Michael Kennedy

Michael Kennedy is a lifetime resident of Bakersfield and principal of Bethel Christian School.

I enjoyed reading a recent letter to the editor by Bill Descary (“LGA is best high-speed rail alignment,” Jan. 20). In his detailed letter, Descary provides notes that should help us all better understand the lengthy history of the Bakersfield High-Speed Rail footprint, local HSR impacts and the current issue before the planning commission.

Some individuals like Terry Maxwell, Adam Cohen and a handful of disgruntled bystanders are now peddling their thoughts about the HSR station location throughout the community. But we should all question where this small contingency of concerned citizens was just a few years ago. There have been multiple EIR documents over more than half of this last decade, yet I find little record of their concerns early on.

In fact, I believe as one considers the legalities of the California Environmental Quality Act process, this last-minute attempt to mobilize the community in protest is simply a day late and a dollar short. I state this not as a flippant comment, but as a stakeholder of an impacted organization which has been in the legal trenches of this battle for many years. We were instructed by experts in environmental law to submit our church-school stakeholder concerns to the Rail Authority as early as October 2012, and then work toward positive resolution.

I have watched as the City of Bakersfield and the County of Kern have attempted to do the same on their end, and I truly believe that they have worked hard to protect local citizens. Allen Tandy and the city staff should be commended for their willingness to listen to such concerns, litigate under CEQA and make the necessary changes that will eventually bring about less destruction.

The High-Speed Rail Authority is still clearly in violation of CEQA guidelines, and they must legally provide more mitigation than has been allocated to local organizations like the Golden Empire Gleaners in the LGA document. But one can't pin blame on the city or county staff for failure to act on behalf of our citizenry. As I can attest, they are doing their part to protect local organizations.

Again, while I am sure that Cohen, Maxwell and others like Jonathan Yates will continue to rattle the bushes and try to dominate HSR discussion in the local paper and on the radio, I question their intentions. If the desire is to help the local community, then I would ask that they assist the impacted organizations which remain ignored in both the LGA and the May 2014 Project (Hybrid) documents.

Regardless of the final location for the high-speed rail station, all current alignments remain unchanged throughout East Bakersfield. Thus, organizations like the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter, the First Free Will Baptist Church and Bethel Christian School have still received no viable mitigation, according to FEIR documentation.

Although my thoughts might be viewed as biased criticism of a local grass-roots movement, that is not my intent. I simply believe that assisting impacted organizations in east Bakersfield is far more noble than clamoring for an alternate station location, or vying for a maintenance facility that will likely never materialize with either choice of the two station locations.

Our impacted organization has received an outpouring of support over the last few years. Since 2012, more than 40 political heavyweights have blocked state legislation, petitioned federal boards, eliminated federal funding, held hearings, stood with us during press conferences and provided letters of support to the court on our behalf. In short, they have supported those who have no voice, and we are overwhelmed by these selfless acts of kindness.

To this end, we wish to specifically thank our local representatives: Supervisor Mike Maggard, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, state Sen. Andy Vidak, Congressman David Valadao, Assemblyman Vince Fong and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Their support and resolve to assist have been unwavering, and we will forever be indebted.

Michael Kennedy is a lifetime resident of Bakersfield and principal of Bethel Christian School. The opinions expressed are his own.