The Bakersfield City Council is poised to decide Wednesday whether to sue the state High-Speed Rail Authority to get more information about how it would make up for bulldozing parts of town.
The suit being recommended by the city attorney's office would claim that the draft environmental impact report the authority issued in July doesn't comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it doesn't adequately address how impacts to city projects and properties would be mitigated.
The rail project would have significant impacts on the Rabobank Arena, the corporation yard where city equipment is kept, Thomas Roads Improvement Program (TRIP) construction projects, especially the Centennial Corridor project to connect Highway 58 and the Westside Parkway, Mill Creek redevelopment projects and others, city staff said.
Moreover, city staff said in documents attached to the city council's agenda, the authority hasn't been responsive to those concerns so far.
"Given their utter lack of responsiveness in addressing the countless issues that would result from their proposed project route, there is no choice but to recommend legal action against the Authority," city manager's office staff wrote.
City council members are to decide whether to direct the city attorney's office to retain outside legal counsel to start the process of filing a suit against the authority.
"The assaults on essential city properties without being willing to discuss mitigation or how we would operate is outside CEQA and unacceptable," Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy said. "Our view of CEQA is they can't go through this stage of the environmental process without dealing with (that)."
The aim of a lawsuit would be to, at a minimum, force the authority to address those concerns, he said. City staff previously handed over 100 pages of concerns to the authority about potential impacts on the city, but the authority hasn't been adequately responsive, he said.
But the authority has pledged to be more responsive, said Jeff Morales, CEO of the High-Speed Rail Authority.
"Our goal is to move in a positive direction with the city of Bakersfield," he said.
"I had a constructive meeting with City Manager Tandy on September 26th to discuss ways on how we can improve communication, and I pledged at that time that we would be more responsive to the City's concerns going forward," Morales said in an email. "To that end we approached Mr. Tandy with the idea of creating an ongoing working group between the High-Speed Rail Authority and the City, which he agreed with."
The first meeting of that group is to be scheduled soon after the city council meeting Wednesday, Morales said.
For the city's part, Tandy said authority representatives "come and meet and they talk, but they never deal with the substance of the issues that we have put forward."
WAIVING PREVAILING WAGE?
Also Wednesday, the council will consider a resolution to exempt the city from having to pay prevailing wages for locally funded public works contracts, except where legally required.
The state Supreme Court decided last summer that charter cities, like Bakersfield, can exempt themselves from prevailing wage requirements for public works projects. Prevailing wages are public works wages paid to the majority of workers in a specific area. Exempting the city from that requirement would save Bakersfield money on public works projects, according to a report from the city attorney's office.
The major projects the city is involved in now, however, would still be subject to prevailing wages, according to a memo from the city manager's office. Those projects, like the TRIP road construction, use federal and state money, and the resolution would only exempt locally funded projects, according to a memo from Tandy.
Over the last four fiscal years, including the current fiscal year, those locally funded projects total about $44 million, according to the memo. City staff estimated that Bakersfield could see savings of 20 percent to 30 percent for locally funded projects if it wasn't required to follow prevailing-wage rules.