oil company is buying out Kern Co. homes. Some residents are blaming Newsom’s latest laws for forcing them from home.

Residents of a close-knit California community are on borrowed time after energy company Berry Petroleum sent out offer letters to buy up properties including residences.

McKittrick is located 14 miles northwest of Taft with a population of 102 residents, according to the census bureau. The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region that Berry Petroleum is trying to buy out.

McKittrick resident Mary Reeves said only a handful of the people who live in town are homeowners. Most residents rent property and feel like their backs are against the wall when it comes to the potential buyout, Reeves said.

“I’m concerned for all of us out here. The current housing market right now, how it is, it’s really hard to find some place. If we do find a place its gonna be way more than what we are paying here and that goes for everybody,” Reeves said.

The Reeves family moved into their McKittrick home in May after living in hotels for 7 months. She said the Berry deal would put her family in a very hard position and is worried her family will have to go back to living in hotels.

“We couldn’t find anything in the city limits so we had to go live in hotels in SLO [San Luis Obispo] County,” Reeves said.

McKittrick Elementary School is placed in the top 10 percent of schools in the state based on test scores for the 2018-19 school year, according to the Public School Review. Parents are worried their children won’t have the same advantages at larger schools in Kern County if they’re forced to move.

McKittrick resident Alejandra Arroyo, originally from Los Angeles County, moved to McKittrick for the one-on-one teaching style McKittrick Elementary is well known for.

“We made a home out here,” Arroyo said. “And the education for the kids is really badass.”

“My daughter has learned so much,” Arroyo said. “I feel like removing the education for the kids, It’s not fair.”

Some of the residents put partial blame on Governor Gavin Newsom’s policy that created buffers for communities who live close to oil fields.

Several McKittrick residents said that they would not mind the oil fields being so close because the economic and educational impacts for their children would outweigh the health benefits stated by the policy.

“I get that, make it a green state,” Bates said. “But we’re still going to need oil inside those electric machines,” Bates said.

Governor Newsom’s office responded to these complaints saying that the policy in question is meant to hold oil companies accountable for their “greed.”

“At a time when oil companies are making more money than ever before, California’s new setback law finally holds these companies responsible for ensuring pollution from their operations does not negatively impact the health of nearby communities. The law’s ban on new drilling within a science-backed setback distance of 3,200 feet from homes, schools, and businesses open to the public will keep new activity away from California communities, and the pollution controls required for existing wells within 3,200 feet of these facilities will protect the health of Californians nearby. These protections are backed by a broad coalition of community leaders, environmental advocates and legislative leaders who are focused on ensuring that the health of our communities is prioritized over Big Oil’s greed,” his office said in a statement.

Berry Petroleum cited the aforementioned policy in a property purchase offer letter of intent to homeowners.

The letter reads:

“Under the Bill, your property would be within setback distance. Berry is therefore prepared to purchase your property at a market value plus premium. We believe this would allow you to find a replacement home outside the setback distance and help preserve Berry’s operations and benefits to the local community.”

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.