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Thursday, Dec 15 2011 05:37 PM

Rail authority blasts Bakersfield's opposition vote

BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

"A slap in the face" is what a spokesman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority called the Bakersfield City Council's Wednesday night decision to formally oppose its rail project.

City Council members voted 6-1 to adopt a resolution opposing the project in its current form. Council members faulted the project's financing plans and potential impact on Bakersfield properties and the authority's responsiveness to local concerns.

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COMMUNITIES OPPOSED, SUPPORTIVE

According to the group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, the following jurisdictions have adopted resolutions, taken legal action or expressed "no confidence" in the high-speed rail project but haven't taken a formal vote:

Acton

Atherton

Bakersfield

Belmont

Brisbane

Burlingame

Chowchilla

City of Orange

Corcoran

Gilroy

Hanford

Menlo Park

Palo Alto

Pico Rivera

Kings County Board of Supervisors

LeGrand-Athlone Water District

Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said the organization has received support from the following:

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu wrote a letter of support

The mayors of San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Fresno and Los Angeles co-authored an op-ed in The Sacramento Bee supporting the project.

Officials from the following cities have expressed support for the project with stations in their cities:

El Monte

Anaheim

Palmdale

Lancaster

San Fernando

Corona

Note: The Californian has not verified either list.

After the vote, Lance Simmens, deputy director of communications for the authority, issued a statement calling it "a slap in the face to the tens of thousands of Central Valley residents who would benefit from the jobs the project will provide over the next decade. It also represents a rejection of the economic and environmental benefits to the citizens of Bakersfield and California that will accompany the transformative statewide system...

"The Authority will continue to plan and implement this important project with local communities to make this project a reality. Our kids and our grandkids will thank us for such foresight and vision."

With the vote, Bakersfield joined other jurisdictions in formally opposing the project.

Kings County has filed a lawsuit against the High-Speed Rail Authority over how the first phase is being funded. Last year, the city council of Orange, near Anaheim, unanimously passed a resolution opposing the project. And next week, Palo Alto's city council is set to vote on two proposals that call for an end to the project.

In an interview Thursday, Simmens focused on communication and moving forward with the project, regardless of moves like Bakersfield's.

"The important thing here is not whether communities take advisory votes or votes on resolutions which have no substantive bearing other than to express their position," Simmens said. "The important thing is we continue the dialogue with local communities and local community leaders. We have a lot of support for this."

Wednesday night, Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle called for Bakersfield to join his board in opposing the project. But City Manager Alan Tandy said Thursday the city has no plans to pursue a lawsuit.

"We philosophically agree that the High-Speed Rail Authority isn't in compliance with some of the requirements of law," Tandy said. "But we have not been contemplating, to date, initiating litigation."

Tandy added that city staff "have gone through the ramifications of what if they proceed with a revised (environmental impact report) and do not deal with the issues we have raised. ...That could go badly depending on what their ultimate response is."

That reaction isn't strong enough, said local attorney and 4th District Kern County supervisorial candidate Harley Pinson Thursday morning.

"Last night after months of citizen protest, the council finally expressed some opposition to the High Speed Rail," Pinson wrote in a statement. "However, the council failed to take any concrete steps to actually stop that devastation that High Speed Rail poses to our community."

He urged the City Council, on which his 4th District opponent David Couch serves, to file a lawsuit to block the rail project.

Pinson said the press release wasn't a political shot at Couch.

"My press release was not aimed at any particular council member," Pinson said.

He said he's been speaking to civic groups and radio talk show hosts about the issue for months.

"The resolution itself is not going to stop the high-speed rail project. The council needs to take strong action," Pinson said.

The city council's resolution opposing the project is only "advisory," and it alone can't force the Authority to make changes, according to city staff.

-- Staff writer James Burger contributed to this report.

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