Robert Price

Friday, Jul 11 2014 12:00 PM

SOUND OFF: Why all the focus on dangers of oil tanker trains?

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    Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By Robert Price

Reader: Reporters for The Californian have written three front page articles (including "Oil train activity raises safety fears," on May 18) warning us that state agencies fear impeding doom bringing more crude oil into the state through Bakersfield, where hospitals, schools and residences are close to railroad lines.

I've lived in Kern County for over 20 years, and have never heard or read of one oil tank car catching on fire or blowing up in downtown Bakersfield. Any disaster could happen, but why make a mountain out of a mole hill?

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If these state agencies are so worried, let them put their so-called "Response Teams" in position to handle their crisis. Gov. Jerry Brown has already asked lawmakers for $6.7 million for "oil spill response."

Environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and CARB want no more oil in California because it's a pollutant. If they had their way we'd all be riding bicycles, walking, or they'd force us to ride some "Pie In The Sky High Speed Rail System."

The fact remains that without oil, our economy and our commerce would come to a screeching halt. This state cannot support itself on tourism alone. We're being gouged right now at the gas pump because of too many rules and regulations, so let's stop throwing road blocks in the way of progress and get that oil to refineries here in California.

-- Dennis Tope

Price: You have never heard of an oil tank car blowing up in downtown Bakersfield because it hasn't happened as far as I know. But then we haven't had the level of oil train traffic we will soon have. Nearly 300,000 barrels a day (about 12 million gallons) of highly flammable oil will be coming through Bakersfield when construction of two new oil terminal hubs is complete. Instead of one oil train per month, give or take, we'll have one every six hours.

These oil tank cars are blowing up around the country often enough that we, here in our oil-dependent economy, would remiss not to take note of it. Several fiery oil-tanker derailments had occurred over the past year, including one in July 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people and destroyed 30 buildings.

But you don't think the state should be prepared for the possibility of it happening here?

Oil has driven the world economy for a century now, and it will drive the world economy for decades into the foreseeable future. No amount of "mole hill" reporting will change that. But we would be derelict not to point out these inherent (and growing) dangers.

***

Reader: Why did The Californian decide to publish this nonsense (the July 7 Sunday Forum article by Marie Helmy)? Shouldn't our city's major newspaper try to support and bolster the reputation of Bakersfield and not publish articles where a woman hates Bakersfield because of parents on a soccer field? On top of that, the headline had basically nothing to do with the article. "The story of how I learned to hate Bakersfield" is entirely about a woman who is from LA and her relationship with her parents and brother. Bakersfield is barely mentioned! I get that it's popular to hate this city, but this newspaper shouldn't indulge people in that feeling.

-- Allyson Holder

Price: I didn't take offense because the article is so clearly not about Bakersfield. She could have substituted any number of cities as examples of youth-sports road trip drudgery. I suppose it's true that Bakersfield has a public-perception target on its back, but one only had to read Helmy's story to see there was no real malice involved here, just a young woman's lingering childhood association.

My friend and former co-worker Chick Jacobs had a pretty good take on Helmy's article, which he posted on Facebook: "Ummmm: Aside from the blazing San Joaquin Valley sun, this could have been called 'How I learned to Hate Odessa Texas' or 'Minot, North Dakota.' I understand a lot of reasons folks don't like the place, but your folks' inability to let go of their childhood dreams ain't the fault of the jewel of Kern County."

My personal experience with youth soccer was very different from Helmy's. I was involved as a parent and a coach for 12 years and enjoyed (almost) all of it. I remember weekend tournaments at the county's soccer complex just east of Hart Park. Out-of-town teams were invariably impressed with the facility and, in particular, the beautiful setting along the Kern River. I doubt any of them share Helmy's negative associations.

***

Reader: Thank you for printing the delightful story about the upcoming 75th wedding anniversary of local couple Adlee and Francis Rule written by Ruth Brown ("An anniversary to remember," July 6). I enjoyed every detail and the accompanying photo taken of the couple by Felix Adamo conveyed the love and sense of humor of this sweet couple.

That was page B1. Then along came B7 and Steve Levin's account ("Bakersfield: Be in the light, not the dark") of the couple in the car driving next to him on Chester Avenue who felt compelled to insult him with an anti-Semitic remark after they noticed he was wearing a yarmulke. Steve made no response, to his credit. Proverbs 12:18 tells us that "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

-- Diane Rowland

Price: Ignorance swirls around us like blowing dust. The solution is the same, too. Quietly move away and let it pass. Fools shout into the wind. Steve handled it appropriately.

A nice, sweet slice of humanity like the story of the Rules helps cut through the sour.

•••

Reader: I had to cry crocodile tears at Steve Levin's observances on Bakersfield. Where has this guy been all his life? God, Levin, get a clue. We are typical, real Americans here in Bakersfield, bigoted to the hilt, religiously Christian to a fault, and as hypocritical as those who wrap themselves up in the flag with a copy of the Constitution for a hat. If you happen to be a Jew, I am sorry, but you are in the same boat with many of the rest of us who are not considered "real" Americans.

-- Panfilo Fuentes

Price: Steve volunteered to answer this one himself.

Levin: Save the tears; they're clouding your ability to read clearly. The point of the op-ed piece was countermanding baseless hate, not criticizing Americans or Bakersfield.

And save your "I'm sorry" for someone who needs it; I'm proud to be a Jew.

I try not to prejudge people. I give them a chance to dig their own holes or fill them in.

It's a matter of perspective. You see the people of Bakersfield as "typical, real Americans, bigoted to the hilt..." I see them as good until they prove otherwise.

***

Reader: I have read the Californian for years and I have often wondered if you paid Herb Benham for his column, or does he pay you to run it?

Seems like an endless amount of useless drivel. His last two articles are perfect examples of his art.

-- Bill Weddell

Price: The nice thing about a newspaper, or a news website, is that, like TV, you can just change the channel if you're not interested in the content.

Among those who follow him, and there are many, Herb is a rock star. I have witnessed it. And, yes, it is baffling to watch.

Seriously, though, Herb has sent me into fits of laughter many times. What he does is all the more amazing because he does it three times a week, whether he feels funny or not. Having spent several years as a thrice-per-week columnist myself, I can attest to the challenge.

Yes, we pay Herb. Not enough.

***

Reader: As I read TBC each morning, I find the news, in general, to be very depressing. After receiving my daily dose of bad news, I turn the page only to find an inspiring and uplifting photo essay by Casey Christie into the wonderful land and nature that God has given us to enjoy, if we would only take the time.

-- Gary Crabtree

Price: There's truth to the old newspaper maxim, "if it bleeds, it leads," but we provide plenty of uplifting material, too. James Burger's July 8 story "Community galvanizes to help 85-year-old east Bakersfield man" was just one recent example. Then there's longtime staff photographer Casey Christie, abundantly talented and relentlessly uplifting. Thanks for again pointing that out.

Executive Editor Robert Price and The Californian welcome your comments and suggestions. To offer your input by phone, please call 395-7649 and leave your comments in a voice-mail message or send an email to soundoff@bakersfield.com. Please include your name and phone number. Phone numbers and addresses won't be published.

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