Blast from the past could blow highway plans

Blast from the past could blow highway plans »Play Video

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Some have bomb shelters on the brain because of the supposed Mayan apocalypse, but for the residents of Bakersfield's Westpark neighborhood, bomb shelters are more about saving them from the end of their homes than the end of the world.

The bomb shelters in some of the Westpark houses are the last hope for hundreds of people desperate to stay in their homes. Caltrans plan to expand Highway 58 for its Centennial Corridor project.

"They want to plow through here, and they said there was no historical properties in the path," said Keith Womack.

Womack is referring to what is called Alternative B, Caltrans' preferred choice for a Hwy. 58 extension that would run through the land where their houses sit, forcing residents to move out. However, things could change if the bomb shelters in the houses are declared as historic sites.

"Nobody wants to lose their homes, their neighborhood, and things like this have historic value to them," said Womack.

Womack said in the 1960s, his father built several of the concrete bomb shelters in the houses standing in the way of the extension. Residents are hoping the shelters will be declared historic, because the law gives strong protection for historic sites.

The shelters were built in 1962, at a time when fear ran rampant through Bakersfield because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many parts of these bomb shelters, including the water tanks, air vents and shelves, are all originals, and that's part of the reason the community wants the site to be historic.

The city can legally force people to move out of their homes for a city-improvement project, but that does not account for the feelings of the neighbors.

"It's traumatic to everybody that lives here. We don't want a highway through our property. We've lived here, like we said, for 36, 37 years, raised our family here, and we don't want to have to move. We love it here," said Steve Pierce, a Westpark resident who has a bomb shelter in his backyard.

A Caltrans spokesperson said the shelters could qualify as historic, but that they are currently evaluating the sites and their histories.

Westpark residents have said their homeowners association is looking into fighting back with a lawyer. About 420 homes and businesses would be taken out if Alternative B goes through.

The Caltrans plan hopes to ease congestion on Hwy. 58 from Cottonwood Road to Interstate 5.