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Monday, Aug 12 2013 05:42 PM

Amberton and Stockdale Estates at impasse over wall

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Raymond Russell tip-toes to take a look over the wall that now blocks easy access from the Amberton neighborhood, where he and his family live, to Stockdale Estates.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Two months after it went up, the Amberton-Stockdale wall dividing two southwest Bakersfield neighborhoods at their connecting cul-de-sacs may be headed to court.

Attorneys for Stockdale Estates homeowner Michael Hansen, who built the wall on his property, and for the Amberton-Stockdale Alliance, which represents anti-wall residents in both areas, said Monday that talks about replacing the wall with a gate are at an impasse -- and a lawsuit is imminent.

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Alliance members also are planning to attend Tuesday's Panama-Buena Vista Union School District board of trustees meeting to protest a business relationship between the school district and a company Hansen owns. Amberton resident John Dover said he thinks it is "inappropriate for the school district to be doing business with someone who has had a direct impact on children's safety." Hansen did not respond to a request for comment.

For more than 30 years, the two neighborhoods were joined by a walkway from Calle Privada -- Hansen's street -- in Stockdale Estates to the north, to Outingdale Drive in Amberton, to the south.

Used by a generation of school children to walk to Stockdale Elementary and Actis Junior High, the walkway was recorded as public property on the Amberton side. But Hansen's half, which crosses the western edge of his lot in Stockdale Estates, remained his private property.

Hansen pointed to two home burglaries, a theft and one near-collision with a motorcyclist who rode through the passageway as reasons for erecting the wall.

The stumbling block to a resolution is a list of issues sent last week by Hansen's attorneys, Ray Mullen and Murray Tragish, to Alliance attorney Michael T. Whittington, including who would pay for the gate and liability insurance in case someone gets injured on Hansen's side; who would monitor the gate during school hours; and how many school children actually use the walkway.

Whittington called it "a host of unreasonable proposed conditions" in an email to The Californian.

"The real sad thing is, it just reflects negatively on our community. It shows a very distorted prioritizing of our values, (of) privacy over the safety of our children," Whittington said. He said he intends to file a request for a preliminary injunction Tuesday seeking the wall's temporary removal and a lawsuit that would make its removal permanent.

Mullen disagreed.

"We ... try to negotiate in good faith, which is what we intended to do. Unfortunately, we don't seem to be getting the requisite information so that we can negotiate," Mullen said. "I didn't think that the questions I asked, about who's paying for what, and what's going to happen on liability and who's using the wall ... were somehow unreasonable questions."

Alliance members have been eager to secure removal of the wall, which went up June 14, before Panama-Buena Vista students return to class Aug. 19. They have disputed Hansen's assertion that the walkway was a convenient passage for criminals.

"We anticipate that Hansen will be claiming that he had his house broken into," Whittington said. "I can tell you, there's no record at the Bakersfield Police Department for the last six months, and that's as far back as they'll search."

Tragish said Hansen's half of the walkway left him vulnerable to lawsuits as well as burglars.

"He would have had the potential (for liability), since the house was erected in 1992 by his grandfather -- who, by the way, was the person who put the hole in the wall to allow Michael's grandmother to ride her bike to visit relatives on the Amberton side," Mullen said. "They're the ones who allowed this to be done, permitted it to be done, and when the character of the usage changed, decided and sealed the wall."

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