The city’s plan for development around the site of a high-speed rail station in town has gotten one step closer to approval.
During its Thursday meeting, the Planning Commission voted to send the city’s high-speed rail station area vision plan, as well as an accompanying environmental impact report, to the City Council for final approval.
The decision comes after the city made adjustments to the plan after getting community input earlier this year.
“Whether we ever get a high-speed rail station, wherever it is, I think it’s important to take these steps to plan a vision for what we want downtown Bakersfield to look like in the future. These are important first steps in accomplishing that,” said Commissioner Larry Koman.
The vision plan examines how a 2.3-square-mile area of downtown that includes a rail station at F Street and Highway 204 could be developed over 30 years if the station location was approved by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
An F Street/Highway 204 station is the preferred location proposed by the rail authority. The authority had previously approved a rail station on Truxtun Avenue near the Amtrak station, but the city opposed it because they felt it would negatively affect more than 300 homes and several city assets.
A location has yet to receive final approval by the rail authority. That isn’t expected until late this year at the earliest.
Some of the city’s biggest development priorities would be to increase pedestrian and bike access, provide additional parking facilities near the station and elsewhere, street enhancements, as well as a downtown shuttle service that can take people to various destinations across downtown.
“We all know that high-speed rail has its challenges,” Development Services Director Jacqui Kitchen said. “It may not come, and if it does, it probably won’t be until 2025 or maybe later, but the purpose of this plan is to inspire Bakersfield to get out there, to take control of its own destiny, and I think our community has done this.”
That plan appears to have already made a difference for Bakersfield. Kitchen said that in the rail authority’s 2016 business plan, they were planning to have the first section of the rail start at San Jose and end just north of Bakersfield.
That plan changed after the City of Bakersfield put out its vision plan for public review, Kitchen said. According to the rail authority’s 2018 revised business plan, the first section of the rail would start in San Francisco and end in Bakersfield.
“This line has stronger ridership potential and higher commercial value than the shorter line previously identified between San Jose and Poplar Avenue, north of Bakersfield,” the rail authority said in its revised plan. “This is a strategic enhancement that will generate higher revenue which can then be used to help fund expanding the system in Southern California.”
Eric VonBerg with Rincon Consultants also provided a presentation during Thursday’s meeting on the environmental impact report, which now includes comments from the community and responses to them.
Noise and added traffic congestion were listed as the most significant environmental impacts relating to the plan.
Vice Chair Daniel Cater expressed his support for the plan and appreciation for the efforts by staff.
“It’s exciting to see the culmination of a two-year effort,” he said. “I really applaud the process and the shift in mindset to downtown being something we’re trying to keep alive, something we’re trying to keep going, to looking to downtown as being a key factor in how we grow as a region and as a community. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.”
According to the rail authority, if the F Street/Highway 204 station location is approved, the high-speed rail would travel parallel to the Union Pacific line along Highway 43 northwest of Shafter. Once it gets to the point where the 43 turns south, the rail would then travel east to Highway 99.
It would travel south along the 99 until it hits Highway 204, after which it would travel southeast along the 204 before continuing along the city’s railroad line out of town.