California regulators yesterday approved the first merger in recent times of a savings and loan association with a bank holding company. The union must be approved by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Kern Savings and Loan Association, located in Bakersfield, was acquired by Central Pacific Corp., which owns American National Bank of Bakersfield and American National Bank of Sacramento.

Central Pacific agreed to buy all of Kern's 70,000 shares of outstanding stock at $11 a share, bringing Kern's net worth ratio up to 4 percent of assets. Central Pacific has assets of $425 million; Kern, $37 million.

Kern, a state-chartered stock association, suffered accelerating losses in recent months. State regulators sought without success for almost a year to find a merger partner among both state-chartered and federally chartered savings and loans in California before turning to a bank holding company.

There has never been a cross-industry merger in recent times involving acquisition of a savings and loan by a bank holding company, although a large savings and loan holding company has acquired a bank. The last such application was rejected by the Fed several years ago, largely on objections from the savings industry, which fears its members could be swallowed up by large banks.

However, in today's climate of crisis brought on by high interest rates and competition from nonbanks such as Merrill Lynch and Sears Roebuck, traditional interindustry and interstate barriers are being broken.

Last year, the bank board approved the first interstate merger of savings and loans.