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Tuesday, Apr 22 2014 05:37 PM

Country Club neighbors at odds over proposed gates

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    By The Californian

    If some neighbors are successful in their bid, a gate would be erected at Country Club and Pinehurst drives, along with two other intersections in the Country Club neighborhood.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Residents of a small cluster of high-end homes just outside the front gates of Bakersfield Country Club hope to secede from the surrounding neighborhood to shelter themselves from unsafe drivers and crime.

But their proposal to gate off Pinehurst and Wingfoot drives has earned them the ire of surrounding neighbors who argue the gates will create only a "false veneer of security" while pushing the bad traffic their way.

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Kern County supervisors will hear the case for the gates Tuesday.

But the woman who spearheaded the effort said Tuesday night that supporters of the gates will ask for more time to talk the idea through with the wider Bakersfield Country Club community.

"We will temporarily withdraw the petition to vacate Pinehurst and Wingfoot Drives in order to enable our neighborhood to meet collectively and discuss any issues affecting the vacation and gating of any of our streets," Sylvia Mendez, owner of a local court reporter firm, wrote in a text.

Bakersfield Country Club is one of the city's oldest northeast communities, perched on a hill east of Oswell Drive south of Highway 178.

The homes on Pinehurst and Wingfoot include some of the nicest properties in the area. A real-estate flyer offering one of the more modest Pinehurst homes markets the half-acre lot "on one of the finest streets in Bakersfield" for just less than $415,000.

Across the street, a towering white mansion with dramatic new landscaping commands a massive lot at the top of a hill. It would not look out of place in the Hollywood Hills.

But Niles Street -- lined with liquor stores, pawn shops and medical marijuana collectives -- runs less than a mile south of the neighborhood.

Neighbors said crime has been on the rise in the Country Club area.

Mendez spearheaded the campaign to gate her neighborhood. In a letter to neighbor L.B. Thomas -- who opposes the gates -- she argued passionately that the barriers are critical to protect families from the criminal element creeping in.

"For the last two years, on a daily basis, there has been an increasing number of foot traffic through our neighborhood by people of questionable intentions who are not admiring the beauty of the homes," she wrote.

Those individuals are studying the routines of residents, Mendez wrote, "looking for an opportunity to steal or even cause harm to our families."

But Thomas said Tuesday the move would require the neighborhood to create a homeowners association and assume the costs of repairing streets -- something he opposes.

A host of opposition has hit the idea from other Country Club neighbors.

David Campbell walks and bikes the curving streets there nearly daily. He said people inside the proposed gates may not have intended to turn a cold shoulder to everyone else.

But, he said, "there's a sense of exclusion involved."

Campbell is also skeptical about the value of shutting off street access and said he hasn't seen traffic studies documenting that there is a real threat from people driving through the area.

But Michael Turnipseed, who would live right outside the gates, said the concerns of his neighbors are valid.

"There have been some robberies up there," he said. "There are people who drive much faster than 25 mph."

Attorney Milt Younger also lives outside the proposed enclave. He said in the past, he suggested gating off Country Club Drive to shield the larger neighborhood.

But gating off just part of the Country Club won't work, he said. Other neighbors would suffer.

The primary reason to do it would be to benefit, he said, "a very few, very wealthy people."

Mendez wrote Tuesday evening that supporters of the gates stand ready to work with their neighbors and friends to address concerns.

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