The city's final Environmental Impact Report on plans to widen 24th Street through downtown and improve its intersection with Oak Street was praised and pilloried by residents Thursday night but recommended for certification by the Bakersfield Planning Commission.
After more than three and a half hours of discussion, two recesses, and comments from a variety of transportation experts, the commission voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution recommending the Bakersfield City Council certify the final EIR.
It also added a recommendation that if federal guidelines deem soundwalls too expensive, the city should consider building them with its own money.
The City Council is expected to consider this recommendation and certify the final EIR at its Wednesday meeting, although a final decision is not expected until Feb. 12.
Widening 24th Street through downtown -- the project's most controversial area -- would require demolishing 23 single-family homes.
Expanding 23rd and 24th streets from three lanes in each direction to four between D and M streets, and from two to three lanes in each direction between D and Olive streets, also would require eliminating 293 street parking spaces and would result in "(a) permanent increase in ambient noise level," according to the EIR.
While several of the nearly a dozen residents who commented on the report said they approved of its contents, the majority criticized it for removing parking, and increasing noise and traffic.
Resident John Karnes praised the "diligent effort" that went into the project, but said its partial soundwalls would never be tolerated in a new development.
"It's ironic that if we had an existing two- to three-lane thoroughfare and a developer came in and wanted to put these residential projects on either side, they would be required to put masonry the entire length," Karnes said.
Commission Chairman Elliott Kirschenmann agreed.
"When we build a development next to an arterial there's a requirement for walls along the entire length," Kirschenmann said. "I'd like to address that, and if the city has further plans to build those walls if they're needed."
Public Works Director Raul Rojas said that federal guidelines, and the fact that this Thomas Roads Improvement Program project is largely paid for by federal dollars dictates how soundwalls must be placed.
Cecilia Greenwood, owner of Cecilia's Place furniture store, wondered what would happen to her driveway access.
Traffic expert Bob Scales -- project manager on a 1986 study of widening 24th Street -- said that while semi-trucks couldn't use it, smaller trucks could use an alley behind the store for unloading.
And, when Greenwood said that wouldn't work, Rojas said the issue could possibly be resolved during project design.
Veteran Bakersfield architect David Cross called the presentation excellent, but worried about how students would cross an even wider 24th Street at A Street.
So did new Commissioner Richard Schwartz, attending his first meeting.
"I would like you to comment on the crosswalk for children crossing from the north side to the south side, for the safety of the children," Schwartz said.
A study of a new crosswalk, Rojas said, "will be done during the design process when we do the traffic analysis during the design process."