Jeff and Jacki Mickey got a hard lesson in the importance of reading the fine print when work crews showed up last Thursday to begin widening Hosking Avenue between Wible Road and Hughes Lane.
That's the day their vague understanding of how a highway expansion might impact their daily lives came into alarming focus and they realized just how close cars would be coming to the front of their house -- and their bedroom windows.
Back in 1981, the house's longtime, previous owner, Boyd Sears, had sold the property's front yard to Kern County in anticipation of future widening.
Back then, this was county land. Corn and cotton grew nearby, kids rode horses and shot .22-caliber rifles, and the big city seemed far, far distant.
Theoretically, of course, the Mickeys' relative isolation might change, they knew, but seeing such a possibility on paper wasn't the same as seeing workers actually placing orange cones in the road in anticipation of the heavy machinery to come.
"I remember getting the pack of escrow papers showing the easement. I guess I really didn't realize the property had already been sold," said Jeff Mickey, who bought the house in 1994.
Today, as a result of the widening, he's had to relocate the home's propane tank and shorten his carport so much that when he parks his pickup truck one set of tires is in the dirt.
He wishes city officials would just buy his house, or pay to set it back on the lot.
"I'm not against progress," Mickey said contemplating orange construction stakes left by surveyors. "Just plan it right."
His wife agreed
"A couple years ago a guy got hit and killed here. Now we'll step off our porch and get hit and killed," said his wife, Jacki Mickey, pointing east on Hosking. "What about exhaust emissions going into our windows every day? Legally, don't we have rights?"
Several doors west on Hosking, homeowner Engracia Machuca was a bit more complacent, having negotiated the sale of a portion of the front of her property with city officials around 2007 before property values crashed during the recent recession.
But that didn't make losing the mature fruitless mulberry and pecan trees where her children had played any easier.
"I sat out here under that tree and cleaned my cactus. My kids used to play out here and now they've all grown up," said Machuca, who lives in the 3000 block of Hosking Avenue. "I told the (construction) guys, the sky is sad for my trees. It's crying."
Interim Public Works Director Nick Fidler said the city tries to be responsive to the plight of residents -- but it's their responsibility to do their due diligence when buying property.
"It's not like we know about every real estate transaction going on," Fidler said, adding the city is legally not obligated to purchase the Mickey house. "It really is incumbent on the buyer plus their agent to inform them of local issues going on."
Fidler said the city filed a notice of categorical exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, because it believes the Hosking widening meets environmental standards.
Don Anderson, the city's real property manager, handled purchases of portions of Hosking properties the city didn't already own.
He said the Mickeys' house, while too close to Hosking by modern standards, is considered a "legal, non-conforming" structure -- a building that is legal although not built to current code.
When the $776,000 Hosking widening is finished, in about 40 construction work days or around two months, the street will have two eastbound lanes instead of just one.
Currently, Hosking Avenue has two lanes of westbound traffic and one lane eastbound immediately west of Highway 99, but it is designated an arterial, or major street, in the city's general circulation plan -- meaning it later could be restriped to become a six-lane street with a median similar to Wible or Gosford Road.
East of Wible, it's now used by about 9,000 vehicles per day, according to a city traffic count. That number could rise fairly soon, however -- at least by freeway construction standards.
The Hosking widening is part of a larger changes coming to this part of southwest Bakersfield which will likely enable a freeway interchange at Highway 99 -- and some day maybe even a long-awaited, highly-sought-after Bass Pro Shop.
When the Bakersfield City Council considers the city's proposed 2014-2015 Fiscal Year budget later this spring, one of the projects in the capital improvement budget will be the $21 million Hosking-Highway 99 freeway interchange.
City officials have the money to pay for the interchange from gas tax, utility surcharge and transportation development funds Bakersfield receives.
If the city council approves the project, construction could begin later this year and last about 18 months.
Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson, whose area includes both projects, said his heart goes out to homeowners but he is also excited at the prospect of bringing development and jobs to the area -- including, yes, Bass Pro.
"You're going to have new projects come on line, new jobs, new investment coming into south Bakersfield," said Johnson, noting the owner of the property where Bass Pro would locate filed paperwork with the city in January seeking a general plan amendment zone change allowing the project. "I think the fact they submitted paperwork is a clear indication we could get the Bass Pro Shop."
This sort of drama is a first for the Mickeys, but oddly enough, not for their house. Decades ago the previous owner had it moved from the path of Highway 58 construction to the 2900 block of Hosking Avenue -- where, ironically, it is again in the way of development.