Local News

Saturday, Nov 24 2012 08:00 PM

News of freeway route draws shock, sadness, relief

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Cherie Cadena's house, where she grew up and now lives with her two kids, Mason Garla, 2, and Mackenzie Cadena, 16, and her mother, Diana Hodge, would be taken down if Alternative B is built for the Centennial Corridor project. A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for this Monday.

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Mason Garla, 2, plays on his scooter in front of the La Mirada Drive home he shares with his sister, mother and grandmother. Cherie Cadena's house, where she grew up and now lives with her two kids, Mason Garla, 2, and Mackenzie Cadena, 16, and her mother, Diana Hodge, would be taken down if Alternative B is built for the Centennial Corridor project. A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for this Monday.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for this Monday. Cherie Cadena's house, where she grew up and now lives with her two kids and her mother, would be taken down if Alternative B is built for the Centennial Corridor project.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Cherie Cadena grew up in the house on La Mirada where she now lives with her teenage daughter, 2-year-old son and her mom. Several of her neighbors also inherited their homes from their parents, and Cadena knows them from her childhood days.

But Cadena's house and 26 others on her street would come down if the Centennial Corridor Alternative B is built.

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• Caltrans is scheduled to hold an open house on the project from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in the rotunda at the Kern County Administrative Building, 1115 Truxtun Ave.

• Residents of the Westpark area have organized their own meeting to talk about the project Monday night. That is scheduled for 7 p.m. at First Assembly of God church at the corner of California Avenue and Marella Way.

* Acquisitions for the project would be made in line with the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act. You can read more about that at http://tinyurl.com/9wdrlxn.

* Finally, you also can contact Caltrans at 888-404-6375 or centennial@dot.ca.gov about the project. Or visit the TRIP website, which you can reach through http://tinyurl.com/d9gn6y9. Look under "project alternatives" on the left to get to a detailed map of Alternative B.

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"It sucks. We've been established here for many, many years," Cadena said while taking a break from putting up lavish Christmas decorations Friday afternoon. "This neighborhood especially -- it doesn't have that high a turnaround. ... There's just a huge group of people who've been here for years. ... It's sad."

Cadena said she's made major improvements to her home, including adding a backyard pool just a few years ago when she thought the house would avoid demolition. Now that the California Department of Transportation has said it's recommending Alternative B as the route for the project, she knows her house is on the list of those to be bulldozed.

HUGE ENDEAVOR

The Centennial Corridor is the biggest and most expensive of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects to expand Bakersfield's roads. It would link Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and eventually Interstate 5.

It would take down 207 houses, 15 multi-family residential buildings and 36 commercial structures. The Little Red School House on California Avenue would come down, as would Citizens Business Bank across the street. The road would cut through the middle of the Wild West Shopping Center on Stockdale Highway.

The project has been discussed for years, but Caltrans' recent decision to go with Alternative B marks a significant step closer to construction. It means two other routes -- Alternative A farther west and Alternative C farther east -- are effectively off the table. What's left is to build Alternative B, the cheapest of the three at $570 million, or not build the road at all.

Not building the road is unlikely, according to Caltrans' project manager for the project, Steven Milton.

Caltrans administrators said they chose Alternative B in line with federal law that requires the agency to avoid public parks and historic properties when possible.

There's still a long process to go through, including getting public comment on a draft environmental report, which Caltrans plans to release in April 2013. Caltrans' final decision on the project is expected in early 2014, and construction likely wouldn't start until at least the summer of 2015.

In the meantime, people have a lot of questions.

Bryan Apper, a Caltrans senior environmental planner, said in the few days following Caltrans' Nov. 15 announcement about preferring Alternative B, his office has received about a dozen phone calls and emails, mainly from people who want to know if their properties will be affected and if they will be compensated for their homes were the project to take them.

"People rightly have a lot anxiety and want to know what will happen with their property," Apper said. "We really encourage people to either come to one of our open houses or have an individual consultation."

RELIEF, SHOCK

Joan and Rob Kerr have long known that the house they've lived in for nine years on Marella Way was on the potential demolition list.

Joan said she mostly feels relief now that she and Rob have more certainty about the likely fate of their house.

"For us, it's just the relief of knowing what we should do now," Joan said. That includes not making any more improvements or major fixes to their house.

"With retirement looming, it means that we now know we'll be looking for a new place," she said. "We would have probably stayed longer if this weren't causing us to take other actions."

Tha Alternative B route seemed likely, Joan said, because it's the cheapest. Still, it was unexpected for some in its path, including Marisol Arredondo and her husband, who live on Marella Way with their 4-year-old daughter. They moved into their house just three months ago.

Marisol said she and her husband didn't learn their house was on the potential demolition list until after they moved in. It's their first house; they chose it after a year of looking and several years of saving, she said.

"Believe it or not, I do feel this is my dream home," Marisol said. "We walked through all these other houses, and we never felt like a 'This is it' feeling" until they found the house on Marella Way. "Honestly, if I would've known this for sure, I would've waited for a different home."

Marisol said she doesn't think the project is needed, no matter the route.

"This is so much money to invest ... to save you five or 10 minutes more (of driving time)," she said. "We've been traveling the way we do for years already. ... It's going to affect a lot of people, a lot of businesses. ... I wonder if there is anything that can be done to change their plan."

The Little Red School House on California Avenue, which has about 120 students, most of them preschoolers, also is in the path of Alternative B.

Don Billiard runs the school that his parents founded in 1967 and where his mother, Jolene Billiard, still teaches first grade. They opened the California Avenue school in 1971. There's a second school on Fruitvale Avenue, but, Don said of the one on California Avenue, "We've got a prime location here."

"The way I understand it is they're going to relocate my business in a like area," he said. "I just wonder what prime location they're going to relocate us to."

Don said he's not strictly opposed to the project.

"Should we put this in? Yes. Is this the best place? Probably so," he said. "I just happen to be in the wrong spot."

"We've been here a long time," he also said. "It's going to be tough to move. ... We have a lot of history here."

Solomon Iyasere and his wife are also in the wrong spot. The house on Kensington Avenue that they've lived in since 1972 and where they raised their three kids is on the list from Caltrans.

"I hope they don't do it," Solomon said.

"If it is possible to sell it and get the real value of the house, that would not be bad," he said. But, like others, he said he worried whether he would be compensated for his investment and what the long timeframe for the project has done to home values in the neighborhood.

"I've put in almost $200,000 into the house, plus what I paid for it. I am afraid that I won't get all that money back," he said. "It's very troubling, really."

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