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Q&A with Councilman Andrae Gonzales

This month, we’re sharing a Q+A with our friend and downtown Councilman, Andrae Gonzales. He has been a long time supporter of 17th Place and has a great vision for our beloved Downtown Bakersfield. 

How long have you lived in Bakersfield?

Well, I was Born & raised in Bakersfield. I moved up to the bay area to attend UC Berkley & Georgetown and came back to Bakersfield in 2006. When I came back, I went straight into the non-profit world that I still work in today alongside being the City Councilman over Downtown Ward 2.

How did you get connected with 17th Place Townhomes?

Back in 2010, I was able to run and become Trustee for Bakersfield School District Board. So as Trustee, I was interested in finding solutions for easy routes for children to get to school. I was introduced to Bob Smith who founded the non-profit Bike Bakersfield. Bob shared that he was working on a new development project in downtown, which turned out to be 17th Place Townhomes.

From there, I was introduced to Anna and Austin Smith and we became friends quickly. Their ideas for downtown, community building and urban planning were inspiring and I loved learning about their goals for 17th Place.

Ground breaking celebration for 17th Place Townhomes.

Why do you think market rate housing has a place here in Bakersfield?

Yes, I really believed in the concept and saw it first hand in other markets. Having lived in the bay area, I was surrounded by this type of housing, and how it built community by association. I loved (and love) the concept of housing in downtown know that 17th Place is leading the way to show that we can sustain this type of living here in Downtown Bakersfield.

To make it a reality, we needed to share that not only was there a demand for it, but backers to grasp the vision and help make it possible. Funding this type of project isn’t easy, but we were able to connect with investors who got the vision and came alongside to make it a reality. The return isn’t immediate, but the satisfaction and quality of life certainly is for the residents.

What’s important is to realize that there is a market for this type of living, even here in Bakersfield. Whether it’s in town residents or those looking to move here for a variety of reasons.

People are hungry for this type of community. It’s easy to get up in the morning, go to work, come back home, into their garage and close the door and stay there for the night. It’s an easy feat to go weeks, if not months with no interactions with your neighbors. For some, that’s ok, but as social creatures, we are better with interaction. What 17th Place promised and is delivering on is that interaction, that community, and that is truly inspirational. Our downtown and city will be better for it.

What were your first thoughts upon seeing 17th Place?

Funny story, when I visited the project site for the townhomes alongside the Smiths + Daniel Cater the project architect, I saw the vision immediately. The location was in an area that had a lot of potential and I saw the vision that the Smiths had almost immediately. I also told them that they should consider building up a café close by for the future residents. The Smiths and Caters looked at each other and just laughed. Supposedly they had already thought of that, but I’ll take some credit for the idea of Café Smitten (just kidding).

Truly the architecture is incredible – Dan Cater did a fantastic job. The management and development is top notch.

Construction phases.

What do you think of the critics saying the Townhomes pricing was too expensive for Bakersfield?

I’ve heard the same thing but 17th residents prove that people will pay for high-quality downtown living experience. They’re hungry for that experience and will pay for that experience. It’s just a beautiful place to live and close to so much that adds value to daily life. Those 44 units are totally full, so I’d say people are ready and hungry for it.

When did you think, ‘Wow, this actually worked?’

As residents came on board with the townhomes, they created a Facebook group and they invited me to join. It’s nice to hear about things going on in my ward, but I didn’t expect to see what I saw. Residents inviting others for a bbq in the courtyard, asking for a spare light bulb, friends asking if others want to join on a walk to the Padre.

That interaction and that all-in approach that the residents have shown me that not only did the concept behind 17th Place work but that we need even more of these types of communities here in town.

The people make it special and make it a work of art. Infield housing aids in building community, bringing more people downtown and in a smaller area allows for more individuals to interact, engage and bump into each other, and that makes community rich and vibrant.

Now with the addition of Café Smitten, we’re seeing that creative class that the team talks about often rise up and join together over impromptu coffee. We’re seeing collaborations that are bigger than the sum of its parts. The energy is building and Eastchester seems to be the hub for this Downtown revitalization that is so exciting to watch.

You have three years left on your term of Councilman over Downtown Bakersfield. What are you seeing happening in these next few years?

People are looking for new experiences and quality of life. This is why it’s so important as councilman to promote downtown revitalization that enhances these special Downtown experiences and up the quality of the experience. My goals are to help make it a safe and clean environment that will attract investment and new residents.

There’s a huge momentum right now and a lot of eyes are here Downtown. We’re seeing more people opening up shops, restaurants and community events, all which promote more people to come downtown and stick around.

You hear often that we’re becoming saturated with restaurants, but I’d argue, and studies show, that having options actually brings more traffic and economic prosperity to places that have options. You go with the intention of visiting one place but find three more to check out at a later date. The cycle continues and that builds and brings in even more business.

I’m also working on property-based improvement district initiative which is an assessment of properties downtown that’ll help pay for street sweeping, cleaning, Downtown ambassadors to welcome people to our city. It’s a project that will benefit all of us for the long term.

I’d love to see more housing here too! There’s a few conversations and ideas I’ve been involved with and I’m excited to see what happens. I proposed and council adopted this past March to double the population downtown from 5,000 – 10,000 by 2030. A lot of things have to happen, but we’ll get there!

The perks of living downtown and the quality of life are things that I have the opportunity to promote as the councilman over downtown. Things like Second Saturday, Springtime in Downtown and building the arts are all things I’m really excited about promoting this year.

As councilman, what does #17thplaceliving mean to you?

17th Place living means having a showcase piece that is almost a beacon to those living in Bakersfield and considering living here. It highlights the best parts of downtown life, from accessibility to a nice work-life balance to a built-in community of empathetic and forward-thinking residents.

It’s important that we show a great quality of life is possible downtown in order for the population to grow – that we do have a walkable downtown and a positive atmosphere for new ideas to flourish.

The people that live at 17th Place have grasped the vision and are the ambassadors that will promote and encourage more developments to join us.

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