Now that the ridiculous project to construct two five-story CSUB off-campus dormitories at the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Coffee Road (the busiest intersection in Bakersfield) has been beaten back by a grassroots effort of local residents, one wonders what will be next on the agenda from the landowner of that property?
Local residents are still in shell-shock about what almost occurred in their beloved local community, which was facilitated by rezoning shenanigans such as minimal public notifications, totally unreasonable timing for public responses and inflexible official meeting deadlines and scheduling that generally panders to a “consent item calendar” instead of project sensitivity or importance. Consequently, a preponderance of the participating residents are now resolved to collectively be on the outlook for any and all construction projects and land use proposals in their area.
The truth be known, the now nearly completed 120-room Hyatt Hotel was in fact permitted by the same Board of Zoning Adjustment procedures the CSUB off-campus dormitory developer approached the BZA. Again, these anomalous travesties are forced on the surrounding communities by poorly defined and ineffective city rules, guidelines and regulations that are harbored by its community development and planning elements. In short, facilitating a system of approval that any owner/applicant/developer can utilize to ramrod through a project before the concerned citizens can materially react.
For instance, current zoning rules allow these travesties to occur by only requiring a very limited 300-foot offset rule of notifications to surrounding local residents. In the case of this Hyatt Hotel, there was only the Church of Latter-day Saints and a few rental apartment houses required to be notified at the time of initial construction. This is coupled with the fact that there is a very constricted notification time window allowed, which allows these rezoning modification proposals to be literally ramrodded through without reasonable oversight of wide public review. Yes, the BZA followed the rules but, not good, conscience, moral government — in my humble opinion.
To further thwart rebuttal of any rezoning efforts, the BZA conducts its meetings at 3 p.m. during a normal working day when only a very small percentage of hardworking citizens can attend, rather than in the evening hours when a higher percentage can attend. Again, the truth be known, to thwart citizenry involvement?
The current timing and response for notification is only 14-days in front of the BZA meeting which is ridiculous. What is the hurry? Truth be known again, it's to reduce scrutiny. On top of that, the BZA seemingly mails the notifications out on Friday night, which subtracts two days from a public counter response time. This is a local version of the government “swamp” in action.
If you review the city’s BZA agenda docket for the March 12 meeting, you will see that among other things on the docket for "consent approval" was (1) a food truck permit and an "Oh, by the way" (2) the dorms project. Per the board's own agenda, the off-campus dorm zoning change was already a done deal. It was only via a grassroots Paul Revere “riding in the night” effort notifying the larger neighborhood of an impending BZA meeting and a letter writing effort protesting such a consent approval that the CSUB off-campus dorm zoning proposal was rescheduled as a discussion item at the following regular BZA meeting.
From this recent CSUB off-campus dorms issue I have learned:
1. That the BZA rules of area notification need to be materially adjusted themselves to encompass a much wider area of dissemination for public review. Only approximately five home residences in Stockdale Estates received notification of the impending zone change to permit said dorms to be built, based on the very limited 300-foot offset rule of notifications to surrounding local residents. That is not moral governance, in my opinion again. At the present time, there is literally no flexibility or compatibility for project sensitivity due to classification or importance.
2. A minimum of 30 to 45 days notifications needs to be given to residents of proposed zoning changes. The common citizen does have a life, vacations and commitments outside of waiting for local government to instigate major zoning change notifications. Nor is he/she dutifully standing by waiting to react within 10 to 14 days to a BZA change.
3. The citizens of Stockdale Estates area action group are now a steadfast group, high on alert for future private and government movements at Stockdale Highway and Coffee Road, which includes a substantial area radius into the surrounding residential and commercial communities. And because of the current BZA rules, the tentacles of the group will be watching and monitoring well beyond the Stockdale/Coffee intersection as a focal point.
It is highly suggested that other residents in the city may want to duplicate the Stockdale Estates area monitoring group until the BZA rules are more resident and neighborhood friendly. Knowing how government operates or does not operate, this necessary oversight vigilance may have to remain in place for a long, long time.
Joseph R. Kandle is a consulting petroleum engineer and 38-year resident of Stockdale Estates. He can be reached at email@example.com.