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By Michael Fagans / The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The secretary for the Westpark Home Owners Association, a group of residents whose houses would be destroyed if the Centennial Corridor freeway segment is built, threatened the Bakersfield City Council with a lawsuit Wednesday if the project continues.
"If you approve the validation action this evening, we will take you to court," WHOA secretary Marc Caputo told the council as more than 40 Westpark residents sat and listened to council members share their doubts about going into debt to pay Bakersfield's share of the federally funded Thomas Roads Improvement Program.
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After more than an hour of debate, the council voted 6-1 to approve a validation action.
It was the legal first step toward later borrowing as much as $270 million, to match $570 million in federal funds secured for the city by former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.
Filing the validation action in Kern County Superior Court next week will cost the city between $15,000 and $25,000 and could take as little as three months.
If the validation is challenged in court, however, the city estimates defense costs would rise to $175,000 to $225,000, and a court decision could take as long as 18 months.
"I'm just imploring you to consider a no-build option," said resident Kimberly Squires. "The money's just not there. The benefit's small, the harm is great."
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell agreed, questioning whether Centennial Corridor and the also-controversial 24th Street widening could be removed from TRIP without jeopardizing its funding or requiring as much as $80 million of its federal funding be repaid.
"We're taking an insider's view of this. We're saying that if nothing bad happens, it's going to be $270 million," said Maxwell, who voted against the validation. "But an outsider's view would say 'How many projects get completed under budget? You can look at high-speed rail."
"With one exception, all (TRIP) projects have come in less than the amount projected," City Manager Alan Tandy told the council, describing TRIP as catching up "to 30 years of underfunding highways."
Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera joined in the soul-searching, wondering if the city will have enough funds to repay the $270 million, years from now, while simultaneously maintaining local roads.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan and Vice Mayor Ken Weir sympathized with their colleagues, but urged that the city finish rebuilding its highway system.
"We're just putting ourselves in the position for when and if we need to borrow the money," Weir said.
Acknowledging Rivera's concerns, the council directed city staff to draft an amendment to its goals, for consideration at its Oct. 16 meeting, emphasizing the priority to maintain city roads at current or greater levels.
In other business, the council approved spending $952,000 for one year to run the newly renamed City of Bakersfield Animal Care Center it expects to take over Oct. 1 from the county of Kern.
Mayor Harvey Hall pointed out that the city's employment of nine Bakersfield Homeless Center clients as kennel workers brings to 39 the number of Homeless Center workers the city has hired to staff the shelter, work at its greenwaste plant, and pick up trash along city highways.