Michael Kennedy

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

Christmas is near and, much like the bitter old Grinch, Gov. Jerry Brown will once again don a proverbial red coat and winter hat to convince us that he is a benevolent Saint Nick. Some media outlets will extol his annual traditions, like Christmastime clemency, but don't be fooled by this sinister man, for he has a heart "two sizes too small."

The Grinch looked down from Mount Crumpit; Gov. Brown looks down from his Sacramento lair. There he has governed our state, detached from the world (except his dog, Colusa "Lucy") and distant from the concerns of our citizenry. There is no Whoville below his ivory tower, but he has much contempt for our little Central Valley. He has labeled us as NIMBYs because we have bemoaned his ludicrous High-Speed Rail project.

Now he’s hatched another plan to once again ruin our Christmas, swindle away private property, and destroy more of our valley with his choo choo. All of this while we are distracted and enjoying the festivities of the season. Yes, at his direction, the High-Speed Rail Authority has released yet another environmental study this Christmas, and it will leave many fooled like Cindy-Lou Who.

Some will believe that the governor, like a Santy Grinch, is simply working hard this Christmas to fix his broken train, but others are aware of his old tricks.

If you doubt this witty comparison, then please ponder for just a moment the situation that I am currently faced with as the principal of an impacted school.

After it was determined that our school would be within just a few feet of the high-speed train, we worked diligently to provide the HSRA with stakeholder comments related to the EIR. These concerns were initially submitted in writing, before the Oct. 19, 2012, deadline, also documented in numerous public hearings (e.g., the Aug. 27, 2012, HSRA Hearing), and referenced in a multitude of complaints, but the HSRA was not willing to discuss any viable mitigation for air quality, visual impact, noise pollution or vibration at the church-school facility.

So, in an effort to force the HSRA to respond to our stakeholders, the church-school organization initiated two lawsuits against the governor and HSRA to provide direction for future environmental documents. But after thorough review of the new supplemental environmental document, it is now evident that our issues have still not been resolved or mitigated.

For more than half of this last decade our legal team has documented, and outlined a multitude of violations under the California Environmental Quality Act, National Environmental Policy Act Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act , and submitted environmental case law. The HSRA's official response to this due diligence, the church-school CEQA case “… is not about protecting the environment but about opponents trying every means possible to stop the high-speed rail.” This analysis by Brown's HSRA is biased and simply not true.

Our stakeholders have legitimate questions related to student learning in an accredited K-12 academic program. These concerns are extremely valid because research-based articles demonstrate that close proximity of a train can have a negative impact on learning.

As an example, a series of studies at a school located within 220 feet of an elevated train found that elementary children who were exposed to transit related noise were three to four months behind in reading scores, and the students in higher grades were as much as 11 months behind. Even given this type of research-based data, and supporting case law, the HSRA essentially shrugged off our impacts by simply stating that a new alignment would “…impact the fewest religious facilities, and it would not impact … Bethel Christian School.”

Again, such sweeping statements have little truth and do nothing to mitigate our schoolwide impacts. Alternative studies for all proposed rail alignments in east Bakersfield are still only feet apart from each other and will cause similar impacts to our church-school facility.

While we would like to believe that Gov. Grinch's small heart will grow three sizes this year, we hold out little hope that the true meaning of Christmas will come through for our church-school.

P.S. Merry Christmas, Gov. Brown, and may further legal action be our present to you.

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