Bakersfield’s Beale Library, normally a quiet harbor from the noise and bustle of everday life, was the scene of lively and sometimes loud debate Thursday, as the California High-Speed Rail Authority held a hearing on the proposed Fresno to Bakersfield section of California’s proposed 800 mile HSR system. Ostensibly set up to hear comments on the draft EIR/EIS for that portion of the project, the hearing oftentimes was nothing more than proponents voicing support for the overall project and opponents doing the opposite.
The day started off with a press conference coordinated by Californians for High-Speed Rail (CA4HSR), a grassroots, statewide coalition of HSR supporters. With opening remarks by CA4HSR CEO & President Daniel Krause, who stressed the specific economic and environmental benefits of the project to Bakersfield and Kern County residents and business, he was backed up by a variety of representatives from several Kern County organizations. These included the Kern County Taxpayers Association, the Kern Economic Development Corporation, the Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, the Kern Transportation Foundation, and others.
Notwithstanding the postive comments during the press conference, spectators also observed numerous posters and placards held by opponents, including a vocal and large contingent of students from Bakersfield High School who flooded the area with small and large signs against the project. (See slide show at left.) Their opposition stemmed from their fears that the proposed HSR routes will result in the destruction of numerous buildings on the BHS campus.
The hearing itself provided the means for all groups to present their feelings on the project to the CaHSRA Board, who sat quietly throughout the entire process, taking notes but rarely speaking. A common complaint from many homeowners, businessmen, and religious organizations who may be impacted was that notice of the hearing was inadequate and that there was insufficent time to review a very technical document consisting of several thousands of pages. One speaker claimed that at a reading rate of 500 pages per day, it would take him several months to simply read all of the report and supporting documentation.
Others complained that the draft EIR should have included a discussion of possible impacts to Bakersfield east of the proposed HSR train station and that alternate routes not going through the center of Bakersfield should have been looked at in more detail. Additionally, several complained that the project will cost too much and funds to build the complete system will never be available.
Supporters voiced decreased travel times, the need to address the state’s future transportation needs, and the prospect of added construction and post-construction jobs, including the possible rail maintenance facility that may be built near Bakersfield. In response to those who claimed that money for the project does not exist, one speaker noted that the same was said about the federal Interstate Highway system.
Others, who neither expressed support nor opposition, questioned how Fair Market Value will be determined for property owners and businesses impacted by the HSR routes. Particular concern was expressed by those whose property won’t be taken but who will suffer, according to the draft EIR/EIS, significant visual and noise impacts. (See related article below “Homeowners facing major impacts…)
Comments from those unable to attend the hearing will still be accepted by the CaHSRA. The deadline is October 13, 2011.