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Santa Barbara Versus Bakersfield: Let the Feud Begin

November 26, 1990|JACK SMITH

The old rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco, fueled mostly by newspaper columnists but based on Friscans' snobbish belief in their own superiority, is over.

Plagued by its own urban problems, severely damaged by the earthquake, San Francisco has lost much of its hubris. Its poet laureate, Herb Caen, recently admitted that he had found a decent place to eat in Los Angeles. That signalled the true end of the conflict. Frisco had thrown in the towel.

But another inter-city rivalry has emerged to entertain us.

Herb Lucas of Lompoc sends me a clipping of Barney Brantingham's column, from the Santa Barbara News-Press, indicating that Santa Barbara and Bakersfield are engaged in a strident shouting match.

Like the old San Francisco-Los Angeles feud, it seems to be carried on by the two cities' newspapers--the Bakersfield Californian and the Santa Barbara News-Press.

What started it, evidently, was Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge's suggestion that Santa Barbara's homeless would be better off in low-rent Bakersfield. (It was an astonishing concession for Santa Barbara to admit that it had any homeless.)

The Californian fired back editorially with a list of 12 reasons why Bakersfield is a better place to live than Santa Barbara.

Brantingham began his column with the question, "Can you think of ONE reason why Bakersfield is a better place to live than Santa Barbara?"

First, he quoted the Californian's reason No. 9: "Just try to find an all-night weapons repair shop in Santa Barbara."

Then No. 4: "When the big one comes, we'll have beachfront property."

Those two at least suggest that Bakersfield entered the fray with its sense of humor intact.

On that count, Bakersfield is the winner. A town that has no beach, has sweltering summers and incapacitating winter fogs, and has been Los Angeles' whipping boy for 50 years, has got to have a sense of humor.

Santa Barbara, on the other hand, has its beautiful harbor, its mission and its balmy climate, and has long enjoyed a reputation as the ideal California city. One can hardly wonder what it would like to lay its homeless off on Bakersfield.

Reason No. 2 was a direct jibe at Santa Barbara's mayor: "Bakersfield grows and exports (most of) its nuts. Santa Barbara elects them."

Its humor still rampant, the Californian offered this as No. 8: "Santa Barbara is the inspiration for a cheap, tawdry TV soap opera. Bakersfield is the inspiration for the hugely popular 'America's Most Wanted.' "

To which Brantingham could only respond: "See, they're also capable of making fun of their town's cheap, tawdry reputation."

I spent several years of my childhood in Bakersfield and began my career on the Californian. It is a good town. People who have suffered reverses can get well there. Also I lived for a few months during World War II in Santa Barbara. It was indeed a paradise.

Like San Francisco, though, I'm afraid it is succumbing to the same urban blight, including homelessness, that infects all our cities. But they can't get rid of their homeless by sending them to Bakersfield.

The homeless are just as entitled to the beach and balmy weather as the affluent. I wouldn't be surprised to see many of our homeless in Los Angeles drift up to Santa Barbara for the winter. In fact, I recommend it.

Brantingham was puzzled by reason No. 12: "Sure, Santa Barbara has pleasant year-round weather, stunning ocean views and a cosmopolitan reputation. But have Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakum ever sung about the place?"

He had to phone the Californian to find out that the celebrated country-music singers had sung a song called "The Streets of Bakersfield."

Brantingham apparently didn't know that Bakersfield is the home of so many big-time country-music musicians that it is known as Nashville West.

The Californian's reason No. 10 emphasized the cultural differences between the two cities: "Bakersfield has guard dogs names Rex and Butch. Santa Barbara's guard dogs are named Fifi and Bubbles."

That is the sort of snobbism that used to characterize the rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Friscans liked to think of themselves as more sophisticated in dress and manners, better educated and superior in the arts--especially the culinary arts.

It was once true that San Francisco had better restaurants than Los Angeles, but Los Angeles proved itself the more cosmopolitan of the two cities when it inaugurated kosher burritos several years ago.

Since then, Los Angeles has far outdistanced its northern competitor in gustatory experimentation and excellence.

In reason No. 1, the Californian couldn't resist a slight slur against its metropolitan neighbor to the south: "Bakersfield is farther from Los Angeles (than Santa Barbara)."

I checked with the Auto Club and found that Bakersfield is 110 miles from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara only 95.

Obviously, the Californian's point is that proximity to Los Angeles is a strike against a city.

Now that San Francisco has laid off, are we going to hear it from Bakersfield?

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