Local News

Wednesday, Jun 09 2010 09:45 PM

Hundreds turn out to oppose high-speed rail route

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A large group of Bakersfield High School students turned out for Wednesday's City Council meeting to be heard on their concerns the proposed high speed rail coming through Bakersfield could have on their school.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield High School principal David Reese, right, and seated behind him, KHSD Superintendent, Don Carter, along with others including many BHS students listen to Bakersfield City Council members discuss the future of the high speed rail going through Bakersfield. Reese and Carter both spoke before the council members expressing their concerns about the impact the rail could have on BHS.

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BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Never underestimate the power of Driller spirit.

Hundreds of current and former Bakersfield High School students overflowed City Council chambers Wednesday night to voice their opposition to a proposed High-Speed Rail line that some believe would have meant the destruction of the historic downtown campus.

They got what what they came for -- before the meeting even began.

Hours before the Bakersfield City Council was expected to consider a recommendation that could have routed a High-Speed Rail platform right through the north end of 117-year-old campus, the city planning department pulled its recommendation supporting the much-criticized "blue line."

City Planning Director Jim Eggert said the decision was made for two reasons: the controversy generated by the potential destruction of Bakersfield's oldest high school -- and the confusion created by various maps and route options that apparently left planners working with incorrect or incomplete information.

"Based on growing public concerns and new information received after the City Council agenda was prepared, the staff recommendation has been amended," Eggert stated in a memo addressed to the City Council.

The decision thrilled most of those present at Wednesday's meeting, even though they know that he California High Speed Rail Authority will make the final decision on the alignment.

"It would have been devastating," said Micki Burcher, a proud Driller from the Class of 1956. "People are very uncaring about the history that means so much to this community."

Vanessa Barajas, a 2003 BHS graduate, said current students and former students will always stand together to save BHS.

"A relative from Texas asked me why we care so much. It's only a school," Barajas said. "I said, 'You don't understand. We bleed blue."

Planning staff had originally recommended the Council approve a resolution selecting the "blue" alignment as the High-Speed Rail route through Bakersfield. But over the past several days, the groundswell of opposition grew, with more than 3,500 people joined a Facebook page titled "Save Bakersfield High School." By Wednesday afternoon, the planning department had revised its position.

The planning department now wants the High-Speed Rail Authority to conduct further analysis and come up with an alternative alignment that will not impact BHS. Of course, the red line also has its problems, especially in east Bakersfield where it would likely take out scores of homes, businesses and churches.

Kern High School District Superintendent Don Carter called the planning revision "appropriate and timely"and thanks the city for taking a "reasoned approach" to the issue.

City Manager Alan Tandy kicked off the city's discussion by noting that two of his children are graduates of BHS. He called BHS "the finest school in the valley," drawing wild applause from the young crowd.

Councilwoman Sue Benham said she could top that, with four offspring who attended the school. On a more serious note, she suggested that the Rail Authority has not communicated very effectively with local residents.

"Obviously the BHS community was not aware of what was going to happen," she said. "They (the Authority) can do better."

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve the revised planning recommendation. But again, most understood that it didn't solve the central problem, a reality captured in a comment by Councilman David Couch.

"If we move it 100 yards, we're going to be impacting somebody else," he said.

Nevertheless, saving BHS is worthwhile, said architectural historian John Edward Powell, who helped students document the campus' historical significance.

"All the qualifications are in place," he said to prove BHS is a "historical district."

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