Residents of a close-knit California community are on borrowed time after an energy company, Berry Petroleum, sent out offer letters to buy up property, including their homes.
McKittrick is located 14 miles northwest of Taft, California 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 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.
Sarah Bates, another McKittrick renter, said some of her neighbors that do own their homes have lived in the small community for over 30 years and have no mortgage. Senior residents who might need to buy a new house will have to begin making monthly payments, Bates said.
Bates said McKittrick Elementary School might also be on the chopping block and would close as a result. Parents fear where their children will continue their educations.
“What about the kids that are already in the school? There’s more to this community that meets the eye,” said Bates.
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.”
Residents Christian Oclaray and Steven Phan moved to McKittrick from Washington State and said their son, who has a mental disability, has really benefited from going to McKittrick Elementary School.
“Our son came over here not knowing how to read. When he came over here he’s already progressing a lot more than we expected,” Phan said. “He has a learning disability. With the hand on-ness, it doesn’t seem like he does.”
McKittrick Elementary School District Interim Superintendent Heather Richter said the future of the school is still uncertain.
“We are currently researching many of these aspects. What we can say is that the District recently met with representatives from Barry Petroleum, at their request. However, there has been no official offer made and no specific details are yet available. When things become clearer, we are eager to socialize the facts with our campus community during a town-hall type meeting we are planning for the near future. The District will be in a better position to answer your questions at that time. Thank you for your understanding.”Heather Richter, McKittrick Elementary School District Interim Superintendent
Bates added that she works in Taft and would have to move to Bakersfield if any of the deals went through. This would be an hour-and-a-half commute, compared to her current 16-minute drive, she said.
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.
KGET reached out to Governor Newsom’s office, but his team did not respond with a statement by publication.
Many residents also blame Berry Petroleum, which cited the aforementioned policy in a property purchase offer letter of intent to a homeowner obtained by KGET. 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.”
The letter also says Berry will assist with homeowners with relocation by making the purchase and transfer of fund swift. This, however, does not apply to renters.
A Berry Petroleum spokesperson said:
“In the ordinary course of its business, Berry will occasionally make offers to buy certain properties. Berry has recently made some confidential fair market offers to some property owners who are free to either accept or decline those offers.”Berry Petroleum spokesperson
Bates added that Chevron drills nearby and have never tried to buy people out of their homes.
“I think the oil fields big plan is to buy everyone out,” Phan said. “Nobody that lives here has any say.”