Downtown homeowners spent the better part of an hour Wednesday questioning how many cars use 24th Street, the city's busiest highway, and offering suggestions on how to widen it during a hearing at the Bakersfield City Council meeting.
Residents who spoke against approving an Environmental Impact Report on the project suggested it relies on out-of-date traffic counts, and that traffic could be improved by simply restriping the lanes.
"This EIR relies on old data that is now wrong, resulting in an incorrect conclusion," said Anthony Ansolabehere. "The EIR concludes that the project is urgently needed to address future traffic growth. This project has lost the urgency that the incorrect forecast has created for it."
During a separate report later in the meeting, Public Works Director Raul Rojas presented comparisons of traffic volumes previously asked for by Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, showing that traffic on 24th Street has declined 8 percent between Oak and B streets, but said widening is still needed.
"It is still the highest volume thoroughfare in the city," Rojas said of 24th Street, which is used by nearly 60,000 vehicles per day.
Four residents spoke against the EIR, including A Street resident Vanessa Vangel, who turned in a petition with 625 signatures opposing the widening. Myrtle Street resident Wayne Kress was among the seven residents who spoke in favor of it.
"Twenty-fourth Street is no longer a neighborhood street and it hasn't been for sometime," Kress said. "Make it a pleasing gateway drive into downtown Bakersfield instead of the eyesore that it is now."
Widening 24th Street through downtown, the project's most debated 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, would eliminate 293 street parking spaces and result in "(a) permanent increase in ambient noise level," according to the EIR.
Bakersfield planning commissioners voted unanimously last week to recommend the council certify the EIR, which would allow project design and property acquisitions to begin. Commissioners also asked the council to consider "constructing sound walls with City funds" when federal money cannot be used.
The council will finish the hearing at its Feb. 12 meeting and vote on whether to certify the EIR.
In other business, the council approved a nine-and-a-half year lease agreement with the Katz Group of Companies to run the Bakersfield Condors and keep them at Rabobank Arena through June 2023.
The Katz-owned Edmonton Oilers bought the team, in a deal officially approved Wednesday afternoon by the East Coast Hockey League Board of Governors, City Manager Alan Tandy said in an interview.
The new lease increases the city's annual payment to the Condors for new and renewed suite leases from $5,000 per suite to $6,500. Suites rent from $35,000 to $65,000, Tandy said. The city is expected to receive about $300,000 in direct annual payments from KGC.
The lease also gives the Condors 50 percent of concession sales during playoffs -- though regular season rates remain unchanged -- and a $25,000 payment from Rabobank Arena's next naming sponsor when rights expire in 2016.
The council also voted 6-1 with Maxwell dissenting to relax one of two requirements placed on downtown residents who'd like the city to build cul-de-sacs protecting them from 24th Street traffic.
The city's current amended resolution allowed the closure of Beech, Myrtle, Spruce, Pine, Cedar, A, B and C streets at their intersection with 24th Street, provided all residents between 22nd and 24th streets agree they want cul-de-sacs, and corner lot owners on 24th Street donate part of their property.
After the council's vote, only 75 percent of residents on these streets now must agree. Work has already begun on cul-de-sacs on Myrtle and Pine streets. With Wednesday's change, preliminary work will begin this week on Spruce Street, and on A Street next month.
The council also voted 7-0 approving $992,639 in transfers and $2.1 million in appropriations as part of the city's mid-year budget review process.
Transfers included $977,639 from the General Fund for projects including emergency repairs last year to the Rabobank Arena ice chillers.
Appropriations helped pay for projects including a $215,866 rise in the cost of remodeling the City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center. The total cost of the remodel now could reach $879,000.