Bakersfield battle looms over high-speed rail

Bakersfield battle looms over high-speed rail
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The Bakersfield City Council voted Wednesday to hire an outside attorney to file a lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail Authority. The city argues the authority's environmental impact reports don't meet the standards of state law.

City officials said they've tried to get the Authority to provide details about potential impacts, but they're not getting answers.

"We'd be suing based upon the lack of completeness, or the lack of thoroughness in the draft environmental impact report," Steve Teglia told Eyewitness News on Wednesday afternoon. Teglia's the assistant to the city manager.

But, Marvin Dean is with Kern Supporters of High Speed Rail, and he not only opposes any legal action -- he's surprised by it.

"There's been kind of a reset," Dean said. "The Authority has come here in good faith to show that they want to work with the city and the County of Kern." Dean said new leadership with the Authority came to Bakersfield last week, and had meetings with local officials and with local business people.

But, the city council got a long report, and a long list of complaints about how the Authority is handling the project in the Bakersfield area. City officials worry about impacts to Bakersfield facilities like the Rabobank Arena, McMurtry Aquatic Center, Mill Creek development projects and city road projects like the Centennial Corridor.

"We've always been upfront with the Authority what these impacts are, but we've never been able to get information from them in terms of how they plan to mitigate or work around these impacts," Teglia said.

The proposed bullet train would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles at speeds up to 220 mph. The first leg of the big project is set to be from about Madera to Bakersfield. The authority now has three possible routes identified in the Bakersfield area.

Dean, as a supporter of HSR, says he won't back one route over any other. But, he insists the final decision should be based on three factors: a route that's best from an engineering design standpoint, displaces the fewest people, and fully compensates everyone whose property is affected.

He's firmly opposed to filing any lawsuit against the plan.

"The expense of a lawsuit right now," Dean says that's one reason not to take the state to court. "And then, what signals does that send to the authority? Are we dealing in good faith?"

Dean believes high speed rail will happen, and Bakersfield would be better off at the negotiating table than fighting the state.

"What that does is put us in a bad light in terms of being able to get leverage with the High Speed Rail Authority to make sure this project is going to benefit our community," Dean argues.

The report from city officials to the council also complains that while Fresno got an agreement with the HSR Authority to get $4.6 million to help with impacts, no such offer's been made to Bakersfield.

The public comment period on the revised draft environmental impacts report ends on Friday, Oct. 19. Teglia said the city has comments ready for that, and he won't be surprised if more lawsuits don't pop up before the deadline.

It sounds like the city of Bakersfield has run out of patience. They want to know what the impacts will be.

"The revised draft EIR includes no attempt, whatsoever, to address the long list of negative impacts that the metro Bakersfield area would experience as a result of the project," the city's report to the council says. "Given their utter lack of responsiveness in addressing the countless issues that would result from their proposed project route, there is no choice but to recommend legal action against the Authority."

Teglia argues the city needs to act before the Authority finalizes an environmental report, and picks out a route.

"They could begin property acquisitions and move forward with the project, and we're left really not knowing what will happen, and how we're going to deliver services to our community based upon these impacts."