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Theo Douglas/ The Californian

City and county transportation officials cut the ribbon on the $34 million widening of Highway 99 from six lanes to eight between Wilson Road and Highway 119. The group includes, from second left, Public Works Director Nick Fidler, Sharri Bender Ehlert, Caltrans District 6 Director; Kern Council of Governments Executive Director Ahron Hakimi, and City Manager Alan Tandy.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Californian city government reporter Theo Douglas.

SOUNDWALL TALKS CONTINUE: Three residents whose houses are near the new Westside Parkway extension from Allen to Heath roads reiterated their request for soundwalls at the May 21 Bakersfield City Council meeting.

“Not only do we need to protect the homeowners from the noise and the traffic, but we also need to protect the drivers,” Pam Binns, an eight-year homeowner on Via La Madera just west of Jenkins Road, told the council.

A federally required noise study done in July 2010 found the Westside Parkway wouldn't generate enough noise — even after being connected to Highway 58 — to justify building a sound wall on county land northeast of Jenkins Road and San Simeon Avenue.

Because of this, soundwalls on the south side of the parkway stop at Jenkins Road, where only a chainlink fence separates neighborhood from freeway.

At the council meeting, Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith told Binns, “We are meeting with staff and (Kern) County Supervisor David Couch and trying to determine if any additional mitigation is necessary.”

City and county staff visited the neighborhood recently to walk the area, and are waiting for a consultant’s report on possible soundwall designs and costs.

In an email to neighbors sent Thursday on behalf of the supervisor, Mark Salvaggio, constituent services specialist for Couch, indicated city and county staffs are awaiting recommendations from Smith and Couch and plan to meet with neighbors.

MAYOR BREAKS HIP IN FALL: Bakersfield Mayor Harvey L. Hall was in good condition Thursday at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital after surgery to repair a fractured hip sustained the previous afternoon in a fall outside City Hall South.

Hall, 73, slipped and fell slightly before 1 p.m. Wednesday and was transported by an ambulance from his own firm, Hall Ambulance Service.

“He is in recovery and his prognosis is good,” said Hall Ambulance spokesman Mark Corum.

PROMOTIONS AND RETIREMENTS: City Manager Alan Tandy made it official late Thursday, naming longtime employee Nick Fidler as Bakersfield’s public works director.

Fidler replaces longtime Public Works Director Raul Rojas, who left in March to assume that position in Marin County.

A more than 15-year city employee who started as an engineer, Fidler had most recently been acting public works director.

“Nick has over 15 years of exposure to the wide-ranging functions in Public Works,” Tandy said of the Bakersfield native in a statement. “His knowledge and project management experience will be strong assets as he assumes his new leadership role.”

Planning Director Jim Eggert will likely be next out the door. Eggert will be retiring June 27.

BARBS FLY AT FREEWAY OPENING: City and state transportation officials cut the ribbon Thursday in a parking lot on the $34 million widening of Highway 99 from three lanes in each direction to four between Highway 119 and Wilson Road.

But Kern Council of Governments Executive Director Ahron Hakimi warned that transportation agencies shouldn’t rely on state proposition funds — which almost didn’t come through to pay for Highway 99.

“Ironically, unlike many other counties in the San Joaquin Valley, Kern invested early in (Highway) 99. That fact worked against us in the initial bond investment. In fact, Kern wouldn’t have seen any projects under Prop. 1B if it hadn’t been for the savings on other (Prop. 1B) projects throughout the valley … ,” Hakimi said. “To stay competitive and further our economic goals, we will need a self-help measure on a county-wide basis to dedicate to transportation.”

Highway 99 widening between Highway 204 and Beardsley Canal should be finished within six months, he added.

PARKS RANK HIGH: Bakersfield parks ranked 36th in a survey of the nation’s 60 largest cities, according to results released Thursday by The Trust for Public Land.

Parks within city limits — which include city parks and some North of the River and Kern County parks — scored 46 out of 100, tying with Anaheim and two cities in Texas.

Bakersfield ranked high in median park size, at 9.4 acres. The national average is 6 acres.

The city also scored high by offering an average of three playgrounds per 10,000 residents. The national average is 2.1 playgrounds per 10,000 residents.

Bakersfield scored lower, however, on access to parks and investment in its parks. The survey found just 41 percent of Bakersfield residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park, compared to the national average of nearly 65 percent.

“Actually, we feel pretty good about that ranking,” said Recreation and Parks Director Dianne Hoover. “It is true … with the city being so spread out, it does make it a little farther for some neighborhoods and families to get to a park. That is something that we’d like to work on in the future.”

WHAT YOU’RE SAYING: Tuesday’s history lesson on how city officials once supported but now oppose the bullet train sparked comments on The Californian’s website:

NQGriggs: “It's likely that this is just a bunch of political grandstanding by the Bakersfield council in order to drum up support for their state Assembly candidates running in the upcoming election. Why else would they completely flip-flop on their position conveniently right before election season?”