Steve Perez

Steve Perez grew up in Rosamond and spent much of his adult life in public service. Now he’s saying farewell to Kern County.

“I have devoted my entire working life to the service of others, and I regret that I’m getting tired and need to slow down,” he said in a telephone interview just before Christmas. “I look forward to devoting more time to family and friends.

Perez will celebrate his 70th birthday in January — as he also wraps up duties as general manager at the Rosamond Community Services District.

A new manager is expected to take up the reigns at the district soon. Until then, Perez is working remotely as he completes a long-distance move to be with his wife in Northern Idaho. Their new home is close to many lakes, streams and golf courses in an area where many former colleagues from the Kern County Sheriff’s Office have retired, he said. In addition to fishing, woodworking and relaxing, he has plans for travel.

He and his wife Becky will also celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in January.

“With two children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, there is a lot of visiting we need to catch up on,” he said.

Deputy sheriff

Perez and his wife moved to Tehachapi from Rosamond in 1983. He had worked as an electrical construction foreman and also, for about 11 years, as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for Kern County. When he lost the electrician job due to a cutback, he decided to go full-time as a Deputy Sheriff.

Sheriff Larry Kleier allowed him to work as a reserve deputy and attend the academy at the same time, Perez said.

He ended up working 12 years as a deputy sheriff for Kern County, in addition to 11 years as a reserve deputy.

Former county supervisor

Perez beat Dick Rutan to be elected to represent the Second District on the Kern County Board of Supervisors with more than 65 percent of the vote in November 1994. Neither was the incumbent, as Tehachapi resident Ben Austin, also a former sheriff’s deputy, had been in the seat since 1983.

He served two full terms as supervisor and chose not to run for reelection in 2002, running for Kern County Sheriff instead. Perez lost to Mack Wimbish by a narrow margin.

In 2010, he ran for Board of Supervisors again but lost to Zack Scrivner by 213 votes.

Rosamond CSD

In 2011, Perez joined the Rosamond CSD as general manager. The district provides water to more than 20,000 residents and also operates and maintains the community’s sewer and treatment system.

He ended up serving two stints with the district — from 2011 to 2016 and from 2019 to date.

When he returned to lead the district in 2019, he was charged with resolving nitrate problems at the wastewater treatment plant and the finding ways to meet the continuing challenge of water supply.

Perez said he believes that securing water rights for the district was his greatest accomplishment.

A 2015 court settlement restricted the district’s groundwater pumping, Perez said, and the district was in the process of using powers of eminent domain to force a landowner to sell water rights to the district when the watermaster of the Antelope Valley East Kern Water Agency granted the district and additional permanent water pumping allotment, along with a one-time pumping allotment.

He said he is leaving the district with the security of enough water for current residents and “a small amount for developers to allow some development to continue.”

Greatest challenge

In addition to his civic work on the local level, Perez in 1999-2000 served as president of the California State Association of Counties and later as president of the California Special Districts Association.

He recounts his time in those leadership positions as the most challenging in his civic life.

“We in these two organizations worked for the betterment of the organization and what we did as counties and what we do as special districts,” Perez said, adding that it was never easy to balance the needs of 58 counties for the CSAC, or more than 2,000 independent districts for the CSDA.

“We came together and we discussed, we developed policy and we developed a direction and basically advocated on those beliefs and policies — or sometimes stayed neutral,” he said.

Still, he noted, “it was a heck of a lot easier than what we experience in our government today —with Republicans and Democrats — where nothing really gets done that doesn't benefit one party over the other.”

Parting advice

Perez is moving on, and he offers parting advice for Kern County and the Antelope Valley.

“For Kern County, keep up the fight to protect oil,” he said. “It’s such a big industry, to lose that would be a travesty — the largest oil producing county in the lower 48 states — it would be a shame to lose that.”

Even with development of green energy, he noted, oil is still important. “So many things we depend on — tires on cars, windshield wipers and so many products” rely on oil for their production, he said.

And for the AV, he noted, it’s important to protect the water within the aquifer through conservation and to find ways to reuse water 100 percent.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email:

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