On Tuesday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board will be meeting in Bakersfield. On the agenda, Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy and the HSRA staff will ask the high-speed rail board to select a preferred alignment through western Kern County before the public has had an opportunity to view and comment on an environmental impact report.
Last month, speaking at CSU Bakersfield, former CHSRA chairman Rod Diridon publicly endorsed the Truxtun Avenue station and announced his opposition to the Westchester station.
The approved alignment with a downtown station was studied for more than 10 years by consultants, the Kern Council of Governments, and the CHSRA. Its impacts, good and bad, are well studied and documented. The same cannot be said for city’s alignment.
At the community open houses last year, CHSRA staff said that the city’s alignment had not been extensively studied. In fact, the exact structures and parcels impacted by the alignment have changed, because the exact route along Burbank Avenue and adjacent to Highway 99 has changed since those open houses. Some key unanswered questions include:
• What parcels and structures are impacted by the revised version of the city’s alignment;
• The impacts of Bakersfield’s alignment on the 4,500 home Gossamer Grove master planned community;
• The impacts of Bakersfield’s alignment on farmers and farm operations along BurbankAvenue;
• The environmental and economic impacts on Old Town Kern;
• The height of the elevated viaducts through central Bakersfield;
• The shadow effects of these viaducts and their impacts on views from the Bakersfield bluffs;
• Added vehicle miles traveled, vehicle trips, and emissions (greenhouse gas and criteria pollutants) generated from people using taxis, Ubers, and shuttles to transfer between high-speed rail and local Amtrak service; and
• Noise, traffic, and vibration impacts on Westchester and Westchester Rivera, including, but not limited to F, Oak, and Beech streets.
The National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act are procedural laws that identify potential environmental harm and inform decision-makers and the public of these consequences. In accordance with state CEQA guidelines, Kern County residents have the right to a public review process that includes: "(a) sharing expertise, (b) disclosing agency analyses, (c) checking for accuracy, (d) detecting omissions, (e) discovering public concerns, and (f) soliciting counter proposals."
Public engagement and participation in decision making is a fundamental and critical to achieving outcomes that reflect the needs of all affected stakeholders to the greatest extent feasible. Active participation of all affected communities helps ensure that transportation plans and projects avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts on our community.
Bakersfield says “don’t worry, we got this, select our alignment as the preferred one and do the EIR later.” But history has shown that Bakersfield’s unelected city manager represents the interests of big Bakersfield government, not the people. Just take a look at the Centennial Corridor and the 24th Street widening: The people of Kern County aren’t blind and we don’t like what we see.
As conservatives, we welcome transparency and accountability at all levels of government. We recognize that it is our duty to prevent runaway big government.
There is one sign that the High-Speed Rail Authority can make that would be unmistakable in demonstrating transparency and accountability. Chairman Richard and Members of Board must reject Bakersfield’s proposal to select a preferred alternative before the public has had a chance to view and comment on a complete environmental report.
The High-Speed Rail Board must rectify procedural deficiencies and direct their staff to take a new programmatic EIR/EIS approach that includes a complete EIR/EIS before they take a position on a preferred alignment. Only then can the people of Kern County, other agencies, and decision-makers understand the full spectrum of impacts, alternatives, and mitigation measures required for the Shafter to Bakersfield segment.
Regardless of whether you support or oppose high-speed rail or which alignment you prefer, we must demand transparency and complete environmental impact report before the High-Speed Rail Authority adopts a preferred alignment.
I encourage everyone to attend the May 10 high-speed rail meeting at the Bakersfield City Council Chambers. The meeting will be held at 1501 Truxtun Ave. at 9:30 a.m. Say no to a rushed environmental process and demand accountability and transparency of Bakersfield government and high-speed rail.
Adam Cohen is a Bakersfield local and graduate of Stockdale High School. He has a Masters’ in City and Regional Planning from Georgia Tech and is researcher with the University of California. The views expressed are those of the author.